Charles Krauthammer has a provocative column on Clinton’s lust for a legacy, which he says motivates him to do ANYTHING to get his wife elected and himself back in the White House. The bitter irony, says Krauthammer, is that Clinton’s major accomplishment was to consolidate and institutionalize the Reagan revolution:
What clearly enraged him more than anything this primary season was Barack Obama’s statement that “Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that . . . Bill Clinton did not.”
The Clintons tried to use this against Obama by charging him with harboring secret Republican sympathies. It was a stupid charge that elicited only scorn. And not just because Obama is no Reaganite, but because Obama’s assessment is so obviously true: Reagan was consequential. Clinton was not.
Reagan changed history. At home, he radically altered both the shape and perception of government. Abroad, he changed the entire structure of the international system by bringing down the Soviet empire, giving birth to a unipolar world of unprecedented American dominance.
By comparison, Clinton was a historical parenthesis. He can console himself — with considerable justification — that he simply drew the short straw in the chronological lottery: His time just happened to be the 1990s, which, through no fault of his own, was the most inconsequential decade of the 20th century. His was the interval between the collapse of the Soviet Union on Dec. 26, 1991, and the return of history with a vengeance on Sept. 11, 2001.
Clinton’s decade, that holiday from history, was certainly a time of peace and prosperity — but a soporific Golden Age that made no great demands on leadership. What, after all, was his greatest crisis? A farcical sexual dalliance.
Clinton no doubt wishes he’d been president on Sept. 11. It is nearly impossible for a president to rise to greatness in the absence of a great crisis, preferably war. Theodore Roosevelt is the only clear counterexample, and Bill is no Teddy.
What is the legacy of the Clinton presidency? Consolidator of the Reagan revolution. As Dwight Eisenhower made permanent FDR’s New Deal and Tony Blair institutionalized Thatcherism, Clinton consolidated Reaganism. He did so most symbolically with his 1996 State of the Union declaration that “the era of big government is over.” And more concretely, with a presidency that only tinkered with such structural Reaganite changes as tax cuts and deregulation, and whose major domestic achievement was the abolition of welfare, Reagan’s ultimate social b¿te noire.
These are serious achievements, but of a second order. Obama did little more than echo that truism. But one can imagine how it made Clinton burn.