Clinton’s Reaganite Legacy

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.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.parentalrights.org Rich Shipe

    James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal wrote the following yesterday. This kind of thing really takes me back to the 1990s. Can you imagine what Bill Clinton would be like back in the White House but without any official responsibilities?

    Man Without a Party
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/31/us/politics/31donor.html?pagewanted=all

    The New York Times uncovers a scandal involving a former president:

    Late on Sept. 6, 2005, a private plane carrying the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra touched down in Almaty, a ruggedly picturesque city in southeast Kazakhstan. Several hundred miles to the west a fortune awaited: highly coveted deposits of uranium that could fuel nuclear reactors around the world. And Mr. Giustra was in hot pursuit of an exclusive deal to tap them.

    Unlike more established competitors, Mr. Giustra was a newcomer to uranium mining in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic. But what his fledgling company lacked in experience, it made up for in connections. Accompanying Mr. Giustra on his luxuriously appointed MD-87 jet that day was a former president of the United States, Bill Clinton.

    Upon landing on the first stop of a three-country philanthropic tour, the two men were whisked off to share a sumptuous midnight banquet with Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, whose 19-year stranglehold on the country has all but quashed political dissent.

    Mr. Nazarbayev walked away from the table with a propaganda coup, after Mr. Clinton expressed enthusiastic support for the Kazakh leader’s bid to head an international organization that monitors elections and supports democracy. Mr. Clinton’s public declaration undercut both American foreign policy and sharp criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among others, Mr. Clinton’s wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

    Less than 48 hours later, Giustra’s company signed a deal giving it the rights to buy into three Kazakh uranium projects. Months later, Giustra secretly donated $31.3 million to Mr. Clinton’s charitable foundations.

    So, to what party does this Bill Clinton, and his wife the senator, belong? In 2,800 words, the Times never tells us. That can mean only one thing: not Republican.

  • http://www.parentalrights.org Rich Shipe

    James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal wrote the following yesterday. This kind of thing really takes me back to the 1990s. Can you imagine what Bill Clinton would be like back in the White House but without any official responsibilities?

    Man Without a Party
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/31/us/politics/31donor.html?pagewanted=all

    The New York Times uncovers a scandal involving a former president:

    Late on Sept. 6, 2005, a private plane carrying the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra touched down in Almaty, a ruggedly picturesque city in southeast Kazakhstan. Several hundred miles to the west a fortune awaited: highly coveted deposits of uranium that could fuel nuclear reactors around the world. And Mr. Giustra was in hot pursuit of an exclusive deal to tap them.

    Unlike more established competitors, Mr. Giustra was a newcomer to uranium mining in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic. But what his fledgling company lacked in experience, it made up for in connections. Accompanying Mr. Giustra on his luxuriously appointed MD-87 jet that day was a former president of the United States, Bill Clinton.

    Upon landing on the first stop of a three-country philanthropic tour, the two men were whisked off to share a sumptuous midnight banquet with Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, whose 19-year stranglehold on the country has all but quashed political dissent.

    Mr. Nazarbayev walked away from the table with a propaganda coup, after Mr. Clinton expressed enthusiastic support for the Kazakh leader’s bid to head an international organization that monitors elections and supports democracy. Mr. Clinton’s public declaration undercut both American foreign policy and sharp criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among others, Mr. Clinton’s wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

    Less than 48 hours later, Giustra’s company signed a deal giving it the rights to buy into three Kazakh uranium projects. Months later, Giustra secretly donated $31.3 million to Mr. Clinton’s charitable foundations.

    So, to what party does this Bill Clinton, and his wife the senator, belong? In 2,800 words, the Times never tells us. That can mean only one thing: not Republican.

  • S Bauer

    Who puts the “ick” in “slick”?

  • S Bauer

    Who puts the “ick” in “slick”?

  • Passing By

    If you seriously need somebody to tell you that Clinton is a Democrat, you would have to have an IQ of, oh, about one point?

  • Passing By

    If you seriously need somebody to tell you that Clinton is a Democrat, you would have to have an IQ of, oh, about one point?


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