Clinton legacy is safe; political record speaks for itself

William Lee

Watching the sheer insanity and carnage of the 2000 presidential elections unfold and the dividedness of the country as electoral victor, George “Dubya” Bush makes his way to the White House has made me think a lot about the presidential legacy of William Jefferson Clinton.When historians 100 or 200 years from now talk about Clinton, I wondered, will they talk about the time in which he governed – the most prosperous time in U.S. history, or would they talk about him being the second U.S. president to be impeached?

Personally, liking Bill Clinton, and having voted for him in 1996, I thought his political record would stand for itself.

The best way, I thought to put Clinton’s time in office into perspective was to compare him to some of our country’s “great” presidents. Right off the bat, Clinton matches up very closely with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Clinton, after all, is the first Democrat since FDR to be re-elected to a second term and, according to one television report, has passed the most legislation since FDR’s administration.

Also, Clinton, like FDR, made great use of social programs to strengthen the nation.

As a footnote, Elenor Roosevelt, much like Hillary Clinton, took active roles, following up on topics important to their respective husbands.

FDR’s advantage was that he had World War II to help solidify his role in Americans’ eyes as a strong leader. Clinton’s strength had been called into question from the very beginning because of his lack of armed forces experience and his protest to the Vietnam conflict.

Also Clinton’s foreign policy was, until recently, weak.

Next up, Clinton’s idol, John F. Kennedy. Both are similar in physical appearance, temperament and perhaps even personal habits, but perhaps the closest comparison between the two is popularity. Both JFK and Clinton have tremendous support, especially within the African-American community, who overwhelming voted for both.

Clinton continues to be an extremely popular figure in pop culture – when was the last politician you can name that could retire to a Hollywood career (Reagan is exempt, of course, because he began in Hollywood)?

But despite America’s never-ending fascination with the Kennedys, any other comparison between the two would be unfair because JFK’s administration was too short to have any major impact – much of JFK’s civil-rights legislation was carried out by Lyndon Johnson.

Let’s speed up to “The Gipper,” Ronald Reagan. The differences between these men are pretty substantial. Reagan was “seen” as a man of much integrity, while Clinton is not.

The biggest similarity between the two is that both Reagan and Clinton had a good sense of public opinion and how to put on a show for the public.

As for policy, Reagan believed that the secret of a great offense was an even greater defense and sunk a big chunk of change into the defense budget to let Russia know that if the chips were down, we meant business.

Clinton believed that America’s greatest problems were at home and not abroad and drastically cut the defense budget and sunk those funds into social programs.

The overall edge falls to Clinton, as he has a far better sense of what Americans want to hear, in effect becoming what award-winning writer David Halberstam calls “a survivalist.”

Reagan was often accused of being too far removed from the concerns of many Americans (minorities, homeless, working class, etc.).

To be certain, Clinton has made many critical errors; allowing the hardening of Congressional partisanship, taking on sometimes more than he can chew (uniformed health care and the like) and his political doubletalk.

But future Americans, I believe, will be a lot more forgiving to Clinton and whatever personal miscues he has made and will look to us, his crucifiers, as Puritanical hypocrites.

At its core, the presidency is a job of the person with the best ideas and the quickest response and Clinton through his two terms had done that.

Clinton came to us, as Halberstam said, “full of promise, and he leaves us full of promise.