We all knew there was something disingenuous about Bill Clinton. He wasn’t quite what he appeared. While he didn’t have Richard Nixon’s shiftiness there was always the sense that there was a lot more to Bill Clinton than met the eye. What we saw was the tip of his iceberg. Only occasionally and with great reluctance would he reveal his seamy and complex underside.
Clinton was the master politician of his generation. While he spun in circles his first few years in office he eventually found sure footing then went into a fast sprint. Despite his personal scandal by the time he left office I (and 57% of the country) was genuinely sad to see him leave. I am even sadder now after four years of George W. Bush. Loathe him or love him Bill Clinton was one of us. You knew his tastes were as pedestrian as yours. The three hundred dollar haircuts and the omnipresent blue suits were a veneer. We knew it. The real Bill Clinton was a guy who could revel in a Big Mac, super sized fries and a giant Coke. He was an unwashed heathen and a sinner just like us.
Yeah, we knew. Here was a guy with an amazing intellect but who was still somewhere deep inside a wounded boy from a broken home. Our instincts told us that he had not quite surmounted these early problems but we wanted to believe he had made it anyhow. He certainly gave the appearance that he had overcome all the odds. After all he was twice governor of Arkansas, ran the National Governors Association, was a stellar graduate of Georgetown and Oxford Universities and a Rhodes scholar. Not bad accomplishments for a guy raised largely by his mother and around abusive men for much of his childhood.
While he was president you held your nose when you heard rumors of his personal life. But it was hard to hate him too much because Clinton brought results where many before him had failed. Clinton may have been part weasel but he was a damned effective weasel. He was and still is passionate and convincing. He is glib. He rarely reads from a prepared speech. It seems he has gift of on the spot eloquence.
Bill was and is a passionate guy too. Women were apparently just one of his passions. If Bill Clinton has a true love though it is not women, it is politics. His energy seemed boundless. He reputedly survived on a few hours of sleep a night. He was often up late reading and often up early doing more reading. He knew all sides of an issue because he had read all of them. He is a natural debater and can articulate with conviction any point of view he wants.
Bush tries to paint Kerry as a flip flopper. Clinton was the flip flopper to end all flip floppers. Clinton was a ruthlessly pragmatic person. He was not amiss to changing his opinions in a moment if it seemed public direction was going a different way. He realized that to effectively govern he had to be with the majority. So if he wasn’t he would often tune his positions to ensure he stayed with the majority. This of course drove the Republicans nuts because above all but ideology they value consistency. But Clinton cared more about actually getting things done than the feelings of those who could not deal with ambiguity.
And while Clinton was not amiss to helping out his pals and cronies he at least was sensible enough to do it discreetly. It did not become the focus of his administration. Instead he became one of these rare presidents who truly did his best for the country. He schmoozed, he backslapped, he persuaded, and he occasionally lectured but he got most of what he wanted. Under Bill Clinton the country moved from record deficits to record surpluses. He paid down the National Debt, the first president to do so in more than a generation. In eight years 23 million jobs were created. During his term we had the fastest and longest sustained growth in the economy in three decades. Family incomes reached record highs. He brought unemployment down to the lowest level seen in 30 years. But the economy was only the start.
He changed the welfare laws to keep able-bodied people from staying forever on the public dole. He protected nearly sixty million acres of forests from logging and put in place the most stringent air pollution standards in the nation’s history. He expanded Hope Scholarships and created Lifetime Learning Tax Credits. He made it possible for people to care for a sick relative and not lose their jobs. He reformed Medicare, signed the Brady Bill and reduced the share of federal spending as a percent of the economy to its lowest point since 1966. He was instrumental in both the Middle East and the Northern Ireland peace processes.
It’s a wonder that the Republicans could hate the guy so much. I think a lot of their hatred was because he was a damned effective president. As much as they loathed his weasel-like behavior they hated more he was so darned good at what he did. Even in the middle of some of his worst personal struggles he still did the nation’s business adroitly. While impeachment hearings were going forward he was not so distracted that he could not respond to terrorist attacks in Africa.
Despite his impeachment Clinton left a country markedly better and wealthier than when he had come into office. Where many talked results Clinton delivered results year after year. His track record is remarkable and probably unequaled since Franklin Roosevelt. It may well be that some of his success can be credited to others. Perhaps some of the economic growth can be attributed to our zealous Federal Reserve or the end of the Cold War. But only a partisan fool would deny him the vast majority of the credit. It was not just luck. He succeeded because he was relentless and utterly focused. If he could not get to his goal by one path he simply tried another path until he succeeded. His failures were large but they were few. His successes were voluminous.
I’d take him back as my president even if he had orgies in the Oval Office every night. At least I’d know that someone who could consider all sides of the issue and make an intelligent choice for the country was the president again. In these troubled times I would sleep a lot easier.