The Sins of Bill Clinton

by Will on September 29, 2010

For the last decade, it has been easy to be nostalgic for Bill Clinton’s administration. After all, he presided over economic growth and nearly full employment, balanced the budget, adeptly fought a GOP that was actually committed to spending cuts all over the place — in contrast to the GOP of the naughties –, introduced a number of programs that benefited the poor, seemed to be on track to getting a peace deal in the middle east, and his tenure was generally free of calamitous debacles other than those that sprung from Clinton’s private life and his muscular id. Indeed, we’d probably have been better off had Clinton been free to run for reelection in 2000. He was popular and probably would have challenged George Bush more effectively than Al Gore did.

But Clinton aided and abetted several of the biggest crimes of the Bush administration. He should not be let off the hook.

*Clinton’s policy toward Iraq

It set up the conditions for a disastrous invasion. At the end of the first Gulf War, the US and Britain got the UN to impose an embargo upon Iraq, to be removed at such time as Iraq could demonstrate it had destroyed its unconventional weapons. The Clinton administration loudly said that it was going to keep the embargo on Iraq in place until Saddam Hussein was out of power, whether he got rid of his weapons or not. So Saddam had no reason to prove he had destroyed his weapons, though in reality he had. If he came clean he’d be demonstrating weakness to his domestic and foreign enemies, and would win nothing in return. Moreover, Clinton loaded the UN inspections team with American spies, giving Iraq good reason not to cooperate with them, and Clinton then ordered the inspectors to end their work (contrary to popular memory, which erroneously has Iraq expelling the inspectors). All of this was foolish policy, brutally inhumane to the people of Iraq, and it set the scene for a demagogic idiot to get the US bogged down in an endless quagmire in that unhappy land.

*Reappointment of Alan Greenspan

An unmitigated disaster. Clinton’s decision to keep the US economy in the hands of a former Ayn Rand cultist was the most irresponsible sort of Centrist signaling imaginable. Had Clinton reappointed Paul Volcker instead, it seems much more likely that we’d have avoided both the internet bubble and the housing bubble. The Fed would not have meddled in the 2004 election in Bush’s favor, and Bush might not have been reelected. Clinton should be asked a question about whether he regrets this decision, every interview he does.

*Overreliance on Triangulation as a Strategy

This tactic was shortsighted and benefited Clinton at the expense of his party. Democratic leaders still have this habit deep in their genes, and go out of their way to compromise with Republicans who are in the minority, and to trash their own constituents. This is stupid and is why the Dems will likely lose their majority in at least one house.

*Bank Deregulation

In the “the USSR failed so free markets and deregulation are always good” mentality of the late 90s, this seemed to a lot of people like a good idea. As Senator Byron Dorgan said at the time, it was a bad idea. At the very least, it sent a message to the financial sector that encouraged irresponsible overspeculation and leveraging. Clinton has been asked questions about this, and issues mea culpas about some specific acts while still defending others. The rest of us should, going forward, be mindful of how his decision played out.

Leave a Comment

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Previous post:

Next post: