Jewish World Review Jan. 19, 2001 / 24 Teves 5761
Bush should try for legacy as 'Great
President-elect George W. Bush didn't ask me to write a draft for his
inaugural address, but I've done it anyway. I hope he'll say something like
the following and put himself on track toward a legacy as the Great
President Clinton is leaving office Saturday, but he intends to remain the
titular leader of the Democratic Party. For the party, that can't be good.
Or maybe it can. When George W. Bush is sworn in, Clinton's sky-high
job approval ratings become irrelevant. His personal favorability ratings,
deservedly low, become dominant.
But, wonder of wonders, the public's opinion of Clinton's personal qualities
has undergone a sudden transformation as he prepares to depart - from
just 48 percent positive in May to 64 percent now, according to the Pew
Pew calls the phenomenon "Clinton nostalgia," but every indication is that
he does not intend to make himself just a memory but a forceful presence
on the political scene.
He has unceremoniously bumped aside Vice President Al Gore as the
leader of the party, forcing the Democratic National Committee to accept
his man, Terry McAuliffe, as national chairman.
Gore preferred to keep on DNC Chairman Joe Andrew, but DNC members
were told that "the Clintons" - the President and Sen. Hillary Rodham
Clinton (D-N.Y.) - wanted McAuliffe, who is a prodigious fundraiser.
Clinton, for sure, will help McAuliffe raise money. But it's likely his
influence will not stop there. He will no longer be a policymaker, so
leadership of the party in that sense will pass to Senate Democratic
Leader Thomas Daschle (S.D.) and House Minority Leader Richard
Nevertheless, all the signs point to Clinton having something to say about
virtually everything that's going on in Washington and the world, especially
critiquing the performance of his successor.
Clinton has already joined the Democratic claque opposing Bush's
election as illegitimate. In Chicago he said, "The only way [the
Republicans] could win the election was to stop the voting in Florida."
That fits in with other graceless Clinton statements of late about
Republicans. In several legacy-burnishing magazine interviews, for
instance, he claimed that Republicans owe him an apology for impeaching
The fact is, Clinton's legacy is a mixed bag. He presided over great
economic times and arguably helped the prosperity along by advancing
free trade and helping balance the federal budget.
It has to be remembered, however, that although deficit reduction became
a Clinton priority in 1993, the actual balancing of the budget was forced on
him and the Democrats by the Republican Congress elected in 1994.
Clinton did advance the cause of health insurance for all, going at it
incrementally when he couldn't do it comprehensively. He also increased
education funding and made college more affordable.
On the other hand, he was a moral and cultural disaster. He defiled the
environs of the Oval Office, lied under oath and was impeached.
Along with improving American education, he instructed adolescents,
according to a recent survey publicized in USA Today, that oral sex is not
Moreover, the disaster was not merely "personal." He promised "the most
ethical administration in American history" and then sold overnights in the
Lincoln Bedroom for campaign contributions, along with utterly
demolishing the remnants of post-Watergate campaign finance laws.
According to Election Day exit polls, by 68 to 29 percent voters said
Clinton would be remembered more for his scandals than his
Despite "Clinton nostalgia," last week's Pew poll reported an almost
identical result. Is this what the Democratic Party wants in a spokesman?
It's argued that Clinton has been good for the party, winning elections and
pulling it toward the center. But he never actually won a majority of the
popular vote, even against weak Republicans. In addition, the party's
Congressional strength hasn't yet recovered from his 1994 debacle.
In 1993, Democrats held 258 House seats and 57 Senate seats. Now they
have 211 and 50, respectively.
It's true that Clinton came to office as a New Democrat, advocated a "third
way" and repaired the party's image of being soft on crime, dedicated to
high taxes and big government and dismissive of middle-class values.
On the other hand, in recent years he has begun leaning left again. If there
was anything he should have done, it is to have secured Social Security
and Medicare for his own and future generations.
However, when it came to the test, he followed rather than led on
entitlement reform. Consequently, both programs face ultimate bankruptcy
unless his successor can produce a fix. Clinton presumably will oppose
There's no question that Clinton is a superb tactical politician, gifted at
establishing personal rapport, making rousing speeches and wriggling
himself free from tight spots. But for a leader, the Democratic Party should
look elsewhere. Clinton nostalgia will fade, and his baggage will only get
JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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