Jewish World Review August 17, 2000 / 16 Menachem-Av, 5760
America, Clinton said over and over again, could choose to continue the unprecedented glory--the peace, the prosperity, the greatness and goodness--of the Clinton era. Or it could return to a life of poverty, backwardness and unhappiness under Republican rule.
The high point came when Clinton painted a picture of modern history in America. In 1964, he said, with Democrats running the country, all was milk and honey. But then there was the election of 1968, and the country chose, tragically, "a far different and more divisive course." Only months later, the nation's then-longest economic expansion ended. The good times did not return until Bill Clinton took the White House.
So: Republican rule equals national misery (never mind Reagan), Democratic rule equals national joy (never mind Carter). And not just fiscal joy. Under his guidance, said Clinton, the nation had become "a better country" all around, "more confident, hopeful and just." So now, "our people face a fundamental choice--are we going to keep this progress and prosperity going?"
This is actually a reasonable framework in which to view the election--as long as you factor in what Clinton left out. Give Clinton his share of credit for the great boom in national wealth, for "ending welfare as we know it," for the reductions in crime, for balancing the budget.
But there is another side to the choice. This may be summed up in a question: Did the Clinton administration leave the nation worse off as well as better?
The subject here is corruption. In the view desperately favored by Clinton and Gore, scandal in the Clinton years should be viewed as essentially one (admittedly large) "mistake," involving one White House intern, an isolated event having nothing to do with Clinton's overall performance in office or Gore's potential performance.
But of course, the scandalous nature of the Clinton administration (or Clinton-Gore, as they used to like to say) was not limited to Lewinsky. It was structural, systemic; and it was rooted in a deep conviction of the moral superiority of Democrats and in the propriety, therefore, of employing any means necessary to perpetuate Democratic power. The Clinton administration ran government as a permanent war room.
It polarized Congress and the nation; it openly sold access to the president, the vice president and other high officials to favor-seekers from around the world; it helped destroy (to be fair, Republicans helped too) the good government reforms that liberal Democrats had spent lifetimes building; it openly worked to subvert the law in matters small (the travel office) and large (the Starr investigation); it politicized policy more thoroughly than any administration since that of Richard M. Nixon.
In 1998, addressing the bipartisan fundraising corruption of 1996--a corruption that gave rise to the most significant Clinton scandal--a thoughtful judge of these matters wrote:
"The fund-raising scandal of 1996 was a very real tragedy, with very real consequences for our democracy. People at the highest levels in both parties did more than just strain credulity; they betrayed the public trust. In their breathless, unbounded rush to raise even more money for even more television advertising, they effectively hung a giant FOR SALE sign on our government and the whole of our political process. They also gave Americans, already beset by cynicism, good reason to doubt whether citizens have a true and equal voice in their own government. The dangers here must not be dismissed; corruption is a great killer in experiments in self-government."
Recalling the nakedly favor-seeking exploits of Clinton-Gore donors such as Johnny Chung and Roger Tamraz, the writer noted that, while "it has yet to be proved that any U.S. policy . . . was altered by any of the hustlers and opportunists who bought access to some of our top leaders, we cannot deny that the potential existed for this kind of purchase. Nor can we ignore the dangers inherent in the simple appearance of influence-peddling." We are left, he said, with "a system that suggests to the public that power will be exercised chiefly in behalf of those who pay top dollar."
That was Sen. Joseph Lieberman, writing in the July 1998 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. The questions now for Lieberman, and for voters, are these: Was Al Gore one of those "people at the highest levels" who "betrayed the public trust"? And was the harm thus done to the nation of at least equal importance to any benefits of Clinton-Gore government? And why should we reward with the presidency someone who played a major role in this harm?
Clinton is right: There is a fundamental choice
08/09/00: A Calculated Risk