June 19, 2004


The Shrinking Clinton: Big book, small legacy. (Fred Barnes, 06/28/2004, Weekly Standard)

A BOOK CANNOT ELEVATE a president. That's true even for a book marketed by Dan Rather for an hour on 60 Minutes, its publication treated like a show-stopping event by the media, its author's tour seen as the equivalent of a high-octane political campaign, and its importance signified by the expectation of an entire summer in which the author will never be far from the spotlight. Bill Clinton should not get his hopes up. Presidents are judged by their record, not their memoirs. At best, Clinton is Calvin Coolidge without the ethics and the self-restraint.

Clinton is not a failed president, only an insignificant one. In his interview with Rather to plug My Life, he claims two great accomplishments. One is "the creation of 22 million jobs." The other is the toppling of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in the Balkan war. So Clinton takes credit, above all, for high job growth and a positive outcome in a relatively minor foreign policy crisis. One qualification: On jobs, while Clinton deserves credit, presidents merely make jobs a bit easier or harder for the economy to create. They don't create jobs themselves, except by expanding government. In sum, Clinton's twin achievements match Coolidge's almost exactly. The highlights of Coolidge's term were a flourishing economy and triumph in three minor foreign ventures.

Clinton had three major successes in Congress during his eight years in office, but it's no surprise he downplays them. They reflect his weakness as a president. The first was passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. This measure was proposed by President Reagan, negotiated and signed by the first President Bush, and ratified with Republican votes as congressional Democrats abandoned Clinton in droves. The second was welfare reform that reduced the rolls dramatically. He signed this Republican bill reluctantly in 1996 only after his political adviser, Dick Morris, told him his reelection would be jeopardized if he didn't. The third Clinton success was the arrival of a balanced budget, again a goal Clinton had warily endorsed but not expected to achieve so soon.

Now consider these achievements for a moment. Do they remind you of anyone's agenda? The answer is Reagan's. All three were longstanding aims of Reagan, not of Clinton or Democrats.

The comparison to Coolidge is unfair to one of our best presidents. Warren G. Harding seems a better yardstick.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 19, 2004 10:23 AM

The comparison to Coolidge is quite good. Both were presidents who perfectly matched their times, without making any lasting mark. They both presided over booming post-war economies and got out of office right before the sky came falling down. They filled their two terms (slightly less in Coolidge's case) doing mostly nothing. Coolidge did so in silence, Clinton while talking everybody to death.

The major difference is of course that Coolidge was a decent man, while Clinton is morally corrupt. But that's a reflection of the utter decay of western culture. Clinton matched his time in that regard as well. He was the unserious president of a most unserious decade.

Posted by: Peter at June 19, 2004 11:22 AM

Tell me again why I should believe or care about the memoirs of a man who, whenever he appeared in court during that time, could only respond, "I can't recall".

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 19, 2004 11:30 AM

According to Pat Buchanan, Warren G Harding was a great President.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at June 20, 2004 3:46 PM

He was a decent president, as was Clinton, but a philanderer and scandal plagued, as was Clinton.

Posted by: oj at June 20, 2004 4:29 PM

Maybe so but Clinton wouldn't have had the cojones to call for black equality in front of an Alabama crowd in the 20's like Harding did.

He was a severely underrated and seriously maligned Prez.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at June 20, 2004 5:43 PM