When we finally achieve our goal of a benign dictatorship, one of our first edicts will make required reading of the great historian C. Vann Woodward’s essay on “The Future of the Past,” which usefully explains how the past is always changing to meet the political needs of the present. He wrote mostly how the isolationists will seize on one explanation for the fall of Rome while the internationalists will prefer another, with the environmentalists preferring something about lead vases the social conservatives noting all those orgies and such, and how various ethnic groups will have differing opinions on the discovery of America, but we’re sure he would have also mentioned the recent revisions of the history of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
As we lived through it the era seemed the best of times and the worst of times, to borrow a phrase, with the Reagan boom echoing with audio enhancement by some financial legerdemain, and the right-wing Congress that got elected half-way through his first term forcing a more or less balanced budget and further financial deregulations and serious welfare reform and a few tough-on-crime measures and some big trade deals as well, but there were also all the tawdry sex scandals and a worrisome sense that some of those sneaky policies about affordable housing and such would sooner or later explode the economy. The first draft of history called it a rousing success, though, and for some time the consensus was that he’d been not half-bad, and at least had spared the country the “Hand-Maiden’s Tale” theocracy that surely would have resulted from another Republican.
This reading of history proved useful until recently, when Clinton’s long-suffering wife, former Senator and Secretary of State as well as First Lady Hillary Clinton, found herself in a presidential race with self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is more righteously liberal. Now no less a liberal pundit as Thomas Franks is lamenting “Bill Clinton’s odious presidency” in his telling of “the real history of the ’90s,” and it’s something to see. The author of the national best-selling book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?,” which explained that Kansans tend to vote Republican because they’re too crazed by Christianity to embrace the truth faith of socialism, and which was the worst book we ever read on Kansas politics, has a new title out that explains how Clinton’s tenure was a disaster for a liberals. He grudgingly concedes that Clinton achieved modest increases in the minimum wage and top tax tax brackets, and made a failed attempt at health care reform, but notes that the rest of what he’s remembered for was mostly the doing of the hated House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his fellow right-wingers and that even the economic good times were largely a matter of accounting tricks and Enron-schemes and dot-com bubbles.
As much as we’re delighted to hear such a left-winger as Franks at long last acknowledge these points, it is of course in service of the liberal agenda. Those tawdry sex scandals are now conceded, but that’s only because the religious right is now reduced to fighting for the right not to participate or same-sex weddings and saving nuns the cost of contraceptive coverage, and the woman who defended her husband’s serial abuses is not out on the campaign trail saying that any woman who alleges a sexual assault should be believed. Those tough-on-crime measures saved thousands of black lives, but now there’s a Black Lives Matter movement that that is more concerned about the mass incarceration of murderers of black men and women. Don’t mention trade deals on a Democratic campaign trail, either, or even a Republican one, because those are now out of fashion, no matter what economic benefits they’ve brought. That welfare reform bill that proved so popular and effective prior to its repeal-by-executive-action under President Barack Obama is now described as “the repeal of welfare,” and the distaff Clinton is to be tarred with that as well. There’s no mention of the awful affordable housing policies that drove a housing bubble whose popping popped the entire economy, which of course is all blamed on those de-regulations, or how the lack of concern with Middle Eastern terrorism might have manifested itself a few months into Clinton’s successor’s first term, so it’s not an altogether satisfying revisionism.
Still, we’re pleased to see some long overdue Clinton-bashing going on over on the left. It’s only fair, what with the current Republican front-runner is telling dubious tales about Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing’s pig-blood soaked bullets and rehashing pure hogwash about Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill getting along and spouting the “Bush lied, people died” mantra and embracing the kind of protectionism and Wall Street-bashing that even Bill Clinton was too smart to embrace. Perhaps some future date will revise that ridiculous history, if it serves someone’s political needs.
— Bud Norman