There has been much nostalgia lately for former United States President Bill Clinton. Republicans who were considering a compromise between the current GOP-led Congress and President Barak Obama have been recalling fondly the compromises between the Republican-led Congress and Clinton to cut taxes, balance the budget through spending cuts and reform welfare. In addition, a recent public opinion survey ranked Clinton behind only John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan in popularity among modern presidents. His popularity has even increased. Clinton also recently conducted a press conference at the White House briefing room on behalf of Obama. Finally, Clinton and Obama Administration diplomat Richard Holbrooke was praised in the liberal media after his recent death.
Conservatives should especially beware the Clinton nostalgia. Although Clinton deserves credit for signing key parts of the Congressional Republicans’ Contract with American into law, these acts must be considered in their context. Clinton had raised income taxes, which were not lowered until his successor took office. At the same time, he increased spending, despite the labeling of his tax increases as a “deficit reduction” plan, as I have noted previously. The balanced budget achieved later in his Administration tends to obscure the fact that Clinton’s spending over the course of his two terms in office added nearly a trillion dollars to the federal debt; the temporary budget surpluses of his last years did not make up for the massive deficits he had produced beforehand, despite his drastic cuts to defense and intelligence.
In other domestic matters, Clinton earned the reputation as the “Abortion President” before Obama has since wrested the title from him, he weakened the right to bear arms, and he appointed liberal judges. Except in his trade policy, Clinton was a disaster on foreign policy. His fiasco in Somalia emboldened al-Qaeda by suggesting the U.S. was a pushover that feared casualties more than defeat, he failed to respond adequately to the emerging terrorist threat, he appeased North Korea and he gave missile technology to China.
The praise for Holbrooke is typical of liberals toward fellow liberals who failed. The Clinton Administration did little while a Communist-led genocide campaign called “ethnic cleansing” was being conducted on NATO’s flank in the former Yugoslavia. Only after hundreds of thousands of mostly civilian deaths and even more dislocations did it finally react and force peace negotiations. Holbrooke then negotiated with the Yugoslav Communist dictator, Slobodon Milosovic, legitimatizing this war criminal by using him as a guarantor of the peace accords. The accords accepted the status quo, meaning that instead of insisting upon the right of return for refugees, they ratified the ethnic cleansing inspired by Milosovic. An artificial Bosnian state was created and American “peacekeeping” troops sent in to act as human shields between the divided ethnic groups. Clinton’s policy failed to teach Milosovic a lesson, which required a lengthy U.S. air campaign when the “Butcher of Belgrade” later opened a new ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo. Yet Clinton and Holbrooke have boasted about and been praised for their diplomacy ever since, usually without any objection. But then, Clinton does not have a reputation for honesty.
In short, Clinton might have been better in some respects than the current president on domestic matters, although at least Obama has never raised income taxes, but Clinton was far worse on defense and foreign policy. Conservatives are right to recall the beneficial policies of the Clinton Administration, such as his cut of the capital gains tax, and to use them as examples for Obama, but they should be careful not to get carried away with nostalgia for one of the worst presidents in American history and should consider the entire context of his eight years in office.