September 11, 2014
“Do you remember when America was good? Do you remember
we had jobs and we were building towards a brighter future? And things were
really happening? Clinton
administration. We had it under control. Things were good, they weren’t great.
We’re going to do better. But we’re going to replant our flag in the
traditional things that you understand. But the traditional things in the Clinton administration. We
could talk about Ronald Reagan all we want. … But the Clinton years were the golden years.”
an in-the-know friend’s depiction of how Hillary Clinton will market
herself to the electorate in 2016. It’s a pitch that’s sure to resonate with voters
old enough to remember the 1990s.
Clinton’s watch, as
his chums at the Center for American Progress boast, “the U.S. economy grew for 32 straight
quarters.” Job creation was as strong as it was during Reagan’s reign. Median
household income rose by 10.3 percent. The Dow increased
For a decade
and a half, Hillary’s hubby has preened over the nirvana his sycophants tell
him he tended. But as columnist Robert J. Samuelson noted, “The idea that
presidents can control [the economy] lies between an exaggeration and an
illusion.” The commander-in-chief’s power to inflict misery far surpasses his
ability to cultivate happy days. And luck is a key factor when the final grade
is assigned to an administration’s achievement on employment, income, trade,
Clinton was fortunate from the start. The
short, mild recession that began
in July 1990 ended 22 months before his inauguration. In the ‘90s, the Baby
Boomers entered their years of peak earning potential. Energy was inexpensive. (The
inflation-adjusted price of gasoline when Clinton
left office was nearly half that of today.) The computer revolution zoomed along
at a dizzying pace, and Internet access morphed from a curiosity to a
necessity. Deregulation, begun under Jimmy Carter and continued by Reagan, fostered
vibrancy in existing and newly born industries. Globalization helped -- foreign
direct investment flowed into the U.S., exports surged, and imported
goods were cheap.
Kid’s wife is unlikely to make the case that her presidency will be equally lucky.
She’ll assert that Bill’s tax hikes and “public investments” made the ‘90s
roar. The truth is more complex.
raised a number of taxes. His Republican enemies’ insistence that a recession would
result proved wrong. But when recalling their hero’s fiscal success, liberals
rarely mention that in 1997, four years after the “brave” decision on
“revenue,” his administration agreed to a number of tax cuts, most notably a reduction in the rate applied to capital
As tough as it
must be for Robert Reich
to accept, by one measure, the Clinton White House presided over the greatest
reduction in federal spending of the postwar era. As a share of GDP, Washington’s outlays
fell from 20.3 percent to 17.6 percent. The decline exceeded the drop-off engineered
by Reagan. Much of the downshift was
due to a sizable slash in expenditures on “defense.” An economy operating near
capacity filled D.C.’s coffers, and the budget was balanced for the first time
Bubba was a
pure pol. He pined for fawning press profiles and the adulation of a starstruck
citizenry. (“I think it’s important to touch as many of the American people as
we can.”) A child of the ‘60s, he was no friend of liberty, but neither was he
a doctrinaire moonbat. He abandoned his healthcare scheme when polls showed it
was a loser. (The BTU tax sought by Al Gore succumbed to a similar fate.) He
shepherded NAFTA through Congress, over the fierce opposition of union bosses
and Naderites. In 1996, he signed the GOP-crafted reform of a
prominent welfare program.
George W. Bush
doesn’t possess such flexibility. Ditto for Barack Obama. Ideologues -- be they
neoconservatives or progressives -- don’t do objectivity, and they’re not
interested in “triangulation.”
The mission goes forward, no matter the consequences. So once Clinton left office, federal spending exploded.
Unhinged warnings about foreign
“security threats” dampened consumer, investor, and business confidence. Disastrous
experiments in “nation building” got horrifically bloody. Regulations metastasized. Corporate
welfare worsened. And the healthcare “system,”
already woefully disconnected from market forces, aggressively
advanced toward complete collapse.
more like Bill, or more like George and Barack? If we’re fated to
find out, let’s hope she keeps her husband around, as a reminder that when
it comes to the presidency, less is more.
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska. He lives in Broad Brook, Connecticut.
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