Reagan changed history. At home, he radically altered both the shape and perception of government. Abroad, he changed the entire structure of the international system by bringing down the Soviet empire, giving birth to a unipolar world of unprecedented American dominance.
By comparison, Clinton was a historical parenthesis. He can console himself — with considerable justification — that he simply drew the short straw in the chronological lottery: His time just happened to be the 1990s, which, through no fault of his own, was the most inconsequential decade of the 20th century. His was the interval between the collapse of the Soviet Union on Dec. 26, 1991, and the return of history with a vengeance on Sept. 11, 2001.
Clinton’s decade, that holiday from history, was certainly a time of peace and prosperity — but a soporific Golden Age that made no great demands on leadership. What, after all, was his greatest crisis? A farcical sexual dalliance.
Clinton no doubt wishes he’d been president on Sept. 11. It is nearly impossible for a president to rise to greatness in the absence of a great crisis, preferably war. Theodore Roosevelt is the only clear counterexample, and Bill is no Teddy.
What is the legacy of the Clinton presidency? Consolidator of the Reagan revolution. As Dwight Eisenhower made permanent FDR’s New Deal and Tony Blair institutionalized Thatcherism, Clinton consolidated Reaganism. He did so most symbolically with his 1996 State of the Union declaration that “the era of big government is over.” And more concretely, with a presidency that only tinkered with such structural Reaganite changes as tax cuts and deregulation, and whose major domestic achievement was the abolition of welfare, Reagan’s ultimate social b¿te noire.
These are serious achievements, but of a second order. Obama did little more than echo that truism. But one can imagine how it made Clinton burn. He is, after all, a relatively young man who has decades to brood over his lost opportunity for greatness and yet is constitutionally barred from doing anything about it.
This goes on. But the punchline apparently is that the Clenis wants his wife to win so he can make history by becoming the first First Dude. Or something like that.
I can’t even comment on the bulk of this. Its a way of seeing the world completely alien from mine. I don’t think taking advantage of a moment in history when military threats have mostly gone away is an inconsequential achievement. Frankly, the two Bushes were also presidents in a time of no military threats, and look how things turned out in terms of the economy, social issues, and plain old pride in the nation. (And please don’t tell me Saddam or Al Qaeda constituted military threats – sure, perhaps something had to be done, but that was in the same way that something had to be done about Kosovo or the various militias that were running around the US in the mid-90s encouraged by some of the members the Republican Congress.)
I think Clinton was pretty good as presidents go, in some ways the best one we had since WW2, but that speaks more to the fact that the position doesn’t seem to attract people who know what they’re doing.
Krauthammer doesn’t realize that in two ways Clinton was president on September 11. The first way is that so many folks (and my guess is Krauthammer is one of them) blame him for September 11. The second, of course, is that there was a World Trade Center bombing in ’93 – and it was dealt with.
Then there’s the whole bit about Ike doing FDR’s thing and Clinton doing Reagan’s. Wow. Incidentally, if raising taxes in 1993 is tinkering with Reagan’s tax structure, I guess someone should ask whether Reagan’s deregulation really gets assigned to Carter instead. But if there’s one way that Clinton did follow Reagan’s legacy, it was militarily. He cut and run at the first sign of trouble in Somalia… Reagan-style (think Marine barracks). The wars he did prosecute resembled nothing more than… Grenada.
But what I really find interesting is this… if the Soviet system was unsustainable, it had already started to teeter, and its collapse predicted by many people, why does Reagan get credit for it? Its not like the USSR of the 1980s was the Third Reich or the Empire of Japan, or even a USSR perceived to be rising such as Truman, Ike, and JFK had to deal with.
Update… Added a bit to the paragraph about Clinton following Reagan’s legacy. Also, noted that not all of the members of the Republican Congress in the ’90s were encouraging militias disloyal to the US to make trouble.