Saturday, September 15, 2007

Vindication: Greenspan Praises Clinton, Pans Bush

Before the current era, you have to go back to the early 19th century to find a case of back-to-back two-term Presidents. The last time it happened before the Bill Clinton / George Bush timeframe was when Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe served six terms between them in the Era of Good Feelings. Needless to say, our times are not a second Era of Good Feelings, and this is the first time in the nation's history when two Presidents of different political parties have served two terms apiece consecutively.

I make this point to say that this is a unique period that says more, probably, about the nation's electorate than about either Bush or Clinton. Schizophrenia? Fatigue? Bad alternatives? Whatever the reason, I think that this note of trivia couples with the uncertainty of the times will be something that historians study closely in the coming decades.

I believe strongly that Bill Clinton was a superb President who gambled his legacy and lost over a galactically stupid failure of personal judgement. Distant history will be kinder to him than contemporaneous accounting. Whether this issue was getting profligate spending under control, stewarding America into the uncertainties of a post-Cold War framework, or tackling domestic issues such as welfare reform and crime, Clinton was able to build consensus and lead.

Bush has failed on many fronts. His domestic agenda, seven years into his Presidency, seems to consist almost entirely of cutting taxes for the wealthy and marginalizing gay people. The short shrift given to the global war on terror, along with the failure at every stage in Iraq is a legacy that he will carry through history.

It is interesting when contemporaries write about the two. In his new autobiography, the Republican Greenspan refers to Clinton as a "soulmate" and says that the controversial Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (the one that got us 80% of the way to a surplus without a single GOP vote in either House of Congress) was "an act of political courage." Bush, on the other hand, was a disappointment and a frustration to the venerated former Fed Chair.

On Bush, Greenspan says, "My biggest frustration remained the president's unwillingness to wield his veto against out-of-control spending...Not exercising the veto power became a hallmark of the Bush presidency. . . . To my mind, Bush's collaborate-don't-confront approach was a major mistake." Also, on the surplus that Bush squandered with the tax cut for the wealthy, Greenspan says "Little value was placed on rigorous economic policy debate or the weighing of long-term consequences."

It is an interesting period of history, but in the long judgement of history, it's not even going to be close.

LINK to WP article on Greenspan book

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