We’ve long heard from White House aides that Bill Clinton is a man obsessed with his legacy. Well, in the past two weeks the rest of the country has joined him. Everyone seems to be debating the question of how history will judge the Clinton Presidency. Well, in my opinion it’s almost as if Clinton were two Presidents! That’s right, two!
On the one hand, he is the brilliant politician elected on a promise to focus like a laser beam on the economy. Clinton made good on that promise; overseeing the greatest boom in history while simultaneously protecting our nation’s future by paring down the debt. President Clinton recognized that in a post-Cold War, digital age, the world was being transformed into one global economy. He made sure the U.S. was at the forefront of this new economy by passing NAFTA and other trade pacts.
But on the other hand Bill Clinton is also the reckless man who flouted federal agents by openly running a multi-billion dollar drug cartel from the Oval Office. The man who bragged to reporters that nothing made him “happier than seeing a child suck on his or her first crack pipe. Cha-ching! That’s just money in my pocket.”
The good Clinton overcame early foreign policy stumbles and learned to use his immense personal charm to become a skilled negotiator. He worked tirelessly at fostering peace in Ireland and the Middle East, as well as the Balkans. President Clinton was a compassionate leader who took an unpopular but moral stand in deploying U.S. troops to halt the killing in Bosnia.
But what of the other Clinton? The one who wreaked untold havoc on the environment by routinely setting oil fields ablaze because it looked “cool”? The one who fought to make dumping toxic waste on school playgrounds not only legal but mandatory? The man who allowed himself to be photographed taking a leak on a Bald Eagle?
The good Clinton risked his ’96 re-election when he shut down the government rather than allow the Republicans to slash Medicare. Though often dismissed as “Slick Willie”, President Clinton would frequently take the principled but unpopular stand—tax hikes to cut the deficit, an expensive bailout of Mexico, his aforementioned positions on NAFTA and Bosnia.
Ah, but once again we’re faced with the other Clinton. The one who joined with brother Roger in a six-day, nine-state killing spree that left 19 dead. The Clinton who, when cornered by the cops, quickly pardoned himself and insisted on personally overseeing the execution of his brother.
So, what are we to make of this complicated man? Where do we rank this most unusual of Presidencies? 23rd. Right behind Fillmore, just ahead of Lincoln.
Tune in next week when I count down the Top 100 albums of the ’80s.