Ambition, Power and the Clintons
For Bill and Hillary Clinton, the ultimate American dream is eight more years. Yet how do you think they would react to having dozens of partisans at their rallies sporting large signs calling for EIGHT MORE YEARS, EIGHT MORE YEARS?
Don’t you have the feeling that they would cringe at such public displays of their fervent ambition which the New York Times described as a "truly two-for-the-price-of-one" presidential race? It might remind voters to remember or examine the real Clinton record in that peaceful decade of missed opportunities and not be swayed by the sugarcoating version that the glib former president emits at many campaign stops.
The 1990’s were the first decade without the spectre of the Soviet Union. There was supposed to be a "peace dividend" that would reduce the vast, bloated military budget and redirect public funds to repair or expand our public works or infrastructure.
Inaugurated in January 1993, with a Congress controlled by the Democratic Party, Bill Clinton sent a small job-creating proposal to upgrade public facilities. He also made some motions for campaign finance reform which he promised during his campaign when running against incumbent George H.W. Bush and candidate Ross Perot.
A double withdrawal followed when the Congressional Republicans started roaring about big spending Democrats and after House Speaker Tom Foley and Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell, told Clinton at a White House meeting to forget about legislation to diminish the power of organized money in elections.
That set the stage for how Washington politicians sized up Clinton. He was seen as devoid of modest political courage, a blurrer of differences with the Republican opposition party and anything but the decisive transforming leader he promised to be was he to win the election.
He proceeded, instead, to take credit for developments with which he had very little to do with such as the economic growth propelled by the huge technology dot.com boom.
Bragging about millions of jobs his Administration created, he neglected to note that incomes stagnated for 80% of the workers in the country and ended in 2000, under the level of 1973, adjusted for inflation.
A brainy White House assistant to Mr. Clinton told me in 1997 that the only real achievement his boss could take credit for was passage of legislation allowing 12 weeks family leave, without pay.
There are changes both the Clinton Administration actively championed that further entrenched corporate power over our economy and government during the decade. He pushed through Congress the NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements that represented the greatest surrender in our history of local, state and national sovereignty to an autocratic, secretive system of transnational governance. This system subordinated workers, consumers and the environment to the supremacy of globalized commerce.
That was just for starters. Between 1996 and 2000, he drove legislation through Congress that concentrated more power in the hands of giant agribusiness, large telecommunications companies and the biggest jackpot-opening the doors to gigantic mergers in the financial industry. The latter so-called "financial modernization law" sowed the permissive seeds for taking vast financial risks with other peoples’ money (ie. pensioners and investors) that is now shaking the economy to recession.
The man who pulled off this demolition of regulatory experience from the lessons of the Great Depression was Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, who went to work for Citigroup-the main pusher of this oligopolistic coup-just before the bill passed and made himself $40 million for a few months of consulting in that same year.
Bill Clinton’s presidential resume was full of favors for the rich and powerful. Corporate welfare subsidies, handouts and giveaways flourished, including subsidizing the Big Three Auto companies for a phony research partnership while indicating there would be no new fuel efficiency regulations while he was President.
His regulatory agencies were anesthetized. The veteran watchdog for Public Citizen of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, said that safety was the worst under Clinton in his twenty nine years of oversight.
The auto safety agency (NHTSA) abandoned its regulatory oath of office and became a consulting firm to the auto industry. Other agencies were similarly asleep-in job safety (OSHA) railroads, household product safety, antitrust, and corporate crime law enforcement.
By reappointing avid Republican Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, Mr. Clinton assured no attention would be paid to the visible precursors of what is now the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Mr. Greenspan, declined to use his regulatory authority and repeatedly showed that he almost never saw a risky financial instrument he couldn’t justify.
Mr. Clinton was so fearful of taking on Orrin Hatch, the Republican Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that he cleared most judicial appointments with the Utah Senator. He even failed to put forth the nomination of sub-cabinet level official, Peter Edelman, whose credentials were superb to the federal appeals court.
Mr. Edelman resigned on September 12th, 1996. In a memo to his staff, he said, "I have devoted the last 30-plus years to doing whatever I could to help in reducing poverty in America. I believe the recently enacted welfare bill goes in the opposite direction."
Excoriated by the noted author and columnist, Anthony Lewis, for his dismal record on civil liberties, the man from Hope set the stage for the Bush demolition of this pillar of our democracy.
To justify his invasion of Iraq, Bush regularly referred in 2002-2003 to Clinton’s bombing of Iraq and making "regime change" explicit U.S. policy.
But it was Clinton’s insistence on UN-backed economic sanctions in contrast to just military embargo, against Iraq, during his term in office. These sanctions on civilians, a task force of leading American physicians estimated, took half a million Iraqi children’s lives.
Who can forget CBS’s Sixty Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl’s tour through Baghdad’s denuded hospitals filled with crying, dying children? She then interviewed Mr. Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeline Albright and asked whether these sanctions were worth it. Secretary Albright answered in the affirmative.
Bill Clinton is generally viewed as one smart politician, having been twice elected the President, helped by lackluster Robert Dole, having survived the Lewinsky sex scandal, lying under oath about sex, and impeachment. When is it all about himself, he is cunningly smart.
But during his two-term triangulating Presidency, he wasn’t smart enough to avoid losing his Party’s control over Congress, or many state legislatures and Governorships.
It has always been all about him, Now he sees another admission ticket to the White House through his wife, Hillary Clinton. EIGHT MORE YEARS without a mobilized, demanding participating citizenry is just that-EIGHT MORE YEARS.
It’s small wonder that the editors of Fortune Magazine headlined an article last June with the title, "Who Business is Betting On?" Their answer, of course, was Hillary Clinton.
RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions