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Wednesday, 06 August 2014 09:49

Reconsidering the Legacy of Bill Clinton: When the Democrats Turned Neoliberal

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Bill Clinton at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, 2006. (Photo:<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/worldeconomicforum/345583530/in/photolist-wxcWJ-9h9fU4-4qQyZS-hGVbSm-9gDCEz-7EoxZx-9gGHES-9hcp1q-6BLf2D-GY7EQ-jBwah-hDCtBV-9gDCnH-ap27D6-wxcWt-692u2M-6nTPQ6-jBvdb-4vwHrW-9h9epT-6PB13v-6nX9M7-4fTXQ6-rtavf-7b4YAd-iZ2Jqe-tvmK3-4uiqih-iZ1r2F-5rtjqY-4DVJsV-5roYJK-D3U5w-5ByZDi-6fuA6h-rHEcu-4vvnU7-e6PXJ8-4KKTEz-4KQaoJ-rWbZY-4u69gC-6DNpj8-4YWsvK-juA9e-rHEdz-4KQ9xS-4wZEJx-7z1kJd-5roYpZ" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum / Flickr</a>)Bill Clinton at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, 2006. (Photo: World Economic Forum / Flickr)STEVEN JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

There is a lot of talk these days about "presidential legacies." Obama is supposedly trying to burnish his. George W. Bush has spent the last six years trying to run away from his: from his failure to prevent 9/11, to his invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, to his failed attempt to destroy Social Security. And then there's the very real legacy of Bill Clinton, which doesn't seem to garner much attention. However, on the domestic side it has been, over the long-term, just as damaging to the nation as has been George W. Bush's on the foreign side. But as Hillary apparently prepares to run for the presidency, Bill will certainly be part of the equation, whether she likes it or not. And she will not be able to try to ignore him and his record, as Al Gore did in the 2000 campaign, for better or worse.

So it might be a good idea at this time to take a look at that picture, even though it is hardly a pretty one. I am presenting the elements of it that I find to be most important, but not necessarily in order of importance, for some would think that some are more important than others. However, I think that most persons viewing this particular list would agree that they are all negative to a greater or lesser extent. Or at least they would agree that I just happen to have picked out a bunch of negative ones (but I did have a hard time remembering any positive ones). And so, in no particular order, here's my list.

Bill Clinton introduced us to Big Pharma advertising for prescription drugs on television. The main purpose of these ads, at least as they are now constructed, would seem to be to attempt to protect the firms from charges of non-full disclosure when various pharmaceuticals come to suit. But at the same time, with the visuals all the way through and the often dream-like text about what the pills can do for you at the beginning and the end, the ads: a) reinforce the US drug culture: "take this pill; it will solve your problem"; b) add to the pressure that physicians feel all the time anyway about prescribing; and c) attempt to make patients into self-prescribers.

Following a Reagan decision of 1987, Bill Clinton eliminated what was called the Fairness Doctrine that governed the use by private parties of the publicly owned radio and television waves in the United States. This is what has led to the dominance of US radio in particular by the right-wing political talk that so reinforces the political agenda of the GOP/Tea Party. (By the way, Obama reinforced this elimination in 2011.)

Clinton, aided and abetted by Attorney General Janet Reno, completely mishandled the Waco affair, allowing the leader of a tiny religious sect called the Branch Dravidians, one David Koresh, to make himself into a national hero for the Christian right-wing and the gun industry. Koresh was clearly violating gun laws. Even a United Parcel Service driver knew that. But the "Good Ol' Boy" let the thing drag on until in the end it became a tragedy that was totally preventable.

Related to that one was his total failure to make an issue of domestic right-wing terrorism in relation to the Oklahoma City bombing. There was an extensive federal investigation of the roles of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in the assault, but it never led to the broader investigation of the role and place of right-wing militias in this country, which has grown enormously. A Republican-led Senate "investigation" chaired by the man who gave us Clarence Thomas, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania led to two days of hearings at which one right-wing hate group after another was permitted to testify to how misunderstood and discriminated against they were.

One could write at length of course about the Monica Lewinsky affair and its aftermath. I won't here. Except to say that there are two words the Clinton should have uttered which Lewinsky (apparently) flashed him: "Secret Service." Of course, the whole Ken Starr-inspired impeachment thing could have been cut off at the pass had Clinton instructed Reno not to appoint that former law partner of the firm that was representing Paula Jones in her suit against Clinton, but that didn't happen either, and we know what did.

Then there was his failure to achieve health care reform (and I know how poorly organized they were, with Hillary supposedly at the helm, for that one from the inside. For I was what was known as a "Designated Speaker for the Clinton Health Plan.") I can tell you that although I did go out to community meetings, I also came home from the first "organizational meeting" that I attended at the White House and told my wife at the time, "If this is how they are going to go about it, they are never going to get anything passed." Not only did they not, but that failure led to the Gingrich so-called "landslide" (in which GOP House candidates got 18 percent of the total House vote nationally while Democratic candidates actually got 17 percent).

Briefly, we can mention, among other things: there was no fight-back on Whitewater, "travelgate," etc., even though there was, as my college classmate and first Clinton White House Counsel, Bernard Nussbaum said, no "there" there or anywhere, from the beginning; the bombing of Serbia without UN sanction that set a precedent taken full advantage of by George W. Bush who, unfortunately, did not take advantage of a major Clinton success, the intelligence and "black ops" that were behind the thwarting of both the 1998 "bombing 25 airliners over the Atlantic" plot and the "Millennium Bomb Plot" aimed at Los Angeles International Airport, either of which would have resulted in far more casualties than 9/11; and the repeal of "welfare as we know it," the end of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program.

Finally, but again also just briefly here, we must mention what were likely the two most important actions/disasters of the Clinton administration in the economic realm, each of which has played a direct role in the continuation and indeed strengthening of Reaganomics and the increasing stranglehold that the GOP/Tea Party has over fiscal policy. First was the Repeal of the Depression era Glass-Steagall Act that had separated commercial and investment banking. That repeal of course led directly to the crash of 2008 from which millions of people on this country have never recovered and likely never will.

Then there were NAFTA and the World Trade Organization initiatives, which led to the massive export of US capital to countries with (much) cheaper labor and that "massive whooshing sound" of job outflow that Ross Perot referred to in the 1992 Presidential Election Campaign. One could write a whole column about those two, of course. Let me just say briefly here that they have led invariably to the decline of US manufacturing, the parallel decline of US trade unionism, the creation of the permanent army of the unemployed, the ever-widening gap between the poor and everyone else, the increasingly creative use of the tax code to support the use of overseas so-called "tax shelters" that enable the avoidance of the payment of billions of dollars in taxes, and so on and so forth.

Some legacy, eh? Clinton's has led to long-term negative economic policies on the domestic side, while Bush's has led to long-range disaster on the foreign policy side and in the domestic arena.

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash@Truthout he is the Editorial Director of and a Contributing Author to The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy. Dr. Jonas' latest book is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A futuristic Novel, Brewster, NY, Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, and available on Amazon.