Bill Clinton is undoubtedly the greatest politician of his generation. He is also a thoroughly reprehensible character.
Last week, he had the gall to complain to people in Wisconsin about "impatient voters." According to a news account, at an Obama rally in Green Bay, he said:
"This shouldn't be a race."
"The only reason it is," Clinton reportedly said, "is because Americans are impatient on things not made before yesterday and they don't understand why the economy is not totally hunky-dory again."
This is infuriating for two reasons. First, Clinton uses the term "impatient" like he is describing people waiting for their dinner to be served at restaurant. That's not the story of the current economy. The story of the economy is people who do not have jobs or do not have jobs that give them enough hours or a high enough wage to allow them to pay their bills each month.
This is an economy where people are losing their homes and being evicted from their apartments. It is one where people can't afford medical care or decent food and clothes for their kids. That is not a story of impatience; it's a story of real suffering.
It's perhaps not surprising that Clinton can't understand this reality. This is a guy who commented about his multimillion-dollar book deal and six-figure speaker's fee that he had never been financially secure until he left the White House.
Of course, this is crap by any reasonable definition of "financially secure." Clinton was guaranteed a pension of almost $200,000 a year, plus health care coverage, the day he left the White House. This would have put him far into the top 1 percent of retirees, even if he never earned another penny.
What Clinton meant by "financially secure" was an income that allowed him to hang comfortably with the super-rich who had financed his campaigns. To these people, $200,000 a year is not real money.
It would always be infuriating to see someone sitting comfortably in the stratosphere of the income distribution complain that people are impatient because they want a job that would allow them to pay their bills. However, it is even more infuriating when this talk comes from someone who is so directly responsible for the current disaster.
Memories in Washington are short (that is a requirement for getting ahead in this town), but it was Clinton who first tied the country to a bubble-driven economy. While there was much good news in the late 90s boom, it was driven by an unsustainable stock bubble.
The ratio of stock prices to corporate earnings in the late 90s made no sense; it was irrational exuberance, plain and simple. It was inevitable that we would run out of suckers who were willing to pay billions of dollars for Garbage.com, Internet start-ups that didn't have a clue as to how they would ever make a profit. And when the bubble deflated, the consumption boom and Internet investment boom (and budget surpluses) that it had fueled would inevitably vanish along with it.
While George W. Bush deserves blame for many things, the story that President Clinton handed him a thriving economy is only for children and Washington Post editors. The real story is that Clinton handed him an economy that was badly distorted by an overvalued dollar and was doomed to a severe recession from a collapsed stock bubble.
Bush made things worse, not better. The path to stable growth required rebalancing the U.S. economy by getting the dollar down. This would have made U.S. goods more competitive internationally, reducing imports and increasing exports. Higher net exports would increase employment and give workers the opportunity to see real wage gains in step with productivity growth.
Instead Bush took the easy way out and relied on the growth of the housing bubble, courtesy of the Maestro, Alan Greenspan. Of course the housing bubble was destined to burst also, and produce a recession of the sort that we are now experiencing, as competent economists said at the time.
Clinton has a lot of nerve complaining about impatient voters. He had an audience that was patient enough to listen to him spout his self-serving drivel when they should have booed him off the stage. It will be a great day for the country when he retires to Martha's Vineyard, or wherever it is that he hangs out with his financially secure friends, and takes his Wall Street-based economic policies with him.