Saturday, January 26, 2008

Thanks, Bill

When Jonathon Chait throws the Clintons under the bus, you know that something big is happening.

Truth in advertising: I can't say I hated Bill Clinton as a President but I sure didn't like him. His domestic policy was OK as long as he had a Republican House running circles around him like a border collie, which is the only reason why the budget briefly came into balance. (Say it with me: Divided government is good.) In retrospect, a chimp could have run the American economy in the 90's and looked pretty good.

Bill Clinton unarguably had the worst foreign policy since Carter. It wasn't that he was incompetent like W. The problem was that he knew the American people didn't care about the rest of the world in the nineties. He was more than happy to let things slowly slide into chaos. And they did.

But the worst problem with Bill was that it was he, not Carl Rove, who wrote the playbook on how to win through slime. The constant parade of minor scandals, personal smears against opponents, and of course the romantic peccadilloes, never quite reached the point of intolerability. But it made the public profoundly tired. When the Monica thing, er, spurted onto the scene, I was kinda rooting for Ken Starr. I'd had enough. Of course, the fact that the impeachment brought Washington to a dead standstill for more than a year was a huge plus. (Say it with me: It's good when government does nothing.)

Toward the end of 2005, the constant parade of major instances of incompetence, smears against opponents, and a never-ending parade of happy-talk Bushisms again made the public profoundly disgusted, but in a much more substantive way. When we looked back on Clinton, the little stuff melted away and we were left with a rosy impression of the good ol' days, when we partied 'cause it really was 1999. The great Clinton revisionism had begun. And it continued up until about a month ago.

For all of us who felt that profound tiredness in 1998-99, the last month of the Clinton campaign brought it all roaring back. Before that, we remembered that Hillary was smart and tough and an able deal-maker. If that had been all we remembered, Hillary would have almost certainly cruised to the White House. (Indeed, I predicted as much--wrong!) But now we also remember the endless psychodrama, the sleazy destruction of political enemies in way that makes swiftboating seem principled and issue-driven. We've seen Hillary cry but we've seen her snarl, too. And we've seen the Wagging Finger of Bill once more.

That's all well worth remembering. The Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton dynastic succession issue makes everybody a little uncomfortable. But the important thing to remember is that, when it comes to political infighting, there is virtually no difference between the Clintons and the Bushes.

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