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by Mark Drolette
Monday, Apr. 26, 2004 at 6:33 AM
Bill Clinton has been blamed by his detractors for just about everything from curdled milk to genetic mutations. But might there be a more recent president whose own record of misdeeds puts Clinton's to shame? Read the following for why it just may be time for Clinton critics to quit caterwauling.
I swear, I think it's only a matter of time before I read the above headline. It seems Bill Clinton (or Hillary, for that matter) has been blamed for just about everything but the Civil War (and I'm sure eventually someone--maybe Ann Coulter, or "Ann Slanders" as she's called in my house--will dig up an Arkansas ancestor who’s culpable somehow). This anti-Clinton obsession is so ingrained with some people it's developed into a Pavlovian response: When they hear "Clinton," they automatically exclaim, "did it!" It doesn't seem to matter how trivial the issue, how long ago something occurred, or even whether there’s any rational connection; the compulsion by his detractors (and my, they are a rabid lot) to throw Clinton's name derisively into any political discussion or commentary is apparently unstoppable. And when it comes to serious matters, like dealing with terrorism or leveling with the American people, well, you'd think old William Jefferson is Beelzebubba incarnate. But let's look at the facts (whoops--there go certain readers right there.)
First, a disclaimer: I dislike Bush intensely, but am not a huge Clinton fan, either. I realize this may confuse some who tend to view the world in strictly black-and-white terms (Bush, whose gray matter comprehends no gray areas, is the perfect president for such folks), but there it is. I wasn’t enamored with Clinton's unworkable "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gays in the military, his cynical escalation of the exorbitantly expensive and draconian drug war, or his pointy-fingered denial of having "sexual relations with that woman." He was no champion of the Constitution, and bore the unmistakable odor of being available for the right price.
However, in these areas and so many others, Bush has Clinton beat by a Texarkana country mile. This is what astounds me when I hear assertions about Bush's "integrity" versus Clinton's "sleaziness." (Maybe it depends on what your definition of integrity is.) When Bush defenders insist they hear truth and sincerity in his words, I get a sick sense: I see deaf people.
For instance, in the rainbow-bannered arena, Bush's phony proposed constitutional gay marriage ban (clearly election year pandering to his hardcore base) wins the homophobia contest hands-down. The drug war? Bush's unhinged Attorney General, John Ashcroft, has been even more zealous than the previous administration in continuing this crusade (and heaven knows Ashcroft loves a good crusade), spending precious resources even after 9/11 to search for and destroy medicinal marijuana intended for terminally ill, wheelchair-bound patients. I will admit, though, I do tend to forget this is all done in the name of compassionate conservatism.
While it's certainly true that Clinton paid close attention to polls, the current administration has no equal when it comes to politics-driven policy. Karl Rove is the master of finger-in-the-wind, poll-watching (and manipulating), pinpoint voter-targeting demographics. He's also probably evil, but still a master, and the overwhelming evidence is in: Not a single decision is made by this administration without first calculating the net gain or loss in meaningful congressional or electoral votes. As for Bush being so pure that he doesn't listen to polls, this could only be true if one means he ignores comments made by Krakow residents.
Clinton-haters blame the former president for the country's economic problems under Bush. Hmm, let's see: The employment picture hasn't been this bad since, well, since Bush Sr. was in office (probably a coincidence). The giant sucking noise caused by the disappearance of millions of jobs on Bush Jr.’s watch is strangely appropriate, given the surname of the last president who lost more. Historically speaking, Herbert Hoover is not someone with whom most presidents would care to be associated. But W doesn't fret much over legacy. When queried by Bob Woodward for his book "Plan of Attack" about how future Americans (provided there are any) will view his decision to invade Iraq, Bush responds: "History. We don't know. We'll all be dead." I've noticed the president seems to be thinking a lot about deceased folks lately; I guess that makes sense, considering he's directly responsible for thousands of them. At his recent bizarre performance art-cum-press conference (my god, what the hell was that, anyway?), our grammatically challenged leader professed the following concern for grieving families: "One of my hardest parts of my job is to console the family members, who've lost their life." Too bad his orders to start the war weren't as equally garbled.
Speaking of speaking, I sure miss Clinton's public appearances. Say what you will about blind spots in his personal comportment, but he possesses a brilliant mind. I mean, put Clinton's ability to grasp things political against Bush's, and it almost seems like Clinton is a Rhodes scholar while Bush is some fortunate son of average intellect who matriculated to a prestigious university based solely on his family's influence--doesn't it? I truly enjoyed watching and listening to Clinton whether I agreed with him or not; he obviously grasped the issues and understood nuances. Contrast that with Bush's elocution "skills," and one's lucky if ear surgery and some counseling aren't required immediately after hearing him try to string together sentences that follow any known rules of English. I have to force myself to listen to Bush as it is, but I promise: If I hear one more missing "g," I'm thinkin' I'm tunin' him out.
One of the sillier claims making the rounds these days is that Clinton (or Al Gore, had he won in 2000--well, he did win, but the Supreme Court said he didn't double-dog dare ya win) would not have gone after al-Qaida in Afghanistan post-9/11 the way the heroic Bush did. Sorry, but ANY American president would have done the same thing. In fact, make that any American period, including my slow Aunt Earline, and she's been dead for six years. Bush gets no extra credit for doing his job (after not doing his job), but maybe that's a little harsh: Perhaps it should be acknowledged he at least tried to make it appear he was interested in pursuing the actual mass murderers before hanging a testosterone-fueled U-turn and careening toward Baghdad.
There's been a hue and cry from the right, of course, that 9/11 is all Clinton's fault and Bush was minding the store just fine; after all, Bush had only eight months to Clinton's eight years to be on the lookout for swarthy men who might do us great harm. Time for our non-revisionist history moment: Clinton spent much of his two terms shackled by self-righteous Republicans (that could be redundant) who were more obsessed about busting Clinton for something--anything!--than interested in serving their country. They found the perfect point man in the moralistic Ken Starr who, after years of investigation for one flimsy accusation after another on which was spent a mere million of taxpayer money, finally nailed Clinton for nailings of his own, which, though perfectly legally, were certainly ill-advised. Clinton compounded his poor judgment, though, by lying under oath, thus finally giving his pursuers something to hang their cone-shaped hats on. This was the moment Clinton lost me. I couldn't care much about with whom or even what he had sex, but I didn't like having a finger waggled in my face and being lied to.
Was this an impeachable offense? More impeachable than--just kind of thinking out loud here--lying about why this nation must launch an unprovoked attack to uproot an impotent, U.S.-nurtured dictator (tyrannus americanus commonus), causing untold misery and costing billions, solely to satiate some harebrained America-as-empire ideology? Why, of course! (Sorry, I had a Junior moment.) I mean, of course not, but that certainly appears to be the conclusion of anti-Clintonians whose pathological obsession blinds them to anything remotely resembling common sense.
As for who really, really, REALLY focused more on combating terrorism, the Clintonites or Bushies: All the testimony before the 9/11 commission indicates that under both administrations, coordination between the FBI and CIA was sorely lacking (what a shocker that is). Former U.S. counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke stated that the Clinton administration had had “no higher priority” than combating terrorism. Certainly one can fairly argue how (in) effective the strategy was, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. When the Clinton administration passed on its terrorism-related intelligence to the incoming Bush entourage, however, the data was treated somewhat less than urgently (both because it had icky Clinton fingerprints on it and also because it's hard to concentrate on ousting Saddam Hussein and genuine terrorist threats simultaneously.) There's no doubt, though, that by the summer of 2001, Bush and crew were asleep at the console, considering "the system was blinking red," according to CIA Director George Tenet. But I do want to state right here and now it is categorically not true that Osama bin Laden personally phoned the president one or twice to inform him of al-Qaida's plans (no one can say I don't defend the president when the truth dictates it).
Neither administration covered itself in glory. But it must be noted that, during Clinton’s tenure, the impeachment-crazed House Republicans and other GOPers would have excoriated old Bill had he attempted a full-scale operation against the bin Laden gang. Why, they might even have gone so far as to suggest he had taken such action to divert attention and protect his political posterior! (Naturally, Bush never would do such a thing. By the way, has anyone read anything about Harken lately?)
The Clinton constitutional transgressions I mentioned earlier? He had a poor First Amendment record: His administration pushed for the (successful) installation of V-chips in all TV sets (perhaps one should have been installed in his libido) and pursued censorship in other areas. He was no friend of the Fourth Amendment, either: During Clinton's tenure, the Justice Department began conducting warrantless searches in certain situations. But, when it comes to rights (as in the denial of), Clinton was a piker compared to Bush. How about throwing an American into prison indefinitely with no access to family or legal counsel (or anyone, for that matter) as has happened to "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla? As if that weren't bad enough, Padilla daily undergoes unspeakable torture by being forced to listen to Rush Limbaugh (just kidding, but maybe I shouldn't give the government any ideas). Bush wants to make permanent the odious Patriot Act (of course). Also, a concerted, sometimes brutal effort at suppressing dissent, undoubtedly initiated upon orders from the top, has been employed across the land. Orwellian-named (shouldn't that be "Bushian-named"?) "free speech zones" are routinely set up in cities hosting the President, VP, or government-sponsored trade conferences, far from the center of action. Unfunny thing, though: When their main man is in town, Bush supporters hoist their pro-W signs unimpeded, while those displaying less friendly messages are corralled blocks away. On more than one occasion, when a No Blood for Oil-er has managed to mingle amongst the Crawford Cowboy Crowd, arrest and prosecution on trumped-up charges have followed; trumped-up by definition, since these are crystal-clearly First Amendment violations. It might be only a matter of time before FSZs are restricted to a few scattered parking lots in San Francisco and New York--pay-by-the-hour, no doubt. Perhaps daily rates will be available.
Clinton has been (rightly) slammed for shady fund-raising activities and using 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as a giant moneymaking machine. He even provided Lincoln bedroom sleepovers as perks for big contributors for which Bush blasted him during the 2000 campaign. Either W forgot he'd said this (a distinct possibility) or ultimately decided he might like a piece of that action himself because, whaddyaknow, a couple years later news broke that Bush held White House slumber parties for—surprise--Republican campaign heavy hitters. When asked by reporter Helen Thomas if the Lincoln bedroom had been used by any of these GOP bigwigs, an administration spokeswoman declined to say, stating instead "there are a variety of guest rooms in the White House." Well, I guess that clears that up. Actually, Bush needed no inspiration from Clinton in misusing an official government residence: During his stretch as the Lone Star State's head honcho, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports that "eight of the 31 overnight guests at the Texas governor's mansion [in 1999] helped...Bush raise a record million for his Republican presidential bid." Once again, Bush out-Clintoned Clinton, pretty cheeky stuff when one recalls his pledge, if elected, to "restore honor and integrity to the White House." Maybe Bush meant after HIS residency there. Really, though, when the subject is financial chicanery coupled with unbelievable chutzpah, further discussion is truly rendered moot by three short words: “Bush tax cuts.”
Brace yourself: The upcoming litany of Bush's lies and deceptions is the decidedly unfunny part of our program, so I’m afraid the yuck stops here. How can people still beat incessantly on Clinton and yet back Bush when the latter has compiled a record that would put even Richard Nixon to shame? (And I was rock-solid SURE Tricky Dick would never be replaced as the all-time worst.) President George Walker Bush: lied about the threat from Iraq and its ties to al-Qaida, lied about the “average” 83 tax cut, directed the EPA to falsely tell New Yorkers their air was safe a few days after 9/11, has stonewalled the 9/11 and Iraq war intelligence commissions after also first resisting their creations, displays little interest in the very serious matter of finding the member(s) of his staff who blew CIA operative Valerie Plame’s cover, refuses to release energy task force records, ordered information about the Medicare bill’s true cost withheld from Congress until after its vote, proposes reclassifying as "manufacturing jobs" fast-food positions to help boost his jobs lost numbers, foisted his much-ballyhooed No Child Left Behind legislation on unwilling states only to stick them with billion in underfunding since its enactment, promotes himself as tough on terror yet just days AFTER 9/11 slashed by almost two-thirds the FBI’s .5 billion emergency anti-terrorism request, sends the military senselessly into harm’s way with high praise while, variously, opposing Pentagon health insurance benefits to reservists and National Guard members, slashing funds for proper medical care and housing for military dependents, eliminating access to VA drug discounts for 164,000 veterans…of course, I could go on, but is it really necessary? It should be very painfully obvious, if you are an American who loves your country: President Bush is an unscrupulous, opportunistic liar, and this country is suffering immeasurably for it.
If you’ve read closely thus far, a) bless your heart and b) you understand this essay’s purpose is not to bash Bush in an effort to minimize Clinton’s shortcomings; it is not an either-or proposition. The point is that of the two, when it comes to duplicity, the former president is legions behind the incumbent. It is way past time for those who have whined incessantly for oh-so many years about Clinton’s wickedness and how all things dark are his fault to give up the ghost, pack it in, call it a decade. It’s so last millennium and also extremely fatigued, and considering the machinations of the current White House resident, transparently disingenuous. If you are one of those compulsive Clinton-haters and cannot see this, you may wish to hie thee soon to the nearest mental health facility and do yourself (and your poor, worn-out family) a big favor. Because when it comes to comparing the current president’s performance to that of his predecessor’s, any objective review of Bush’s witheringly bad song-and-dance routine would note he’s got too right feet and also mention the tune’s grating reworked lyrics (with apologies to Irving Berlin): “Anythin’ Bill can do, I can do unbetter. I can do anythin’ unbetter than him.”
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