Saturday, 17 January 2009

Plus ça change

The Independent today re-published a very remarkable leader column that first appeared on the eve of Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993. I couldn't find it on their website to link to, so I hope they won't mind too much if I quote it.

Lucky Americans! After the 12 years of the Reagan-Bush Republican era, tomorrow's inauguration of Bill Clinton gives the United States one of those fresh starts that democratic systems desperately need - and for which human nature craves. On this side of the Atlantic we may be forgiven a powerful twinge of envy for the cleansing of the Augean stables that is taking place across the water.

In Britain, after nearly 14 years of the Thatcher-Major era, there is something of the same sense of public disenchantment with the nation's leadership that led to George Bush's defeat. But we have had no similar change since 1979, and no relief is in prospect, apart from an upturn in the economy. We are sentenced to four more years of the same, with the government showing all the signs of tiredness, insensitivity to the public mood and proneness to lapses of morality to which long tenure leads; and the prospect offered by the current Opposition lifts few spirits.

Mr Clinton will have great difficulty in fulfilling the high hopes placed in him. His gifts include great energy, determination and staying power allied to formidable intelligence and (not always a concomitant) a great willingness to learn. But his ability to make difficult decisions and choices has yet to be tested. Ruthless he undoubtedly can be, but no-one knows whether he will deploy that attribute against the right people and interest groups as they crowd in upon him. Vested interests are well represented in his cabinet, of whose 18 members 13, including himself, are lawyers.

As I said, a most remarkable, perceptive piece. With just a few changes of name it could have been written today, which I assume is why the Indy decided to re-run it. It's difficult, in retrospect, to connect the Bill Clinton who inspired such great hopes with the vacuous sitcom the Clinton White House became. And the Major government, which so bored and depressed the leader-writer, looks with more than twelve years' hindsight to have been positively benign (as, indeed, does the presidency of the first George Bush). If you had a time machine you'd want to advise whoever wrote this not to get their hopes up, to be more realistic. And also to realise that the Major and Bush governments of the early 1990s were not, in fact, quite so bad as they seemed.

All - or almost all - administrations begin in hope and end in disillusion. High expectations are rarely fulfilled to everyone's satisfaction. Even low expectations - such as attended the advent of George W Bush - can prove to have been dismayingly optimistic. The opening sentence, however, expresses most Britons' thoughts this weekend as well, or better, than it did eighteen long years ago. Lucky Americans!


Olive said...

You think that George Bush Senior was a better president that Bill Clinton? Really?
I think you're right about all administrations beginning in hope and ending in disillusion, and I don't think Obama is going to be an exception: some of his appointments, particularly in the justice department signal business as usual.

Aquaria said...

Let's try to remember that the only reason Clinton became a "vacuous sitcom" is because a bunch of delusional fuckwits tormented him from the day he won the election, and beyond the day he left office. I can't remember a time when he wasn't besieged with crackpot hysterical ravings.

In fact, his lie about Monica Lewinsky was the only thing that ever panned out for the crazies. Travelgate, Filegate, Vince Foster, rape, sexual harrassment, trashing the White House, Troopergate, having people killed--there wasn't any accusation those asswipes wouldn't flinch from. Tens of millions spent to investigate the man's every move, and to what end... A blow job that he lied about to a grand jury?

They were so nuts that they tried to blame him for things that happened before he became President (Ruby Ridge)! And, somehow, 9/11 became his fault too! The hate was so strong that it will not die to this day. All you have to do is say "Clinton," to some of these jerks, and they get apoplectic with rage--instantly.

Sometimes, I wonder how much he would have accomplished if he'd been able to concentrate more on his job and less on the hate setting straight yet one more delusional accusation.

The history books will show that he was one of the good Presidents of the late 20th century. Not a great Pres, but good. Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush Sr could only wish history would view them well at all.

The Heresiarch said...

Oh, I agree that Bill's basically a good guy. The greatest tragedy of his presidency was that his and Hillary's health reforms came to nothing; but while opposition in Congress after Newt Gingrich took over caused much of the trouble that wasn't the case at the beginning. His administration never really recovered from a slow start. Obama doesn't seem to have made the same mistakes.

I think Clinton could have been a great president: but greatness requires a real challenge, and Clinton never faced a 9/11 or a credit crunch. Had he been in post on Sept 11th I think the world would be a rather different place today.

On Olive's point, I think George Bush senior is much underrated. But I wasn't comparing him to Clinton, I was comparing him to his son.

passer by said...


Bill Clinton was not to blame for 9/11, BUT if had taken the issue of Islamist terror (which will not be going away with Bams election) more seriously (first WTC attack, Africa bombings ect) AND not put a big PC blanket over the operations of the security services then things COULD have panned out differently.

Same Too, with the Community reinvestment Act, and the whole edifice of Fannie and Freddy, yes of course it was the FED and the sitting congress that did not see the problems with credit growth coming from South East Asia, BUT if these PC aspirations of getting poor folks into homes were not followed up with a massive Federal Nod, then things would be at least a bitter less gloomy today.

Bill Clinton was a lousy president, but like Bam he had personality, which is what counts as politics today.