As I scanned the newspapers on the first Monday of the new year, I
came across a story about President Clinton’s plan to reintroduce the
$322 billion tax bill he offered while vetoing the Republicans “risky”
$792 billion tax cut last year. I thought to myself, “Please, not
another year of political demagoguery.” Just when I thought we might be
getting a respite from the class-warfare I realized there would be no
peace until this campaign warrior’s term expires.
Many have speculated about Clinton’s legacy, including Clinton
himself. How will he ultimately be viewed from a historical perspective?
As much as Clinton craves greatness, he is enslaved by the
often-conflicting desire for short-term gratification. In fact, one of
the tragic aspects about this administration is that it has been
whipsawed in a constant turmoil between its short-term and long-term
interests. Yes, you heard me right — I said its (the administration’s)
interests, not the nation’s. I think it’s rather obvious to most
observers that Clinton, even more than most sinners, is primarily
motivated by his selfish interests, from sensual gratification to the
desire to be enshrined as an extraordinary president.
Beyond the physical peccadilloes, Clinton’s main short-term interests
involve his desire for approval. To satisfy this unquenchable desire,
Clinton is in perpetual campaign mode. There is barely any transition
between his campaigns for office and his governance. Once elected, his
campaign machinery merely shifts its focus from getting him elected to
winning support for his policies.
People say his policies are driven by the polls, but it’s a bit more
complex than that. In actuality, his propaganda machinery seeks to
manipulate the will of the people, which, in effect, steers the polls in
alignment with his policy objectives. In those rare cases where his
propaganda machine fails to fool enough of the people he merely abandons
his policy pursuit. To Clinton, ideology is very important, but always
subordinate to his personal interests. Besides, he can always try his
policy initiatives again, after enough time has passed and his
formidable war room has had ample time to demonize opponents of the
Clinton’s quest for a real legacy has been consistently frustrated.
There have simply been no lasting achievements. Despite the incredible
prosperity during his watch, even he seems instinctively to realize that
he had little to do with it. The arguably favorable result in Kosovo was
marred by his Mr. Magoo-style handling of the conflict.
He is in tireless pursuit of that one miraculous policy triumph for
which he can claim indivisible credit and which will historically
outweigh his scandal-ridden presidency. If only that pesky 22nd
Amendment weren’t in his way, he wouldn’t have to worry about
achievements that would survive his presidency because he could just
continue to get re-elected.
As his remaining time in office ticks away, his awareness of missed
opportunities and failed dreams surely intensifies. The bottom line,
though, is that he must know that his aspiration to make Mt. Rushmore is
quixotic at best. Even extending his administration through Al Gore or
Hillary will fail to grant him presidential immortality. In the end,
this administration, like all others, will be judged on its own merits.
A full generation may pass before the gavel of historical justice
finally falls on this administration and renders its verdict. In the
meantime, we will have to deal with the short-term consequences of
Clinton’s destructive politics.
Though he has persistently harped on the need for bipartisanship, he
has done more than anyone else to destroy collegiality and sow seeds of
distrust between the parties and among the people. He has cut a wide
swath of cynicism and distrust during the last seven years and will
doubtlessly continue on that path throughout his term.
Though he has often talked about healing, it is a politico-medical
fact that wounds won’t heal if they are continually reopened. As I read
about Clinton’s tax initiative I was reminded that this nation would
have to endure another year of his injurious behavior — his
scaremongering, his class and race warfare and his deceit — before the
healing period can begin.
On the bright side, though, a year is not that long.