People love to debate who was the best American President. In these debates the normal names rise to the surface: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Reagan, etc., but one name is always absent from any serious discussion on this topic: Bill Clinton.
The story of Bill Clinton’s Presidency is a sad, disappointing tale. He was a bright young man who came from nothing but was filled with ambition, talent, and dreams that took him to the top of almost everything he attempted. The man had the confidence to take on anything, and maybe this tremendous sense of self is what allowed him to get the most powerful position in the world, twice.
Given Clinton’s amazing political skills, charisma, speaking ability, influence, and connections, it is no surprise that he was able to get to the White House. The true tragedy, however, is how he completely squandered the opportunity once he got there.
Very few Presidents served under more auspicious times than Clinton did. In the 1990s, the country was mostly at peace, the economy was roaring with the Technology Boom, unemployment was low, and the coffers were bursting with tax dollars. As far as presidential scenarios go, Bill Clinton could not have been dealt a better hand.
But what did Clinton do with this great hand? He played it safe. Clinton was afraid to lose. He was afraid to make mistakes. He just wanted things to go smoothly during his administration. He wanted to make sure his legacy was secure.
In order to protect his legacy, Clinton turned away from the dangers of the world and led America on a great eight-year vacation from reality. During this vacation, Clinton concentrated on a series of meaningless social programs while America’s defense structure withered. Clinton cut troop levels, closed bases, cut weapons spending, neutered the CIA, etc. These cutbacks created big budget surpluses but left the nation blind and weak.
While America was on vacation, dangerous countries and groups flourished in the power vacuum. China’s intercontinental nuclear missile program surged. Corruption percolated in a newly free Russia, North Korea expanded their weapons programs, the worst factions in the Middle East grew in power, and terrorist networks spread. During the 1990s, the world became a much more dangerous place, and President Clinton, with all of the wealth and power of America at his disposal, did little to stop it. Unfortunately, America did not realize just how dangerous the world had become until September 11, 2001.
President Clinton’s failures on foreign policy were terrible, but he ultimately failed worse at home. We should not forget that Bill Clinton inspired the Conservative Revolution of 1994. It was the bungling of the first two years of the Clinton Presidency that awakened millions of Americans and got them concerned about politics. While this Conservative awaking was good for the country, it was devastating for the Democrats. More than a decade has passed, and the Democrats have still not recovered from the damage Clinton did to the party.
The darkest era in the Clinton Presidency was the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to his impeachment. It was during this time that America finally got to learn about the character of the man they had twice elected to office.
To defend in the indefensible, Bill Clinton dragged the Presidency down to new lows. America got to see a sitting President lie under oath, lie to the American people, obstruct justice, tamper with evidence, and tamper with witnesses. Even worse, America witnessed a President grossly abusing his power with unjustified use of executive privilege, misappropriation of White House staff, and use of military action as distractions. America also got to see a selfish man makes fools of his family, friends, and supporters by letting them go public with information he knew was not true.
All of this duplicity from the Oval Office had to take a tremendous toll on the self-image of Americans. Furthermore, the divisions created by those dark, turbulent years have created tremendous rifts in American political life that we may not see healed for many years to come.
Perhaps the worst damage done by Bill Clinton did not take place during his Presidency. We may just now be discovering the ramifications of America’s children growing up under the “anything goes” philosophy of the Clinton years.
Bill Clinton created a win-at-any-cost attitude in America, making lying and cheating socially acceptable to many. The corporate crooks that thrived on Wall Street in the 1990s made their way by abusing the system and using power for personal gain. In recent years, colleges and high schools have been plagued by problems with cheating students. When these cheaters and liars get caught, what is their favorite defense? It is commonly “If President Clinton could do it, why not me?”
Clinton can also be blamed for the moral decline seen in the sexual behavior of children. How often do you hear stories about casual oral sex going on among children? How many times have you seen a teen interviewed about current sexual attitudes and been shocked by how casual the child is about acts most adults consider to be incredibly intimate? When these sexually liberated children are questioned about their loose sexual values, they love to say, “If it was okay for President Clinton, what’s wrong with me doing it?”
Sadly, this is from which the real Clinton legacy may arise. The youth of America were paying attention during the 1990s, and they took note that you can get whatever you want in life (sex, power, money, fame, etc.) as long as you are willing to do whatever it takes and break any rules or standards that get in your way. President Clinton proved this to be true, and this philosophy is currently a prominent element of American culture.
Bill Clinton had it all. He had the personality, intelligence, and talent to accomplish whatever he wanted, and he served as President during a period of amazing and critical opportunities. If Bill Clinton had applied himself to more important causes than himself, he could have been the man who changed the world, but he is not. Instead, Bill Clinton is the worst American President.