For a left liberal like me, it is not easy to commit heresy. After all, we are meant to be open-minded free thinkers, unshackled by taboos. Nevertheless there is one thought so heretical, merely to utter it would ensure instant excommunication. I hesitate even to pose it as a question. But here goes. What if George W Bush was to prove to be one of the great American presidents?
At first blush, it seems a nonsensical proposition. As I write, Bush's poll ratings have plunged to the Nixonian depths; one of his top officials, “Scooter” Libby has been indicted on perjury charges, while his closest counsel, Karl Rove, remains under investigation; Bush has botched a Supreme Court nomination; he stands accused of ballooning the federal deficit; images of the dead floating in the streets of a flooded, Katrina-hit New Orleans still linger in the American imagination; and, gravest of all, the death toll of US personnel killed in Iraq is in excess of 2,000. The Bush presidency, even some Republicans predict, will be remembered only as a disaster.
And yet history has a funny habit of messing with presidencies. Ronald Reagan was dismissed as a joke by plenty of Europeans and Brits in the 1980s, yet he is revered in the United States as one of the great occupants of the highest office
You see, history is strange like that. It doesn't consider things like subjective polls of popularity. In fact, some of our greatest presidents -- like Lincoln or Reagan-- faced considerable controversy during their tenure and, even with a lack of popularity and declining polls, somehow managed to do the right thing and make a positive and historical difference in the world.
Bush's presidency is not yet over, and certainly much can happen; so it is far too soon to put it under historical microscopes. And yet, there is so much that he has already done to advance freedom and democracy around the world, I have few doubts about his legacy.
Not so, William Jefferson Clinton. His presidency is over and done with; and regardless of the spin that is still swirling around him; regardless if his spouse manages to become chief executive in the future; history is already shining a very bright light on him, and it isn't making him look very good.
Here is what Larry Schweikert at the History News Network, and a historian has to this to say:
Clinton, however, had no such lofty ideals in his self-made scandal. He brought sex into the arena by first lying to the public during the campaign over Jennifer Flowers; then again by attempting to hush Paula Jones in her civil suit; then finally by giving false testimony to a Grand Jury. In the process, he managed to become the only president ever to be disbarred by allowing his attorney to submit a false statement to a federal judge. (There must be a standing joke here to the effect that if you aren’t moral enough to be a lawyer...) Clinton’s Lewinsky scandal was also worthy of historians’ treatment because it possibly marked the demise of the “mainstream media” as a journalistic monolith. The key stories were broken by Matt Drudge on his Internet site, and indeed, the mainstream media sought to contain the story that would damage the Democratic Party. Talk radio, the Internet, and Fox News all took center stage for bringing new information to the attention of the public. Teachers might examine the rise of these “alternative” news sources with the rapid and steady decline of the circulation of so-called mainstream papers and the incredible drop in viewership of the “Big Three” nightly news shows.
In light of the revelations by the 9/11 Commission that Clinton, with almost wanton disregard for the evidence, dismissed warnings about al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and terrorism; that he turned down three offers by the Sudanese government to hand over bin Laden; and that his Justice Department, courtesy of Jamie Gorelick, erected “the wall” between the CIA and the FBI that later had to be torn down after the horror of 9/11, the central question that many students will have about the Clinton impeachment is, “Why was lying under oath all that the prosecutors could indict Clinton for?” It will take good teaching, indeed, to explain why laundering campaign money through sources of a hostile Chinese government, or why insisting on a law enforcement model of pursuing terrorists as opposed to a wartime model, were not themselves impeachable offenses. When these issues are addressed in detail, it might well be concluded that, in fact, the Clinton years not only “included” impeachment, but that the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton was, in the big picture, the most important thing that occurred in his two terms.
History, of course, is that branch of knowledge that records and analyzes past events. It must necessarily take a long-range perspective; and it will care little that Bill Clinton was charismatic and popular during his tenure in office.
But it will care that his shennanigans deflected the US from attending to the rumblings that led to 9/11; and that, much like Nero, he diddled while our homeland was set up to be burned.
I think it is an historical verdict that seems almost inevitable--in spite of all nostalgia on the part of the Left who yearn for the Clinton era as an age of wonder and peace.
Or, to put it more accurately in light of the events of the world today, they yearn for a return to a time of ignorance and bliss.