early and often

The ‘Times’ Issues a Verdict on Bill Clinton’s Presidency


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Today the New York Times caved to the onslaught of Bill Clinton stories around the country (Secretly he’s the one running against Obama! He kept Hillary waiting at a grocery store! Even other countries noticed it was awkward!) and posted online their massive Bill Clinton story that will run in this weekend’s Times Magazine. They did that weird thing where they publish things into the future (its pub date is listed as December 23). It’s a behemoth of a story by their political blogger and writer Matt Bai. In it, Bai exhaustively retells the story of the Clinton presidency and then throws in some details on how it may affect Hillary. But we thought that the most telling of Bai’s anecdotes was this one:

When I asked Bill Clinton about this issue, during an informal meeting in South Carolina, he readily agreed to sit down for a longer interview on his legacy’s role in the campaign. A few weeks later, however, and at the last minute, Hillary’s aides canceled the interview. Famously controlling, they would not even allow the former president to talk about his record.

Hillary’s advisers were probably trying to stop the onslaught of Bubba coverage, which they knew would inevitably become the main story if it got too big. Unfortunately for them, it looks like this week, they failed in that effort.

The Times story gives critics of the first Clinton presidency a voice but puts the most gushing enthusiasm in Bai’s own words. Witness the below testimonial:

Clinton’s rhetorical influence, in fact, spans not just the Democratic Party but really the entire spectrum of American politics. Today politicians throw around phrases like “the new economy” or “the information age” as if they have always been part of the political lexicon, and yet most ordinary voters didn’t really grasp that America was undergoing a profound upheaval — moving from an industrial economy to one centered on intellectual and service industries — until Clinton showed up to masterfully explain it. Few American politicians talked about “globalization” before Clinton, as a candidate, stood on factory floors and argued that the next era’s economy would be nothing like the last, and that for workers, the transition would be painful but also full of promise. Clinton wasn’t the first candidate to grasp this change and to put it into words, but he was by far the most persuasive. He also articulated a philosophy of how to deal with these challenges that transcended the binary ideological struggle between outright entitlement and Darwinian self-reliance. When you go into a hospital now and see a placard on the wall that lists a patient’s “rights” directly opposite his “responsibilities” as a citizen, that’s Clinton’s influence. At its best, Clintonism represented a more modern relationship between government and individuals, one that demanded responsibilities of both.

Man, that started as a paragraph about political verbiage and somehow ended up fixing America. Hillary’s spokesman Howard Wolfson told the Times that if people “want to make this a referendum on Bill Clinton’s presidency, they are making a mistake.” But if that’s the kind of final verdict they’ll get, maybe a referendum on Bill wouldn’t be so bad.

The Clinton Referendum [NYT]

The ‘Times’ Issues a Verdict on Bill Clinton’s Presidency