"Demagogues and demigods are seldom consigned to obscurity." -- Tim Siggia, from "America's Most Overrated President"
I wrote the column quoted above more than five years ago, and while quoting myself may seem to some, if not most, to be the ultimate act of self-indulgence, my reason for doing so has nothing to do with self-glorification. Rather, it seems to be the most appropriate thing to say in the face of a persistent false claim to greatness.
This refers, of course, to the selection of former president Bill Clinton to be the keynote speaker at this year's Democratic National Convention. (I thought that was supposed to be Sandra Fluke, but things happen so fast, it seems!) It was probably inevitable, of course, that President Barack Obama, being unable to run on a record that can be aptly summed up as nothing short of a catastrophic failure, should now turn to his former arch-rival to bail him out. Obama does this knowing, of course, that in having won his party's nomination for president in 2008 -- and, subsequently, the presidency -- he robbed Her Royal Most Imperial Majesty, a.k.a. Hillary Clinton, of what the Clintons envisioned to be her birthright: to be America's first female president. He does this knowing that Bill Clinton's personal feelings toward him aren't exactly warm and fuzzy; that Clinton publicly accused him of having "played the race card" against him (Clinton), and that Clinton had, on at least one occasion, remarked to Ted Kennedy that only a few years ago Obama would have been getting coffee for them (or carrying their bags, according to another source). Had a Republican made these remarks he would have been called a racist, but Democrats, of course, are never racists -- not even the late Robert C. Byrd, though he was a one-time member of the Ku Klux Klan.
So, if a Democrat can't run on his record and his presidency was therefore unsuccessful, he then turns in desperation to the last Democrat president whose presidency was successful -- in this case, Clinton. This does not bother me personally; in fact, it amuses me more than anything else. What bothers me is the stubborn perception of Bill Clinton as having been a great president. Even some conservatives these days are signing onto this notion. How soon they forget! True greatness is never merely conferred; it must, rather, be earned. In order to be considered great, it is simply logical, as opposed to ideological, that one must do great things.
So what great things did Bill Clinton do?
Did Clinton become great when he carried on his "improper relationship" with an intern less than half his age, then lied about it under oath, resulting in his impeachment?
Did he become great when he approved the sale of technology that could be used for military purposes to the Chinese, over the objections of his military and civilian advisors? Had anyone else done a thing like this he would have been charged with treason, the People's Republic of China being an avowed enemy of the United States, but Clinton, of course, had his Get Out Of Jail Free Card: the letter D after his last name.
Did he become great when the first attack was made on the World Trade Center, and he did, in effect, nothing?
Did he become great when a similar attack was made on the USS Cole, and his response was tepid at best?
Did he become great when he sold plots in Arlington National Cemetery as quid-pro-quos for campaign contributions, or overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom for the same purpose?
Did he become great when Osama bin Laden was twice offered to him, and he twice refused to take the terrorist? (We all know what happened afterward.)
No, none of these will be touted as examples of Clinton's greatness. Rather, he will be credited with the following:
1. He gave us a great economy. Oh really? And how did he do it? By offering a "middle-class tax cut," and then imposing the largest tax increase in history up to that point? If we look back we will find that the so-called Clinton prosperity was the result of a dot-com Internet bubble that just happened to coincide with the Clinton presidency, and that Clinton himself had nothing to do with it. That didn't stop him, however, from taking credit for it anyway.
2. He balanced the budget. Come on, people, read your Constitution! Presidents do not balance budgets, the Congress does that. In fact, the budget didn't become balanced until after 1994, when Republicans took over both houses of Congress. The Congress, under the leadership of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, balanced the budget so Bill Clinton could once again take the credit -- which he of course did.
3. He ended "welfare as we know it". Sure he did. He promised to do this during his campaign, but then vetoed two bills from the Republican Congress that would have accomplished this objective. It was the third time, under threat of an override, that Clinton finally agreed to sign the measure -- and then, once again, he took the credit.
4. He "moved to the center". Only under duress, when he realized his presidency was in jeopardy. In fact, it took the loss of majorities in both houses of Congress in 1994, plus the strongest of urging from advisor Dick Morris, to get Clinton to do this. In this one thing, however, he did show himself the pragmatist, as opposed to the rigidly ideological Barack Obama. It also shows a difference of loyalties. Where Obama's first loyalty has been to his far-left ideology, Clinton's is, and always has been, to himself.
Yes, Bill Clinton was a successful president, but only on the surface. What would be far more accurate to say would be that he was an extraordinarily lucky president. But a great president? Hardly. Great presidents do great things. They don't merely take credit for them.
Full List of Tim Siggia Articles found at Writers Journal Kingscalendar
Tim Siggia from Hartford Connecticut, attended Central Connecticut State College (now Central Connecticut State University) from 1963-67 and then joined the United States Navy. In 1973 he completed a bachelor or arts degree in English at the University of Maine at Portland-Gorham. In 1991 he retired from the Navy at the grade of Chief Journalist after which he joined the United States Postal Service, from which he is due to retire in 2012. He now lives in East Hartford Connecticut with his wife Penny. They have three sons and six grandchildren