For better or worse, the life of the Tucson Comic News coincided almost exactly with Bill Clinton's two terms in office. For the last issue, I compiled top ten lists of the best and worst things Clinton did as president. First, the good news; then for the Ten Worst Things, click here.
On his very first day in office, Clinton affirmed his pro-choice credentials by issuing an executive order overturning the odious gag order maintained by the Reagan and Bush Administrations, This prohibited any medical facility receiving federal funds from even mentioning the possibility of abortion with their patients. Despite its questionable constitutionality, the Gag Rule survived until Clinton made killing it his first priority.
2. Family Leave
While he still had a Democratic majority in the Congress, Clinton managed to take one small step towards the kinds of benefits enjoyed by workers in other industrial democracies. Because of this bill, workers are allowed unpaid leave to care for their sick parents or children without fear of losing their jobs. Continuing attempts to allow paid family leave have of course met with a GOP stonewall.
3. "Biggest Tax Hike in History"
Clinton's 1993 economic package has been misleadingly labeled the biggest tax increase in US history by the Rush Limbaughs of the world. Actually, that honor belongs to their hero, Ronald Reagan. Ten years earlier, with the help of Senate majority Leader Bob Dole, Reagan pushed through a massive increase in payroll taxes, which resulted in a huge surplus for the Social Security trust fund-which Reagan and Dole then borrowed to help mask the size of the record deficits resulting from their huge income tax cuts for corporations and the rich. The payroll tax, of course, falls most heavily on the working class, and not at all on income over about 100 grand, or any investment income. Adjusted for inflation, Reagan’s tax hike was considerably higher than Clinton’s But Clinton raised taxes mainly on the wealthy (and on gasoline) to help erase the Reagan/Bush deficits. At the time, the bill passed the Senate on a 50-50 tie (broken by Al Gore) with no Republican votes. Rightwingers at the time warned that Clinton's tax package would cause the economy to collapse. As he noted at the Demo convention last month, time has not been kind to their predictions.
4. National Monuments
Just like Jimmy Carter before him, Clinton has spent the waning months of his power issuing executive orders to set aside new lands for protection as national monuments. This includes pristine lands in Alaska, as well as some right here in Arizona. Both local and national politicians have derided this as a land grab, but it's a good thing to preserve nature while there's still some left. Still, some of those critics have complained that locking up federal land in Utah, for instance, has served to wall off some coal deposits which would compete with those owned by wealthy Indonesian contributors to the Clinton/Gore campaigns - which would not surprise me in the least. But hey, we're supposed to be talking about the good stuff.
5. Portability of Health Coverage
Yes, Clinton's health care package was buried. But just as he did as Governor of Arkansas, President Clinton kept coming back after his pet legislation was defeated, hoping to get through at least some incremental change. This is one of those increments. Before, when you left your job, you left your health insurance behind. Now you can take it with you, and that has to count for something. Of course, if he didn't have a GOP Congress to contend with, Clinton might have pushed through some other reforms, including the Patients' Bill of Rights. On the other hand, if he hadn't botched his first health care package, he might not have that GOP Congress. Or would he?
This was one of Clinton's pet programs which passed, allowing young people who want to serve their country an alternative to military service, or overseas duty with the Peace Corps. It's a far cry from FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps, but Americorps has done plenty of good at a relatively low cost – which hasn’t stopped the Republicans from trying to gut it just because it came from the hated Clinton.
There are those who argue that an apology from the US government - or from any government - rings pretty hollow without some form of restitution. That may be, but it's better than no apology at all. Clinton has been willing to admit where he's been wrong as a leader almost too willing, at times. But he's also been willing to own up, at least in part, to where we've been wrong as a nation, as in his belated apologies to Rwanda and Guatemala. These apologies don't absolve Clinton of his blame, for instance, in blocking needed peacekeepers to Rwanda when they could have made a difference. But they do sound better than lame justifications. The Clinton Administration's most dramatic apology came just last week, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs pretty much apologized for its entire history of, and I quote, "ethnic cleansing:' This didn't come from Clinton himself, but from Kevin Gover, a Pawnee Indian whom Clinton appointed to head the BIA - and the Administration signed off on it. That's better than nothing, and the fact that the BIA is now 90 percent staffed by Indians is thanks to Clinton. Which reminds me:
Bill Clinton has made good on his promise to give us the most diverse Administration in our history, with more women and minorities appointed to cabinet posts and federal judgeships than ever before. In the unlikely event that the Republicans regain the White House next year, get set to watch those numbers decline.
I have some sympathy with those who complain that our mediations of the so-called peace processes in both the Middle East and Northern Ireland have tended to favor the interests of our powerful allies in each region. At the same time, Clinton is to be commended for trying to nudge these warring factions towards a settlement, and has made far more progress than his predecessors. To be fair, it was Bush the Elder who started the current round of negotiations in the Middle East, though Clinton has moved it much further. But putting his prestige on the line in Northern Ireland has brought that peace process much closer to fruition.
10. Humiliating Newt
You could argue that Newt Gingrich was his own worst enemy, and that he would have self-destructed sooner or later in any case. But Clinton, after the initial loss of the Congress, proved more adept than Gingrich at playing the game of politics, and stymied the Speaker's moves more often than not. He played the government shutdown masterfully and wielded his veto pen forcefully, with a keen instinct for popular opinion. Gingrich, who has a pretty high opinion of himself, had been heard to complain more than once about how "smart" Clinton could be in face-to- face negotiations. In the end, when the GOP overplayed their hand on impeachment, Gingrich had to pay the price. But I wouldn't be surprised if Clinton, who can play hardball as well as any member of the Bush family, found out about Newt's own extramarital dalliances and helped to grease the skids, Either way, we can thank Bill Clinton for not having Newt Gingrich to kick around any more - though we can also blame him for helping to foist him on us in the first place. Which brings me to the ten worst list. Where do I start?