President Clinton's Legacy is a Mixed One, Both Good And Bad

The excitement of Election Day has come and gone and all the controversy surrounding the selection of the next president is finally coming to an end, so slow down and catch your breath.

At last, the consequences of what transpired Nov. 7 and in the weeks that followed can be fully analyzed. We now know who won which elections and can debate about what their victories will mean when they take office.

On the other hand, I have decided not to do that. I will not write about my thoughts on the new president, the “”chad,”” Florida or any of that. I even promise not to mention the new president’s name.

Instead, I will focus on the outgoing president and what transpired over the past eight years and perhaps give you a new take on his presidency.

Love him or hate him, William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, is nearing the end of his second term. Affectionately considered a “”lame duck”” by students of political science, Clinton has spent the last few months of his presidency out of the limelight, not able to do much with the Congress, as he no longer has any bargaining leverage.

When the new president is inauguarated, exactly eight years will have passed from the time of Clinton’s inauguration. Looking back, we cannot help but wonder what mark Clinton will leave for America.

What single event will a person first remember when the name “”Clinton”” is evoked? In other words, what is Clinton’s legacy for the American people?

Most presidents of the 20th century carry a legacy. Franklin Roosevelt led us through World War II and left us with the New Deal. Lyndon Johnson intergrated the country with the Civil Rights Act and the Great Society, but tore it in half with the Vietnam War. The bitter legacy that Richard Nixon left continues to affect how Americans view their government.

Ronald Reagan left Americans a legacy of unfulfilled possibilities, which were only realized later in the Clinton administration. That, and a huge debt.

George Bush, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism, left Americans with a new sense of national pride.

What will be Clinton’s legacy?

When considering what Clinton has and has not accomplished over the past eight years, an interesting aspect should be pointed out. Clinton seems to epitomize a type of self-juxtaposition, not only in policies but character as well. To determine his legacy, both must be examined.

One option that Clinton can claim as his legacy is the tremendously strong economy. Clinton entered the White House while the economy was in a recession. When he leaves office, the country will be coming off one of its largest economic booms in history.

The New Economy has made many Americans very weatlhy and has brought about advancements in technology. Is it fair to say that we can thank Clinton for these wonderful times? Unfortunately for him and for Vice President Al Gore, both who continuously remind people that the great boom was of their doing, it is simply not true.

Many economists agree that the economic boom started in the last year of Bush’s term, and perhaps even reaches back to Reagan’s substantial tax cut. Hence, Clinton’s legacy cannot and should not be equated to the New Economy.

In reality, a president has very little control over how the economy is managed. Even if you believe that no single person can manage the economy, the president has much less influence than most Americans believe he does. He cannot directly raise taxes to slow growth nor cut taxes to stimulate it.

Perhaps Clinton’s best move for the economy was the re-appointment of the omniscient Alan Greenspan as chairman of the federal reserve. Greenspan, along with the genius of former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, kept the economy going strong.

Another option for Clinton’s legacy would be foreign affairs. For most of his first term, Clinton seemingly fumbled through many hotspots, failing in Haiti and Somalia. The violence in the Balkans and the United States’ confused stance on it only further proved Clinton’s inadequacies in foreign affairs.

Into his second term, however, Clinton made some very important decisions, namely his appointments of Madeleine Albright as secretary of state and the hard-nosed William Cohen as secretary of defense. Thanks to them, Clinton’s foreign affairs record has been tremendous, with successes in helping create peace in Northern Ireland and Bosnia.

His greatest foreign affairs accomplishment, believe or not, was forging the peace between Israel and the Palestine before this latest violence. Not since Carter had a president been so involved with the Middle East, forging peace accords between Yassir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, and after Rabin’s death, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Despite Clinton’s obvious and often criticized attempt to base his legacy on foreign affairs, he accomplished much more with the issues at home.

Clinton again started off on the wrong foot with national issues. He forced a tax increase through Congress, which, later on, defeated his highly touted Health Care Reform Bill. This was an embarrassment to the administration, one that spilled into the 1994 congressional elections, resulting in the Republican takeover of Congress.

Near the end of his first term and into his second, there was a turnaround. Always the crafty politician, Clinton moved from the left to the center, referring to himself and his followers as “”New Democrats.”” He took the credit for the Welfare Reform Bill of 1996 away from Republicans and pushed a minimum-wage increase in through Congress.

Thanks to the economic boom, the massive national deficit dwindled. It is predicted to eventually turn into a trillion-dollar surplus. This surplus, however, is as shaky as a house built from a deck of cards. It is based entirely on the capital gains taxes from the bull market. Where the market goes, this surplus will follow.

Lastly, one cannot ignore the complicated nature of Clinton’s character nor his constant battle with scandal. As mentioned before, Clinton seems to epitomize a duality. Here is a man that was on top of everything, the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. Yet he fell in the eyes of Americans and the world with the emergence of the Monica Lewinsky fiasco.

It all culminated in 1998 with Clinton’s impeachment by the House and his trial in the Senate. Will this be his legacy, to be forever scarred by scandal and only the second president to be impeached?

Looking at all of these events, the economic boom, the peace accords in the Middle East and Bosnia, unprecedented changes, attempts to change, the welfare state, and his impeachment, what can we say will ultimately be Clinton’s legacy? What will American remember of Clinton after he leaves office?

My answer: everything. All of these events will be part of Clinton’s legacy for America, the good and the bad. And, though many would argue with me, this is the sign of a good president.

Clinton had a hand in almost every arena possible, like Franklin Roosevelt 60 years before him. Everything that Clinton did, all the peace accords and all the scandals, is remembered because of its importance to the economy, the world and to our society. Even the economic boom will be credited, if unfairly, to Clinton.

As mentioned before, all of this will culminate to one single aspect: his character. His dueling personalities, coupled with his accomplishments and defeats, reflect this character.

He was a great president brought down by his human, carnal desires. This will be Clinton’s legacy: the duality of his accomplishments and defeats that reflected the duality of his nature.

As promised, I did not mention the new president’s name. I cannot tell you what will happen in the next four years. What I can tell you is that our new president will be inheriting a nation from a great president, a great leader, and most importantly, a fallible human being.

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