tv Lectures in History The Clinton Presidency CSPAN February 21, 2023 8:00am-9:27am EST
welcome, everyone. welcome to our friends at american history tv from c-span who are taping tonight's program. we are in a new hall, so we're a little closer together. but that's good because we're sometimes that big auditorium feels a little too big. today i'm talking about bill clinton and what i call the revive wall of liberalism. people, young people, tend to know bill clinton for the sex scandals, which we talked a little bit about in the impeachment lecture. i tend to think that's a distraction. clinton's real legacy lies in the area of policy and in the revival of fortunes of the democratic party. from 1968 until the clinton's election, the republican candidate won the presidential action every single time, except
for 1976, when jimmy carter eked out his victory over gerald ford and many of those were big landslide victories. nixon in 72. reagan definitely 84. i think 80. you would call landslide, too. and bush in 88 won pretty big as well. but since 1992, the democrats have won the popular vote. and every president election but won. and as you can see, have have kind of dominated the board there. there have been a few republican victories, but at least you got to say the democrats became a viable presidential party once again the way they had been in that era from franklin roosevelt through lyndon johnson. and that's a pretty remarkable achievement. so today i'm going to talk about how that came to pass. a group called the new democrats, whom bill clinton fairly embodied that sort of really right power in the 92 election. and what their philosophy was to
talk about how clinton reversed the reaganomics of the 1980s and early nineties of reagan and bush and pointed us toward a more progressive direction in economic policy. then in 1994, new gingrich and the republicans come in and take control in the house of representatives for the first time in something like 40 years. that forces us, clinton, to have a different kind of president from what he ideally envisioned and includes doing battle with the republicans. it also involves compromising with them sometimes, and it involves a lot of congressional investigations and pseudo scandals. they're working for and with and against the republicans. i'll talk if i have time today also about clinton's foreign policy. and there, too, he sort of tries to strike a balance between the view of america retreating from the world after vietnam, but
also not going in the direction of reagan, bush militarism. so let's start with this idea of the new democrats who were the new democrats? well, let's think about where the party was in the 1980s. the democratic party had been losing support badly among a whole host of constituent groups, catholics, who had once been really reliably democratic, moving much more in a conservative direction. blue collar workers in general, the south, the white south had been the solid democratic south for generations. you know, going back to the civil war and before. no longer since the signing of the civil rights act, those voters had increasingly also become republicans. and then there were those intellectual roles kind of known as the neo conservatives, people who had been liberals in the
sixties, but in response to currents coming out of the sixties, what they saw as the overreach of the great society also moved in. the conservative direction and liberal positions that had once been very popular were losing popular favor on taxes and spending. crime. welfare and also america's position in the world. you can go on back. that's all right. take a seat where you like. are so in all these ways, the democrats found themselves in the seventies and eighties very much on the defensive. but the policies and ideas they once offered increasingly are falling from popular favor. so many democrats start looking for a kind of new synthesis of how to stick to their goals of a more egalitarian society. a society that helps the neediest. the society that protects civil
rights and civil liberties. a society that promotes american leadership on the world stage but does so in response to the ways that the world is changing. and i see kind of three strands of thought that go into this new democratic philosophy. the first is called communitarianism. and in the seventies, you see a lot of academic political philosophers pushing back against kind of standard postwar liberalism and saying that liberalism focuses on the individual too much. and we need to focus more on the community. we need to put the common good ahead of individual rights. we need to nurture a civic spirit. now, is this a left wing response to liberalism or a conservative response to liberalism? i don't think you could really fit it in comfortably with either of those description. or maybe there are ways that both apply, and then you have
the creation of a group called the democratic leadership council, often abbreviated as the dlc. see, the dlc were a group of mostly, but not entirely southern democrats who rejected sort of the old southern democratic philosophy of whites supremacy and of the so-called dixiecrats. and yet they were taking this certain cultural conservatism and a whole host of values issues, issues like patriotism and family and work. i have here a line about anderson voters versus wallace voters. what does this mean? well, if you look at where the democrats lost voters, think about the 1960 819. not so much 72. wallace was shot in 72 but was going to run. the 1960. george wallace runs as a third party candidate, pulls a lot of
southern democrats away from hubert humphrey, the democratic candidate. and not just in the south. wallace showed he had strength in maryland and wisconsin and other places, too. in 1980. you have a candidate named john anderson who's running as a liberal republican, but instead of drawing votes from reagan, he seems to draw more votes from jimmy carter. he represents a kind of suburban in professional, socially liberal type, a more sort of conservative on economics. so these are two very different kinds of independent or alienated voters who the dlc is trying to capture. then we have the question of neo liberalism, not what you think. as i say here these days, a lot of people use neo liberalism when they mean free market
conserva tooism, when they mean the philosophy of economists like milton friedman, when they mean the economics of ronald reagan or margaret thatcher. this is not what neo liberalism meant in the eighties at all. it was liberalism. it was a form of liberalism. and it was espoused by liberals. people like robert reich, the public policy scholar, lester thoreau, the economist. it was really a response chance to the changing nature of the american economy. once upon a time, we had had a heavily industrial, real manufacturing economy that sort of, you know, we think of the auto industry, steel and so on that starts moving elsewhere. japan in particular, but also europe is really competing in those areas. and the american economy is in transition to what daniel bell, the cultural critic and sociology just called the post-industrial society.
we're also encountering globalization in that things like borders is mean, much less as people are moving. companies are moving across borders. maybe no longer even have an identifiable national home. and so your response to the changing nature of work, the changing nature of the economy, neoliberals in the true meaning of the word, say we need to come up with new policies to make sure that the goals of liberalism are realize that in the changing nature of the economy. so because this term neo liberalism has been so butchered and distorted in recent years, you don't have to copy down this entire slide. i've tried to explain here what it is and what it's not. this is a kind of new, new slide of at it. again, the common usage of it today is to really blur any distinction between neo
liberalism and conservatism. and it just makes no sense. why would we have the word liberalism in there if this were the philosophy of ronald reagan and milton friedman? in fact, as i said, it's really a response to post-industrial society and the group of senators and congressmen and governors who call themselves or occasionally use the term neo liberal in the eighties. did not see themselves as reaganites. they saw themselves as trying to, yes, incorporate the market and market really ease into the way they formulated ideas about public policy. but instead of wanting to describe government in the reaganite fashion, they wanted to restore public faith in government and to show people government could work. it could be efficient, it could be effective. and that's really what bill clinton set out to do insofar as he could be called neo liberal.
and it was really, as i say, just one part of the new democratic philosophy. it was coupled with this emphasis on values, with the communitarianism. so, again, it's not we shouldn't think of it as purely an economic sphere set of questions. it really pervades the whole of public policy. and i think a good way of thinking about where clinton stood in 1992 is to think about the field. this is something that's always true in a presidential race. think about where the candidates are in relation to one another. paul tsongas, who was a massachusetts senator, was probably the most pro-business. he's the one who is closest to neo liberal in the way the term is used today. bob kerrey was probably to the right of bill clinton pushing those values questions a lot over on the left.
tom harkin was kind of hearkening back, no pun intended, to an older liberalism. and then you have jerry brown, the governor of california, who is taking up this kind of quirky california new age populism. and so clinton's kind of in the middle. he's not, you know, sometimes he's remembered as this moderate or someone who's running to the right. not really. here he's staking out the middle and his final competitor in the primary race is paul tsongas. and what's the issue on which he defeats paul tsongas? social security? kind of a classic new deal liberal issue. clinton warns before the florida primary, that song is his plans to cut entitlements and entitlements is the name we give to programs that renewed automatically. whose benefits go out automatically without need of a new congressional appropriation. and that means social security in particular. so clinton makes defending social security sort of the
centerpiece of his primary campaign, and that's what he wins on. so, again, kind of doesn't make sense to those who see neoliberal ism as a reaganite philosophy. in fact, he's really something of a populist as well, putting people first as his campaign slogan. and there are several pieces to it. first of all, the dlc, this group of values, democrats, some of them based in the south, is really just one of many constituencies that he pulls together. also very important, clinton had the african-american vote from very early on. and as we've seen, both in the 2020 election with joe biden, the 2016 election with hillary clinton defeating bernie sanders, getting black voters is really important to winning a democratic primary race. black voters comprise a very
substantial part of the democratic electorate and clinton because he was from arkansas and then worked in the south and had had a sizable number of black constituents for most of his career, understood the needs and concerns of black voters. more than say, did paul tsongas or some of his competition. he also had been head of the governors association, and so he had built alliances with governors, which is very important in running a primary race and had used those relations as kind of a mini policy shop to sort of develop new best ideas, best practices. and he had also gone to georgetown. he had been a rhodes scholar. he was maybe not the first, but, you know, certainly one of a new breed of politics. and obama certainly follows in this vein. you know, both he and obama were law professors. they really made their way up through the kind of elite
intellectual, educational institutions and clinton had a lot of friends in media, in policy, world and politics who he had sort of accumulated over the years. they were known as friends of bill or fobs. so that's part of his network. then he had this populist economics, and again it was a pushback, a reaction to reaganism. he called reaganism a failed economic philosophy in one of the debates. and his main campaign plank was a middle class tax cut that was going to, you know, his argument was, well, liberals have been very good about talking about the poor and republicans have been talking about are helping the rich. but nobody's helping the middle class. now, when he gets to be president, he finds there's no money in the budget to do his middle class tax cut. and he's quite upset about it. but this is sort of the the putting people first idea and
then again, he tries to formulate values issues in ways that are not traditionally left or traditionally right. so one example he talks about deadbeat dads. this is a way of addressing the perennially difficult issue of welfare. a lot of families with single mothers. well, why are they in need of government support? partly it's because the fathers are absent. so this idea he's talking about deadbeat dads. on the one hand, it kind of appeals to conservatives. it sounds sort of punitive. we're not going to let these guys get off the hook by just running out on their families. but it also appeals to liberals because it's about responsibility and accountability. and instead of punishing or demonizing the mothers, as ronald reagan had done it, saying, no, they're victims, too, we need to help them as well. that's just one of a number of issues where he tries to stake
out language that's neither strictly left nor strictly right. so the problem with this and, you know, we have this phrase strategic ambiguity or rhetorical ambiguity that clinton sometimes uses how politicians use. another example is welfare. he talks about ending welfare as we know it. again, to the right, that sounds good because they want to do away with welfare altogether. but to people on welfare who are unhappy with the system, the as we know it is important because that saying no, we're not ending welfare. we're just ending the current system are going to replace it with something better. so again, this strategic ambiguity is works well on a campaign. eventually, the rubber hits the road. you have to come up with a policy to govern with. and as we'll see, clinton does sign a welfare reform bill that, you know, angers a lot of people on the left who feel it's too punitive.
at the same time, he does so after vetoing a right wing bill or conservative bill twice while he's trying to stake out that middle ground. but the key of his presidency, he realizes, is going to be getting the budget in order. this is not the kind of presidency he dreamed of. it's a much more dutiful, responsible task that's before him. but in the 1992 campaign, besides clinton, besides george bush senior, there's also a third party candidate, ross perot, a texas businessman who does surprisingly well with 19% of the vote, which is the most that any third party had gotten, i think, since teddy roosevelt in 1912. and perot runs heavily on this issue of the debt and the deficit. and if you recall, in our last lecture on ronald reagan, i
talked about how reagan was able to cut taxes and he was able to add to the defense budget, but he wasn't able to do both those things and increase government revenues that in fact, the opposite happened. we had these tremendous budget shortfalls which over 12 years came to skyrocket. they had sort of tripled the debt had tripled from about 1 trillion to 3 trillion. and this made it hard for anybody. we started to see this in george bush. seniors presidency, hard for anybody to do anything with government, because there was just so much debt and just the interest on the debt alone was doing what economists call crowding out room for other kinds of spending. and there was an underclass standing among all economists, liberal economists and conservative economists. that if you didn't start bringing down these deficits and at least paying down the debt somewhat, you know, you were not
going to be able to have effective government. some conservatives actually wanted this. they thought this is a good way to stop all these big government programs. but liberals realized we have to reduce the deficit in the short term so we can do more big things in the long term. so the clinton 93 budget bill does precisely this. he has to dispense with that middle class tax cut. there's no money for that. but he does raise taxes on the wealthy on the top bracket, which is tough medicine, because this is during a time when any talk of tax hikes is sort of politically dangerous. he also expands the earned income tax credit, which is a device in the tax code that gives the working poor tax relief, tax credit for all the money that they earn with income. so it's an incentive to work, but it's also relief from taxes.
the earned income tax credit is the main drive ver of the tremendous drop in poverty that we see during the eight years of the clinton administration. it has actually been pioneered years before reagan had done an earned income tax cut, but they were very small with clinton and his people. they really is the virtue again. so it's it's neither kind of a left wing or a right wing solution. he also comes to see that there's a virtue in proving your commitment to deficit reduction, to the bond traders. and they seems a little arcane or a little counterintuitive. but the idea is that if you can prove that you are serious about retiring these budget deficit cuts, that will encourage confidence in the bond market. it will bring down interest
rates well, with lower interest rates, more people can take out loans to buy homes to go to college. and you saw in the clinton years this big growth in home ownership, big growth in people taking out loans for college. now there's downside to that, too, which is people wind up with a lot of debt, but you see this tremendous economic growth by the later years that's spurred by this 1993 budget bill. and by the end, it feels possible to envision spending again. interestingly, not insignificantly again kind of giving a lie to the notion that this is some kind of reaganite or thatcherite economic plan. every single republican vote against it in the house and every single republican in the senate. it passed by one vote in the house. marjorie margolies mezvinsky lost her seat in pennsylvania because she supported this plan in the senate.
it required vice president al gore to go and break the tie. so, again, this was definitely seen as a liberal bill. and here you see just a slide about how successfully the short term and, you know, really until we get to the bush administration, which i'll talk about next time, the success of the deficit reduction strategy. okay. so before i get to the republican takeover, i should also mention the other key piece of legislation that clinton attempts but fails to bring forward bring bring into law in 1993 and 1994. is this health care package like every president since harry truman or i should say every democratic president since harry
truman? clinton wants to bring about health care for all, universal health care. but again, there's an understanding carter had tried and failed, that some kind of new plan was necessary. so here and again here, the term neo liberal is not inapt. they come up with a plan that is sort of rooted in market incentives that sort of doesn't do away with private health insurance. you know, and we've had this debate again in the 2020 election as well, but relies on these market mechanism items people are supposed to buy through these collectives and that there would be caps on their premiums. but again, it's republican resistance to the plan that really causes it to sink that. and there are also a lot of democrats in congress who have their own ideas. they've been dreaming of health care for decades. so everybody's got their own
idea. who is this young guy from arkansas coming in who doesn't know the ways of washington? this bill should go through my committee, says daniel patrick moynihan of new york. no, this bill should go through. my committee says jim cooper of tennessee. and there's just too many different competing opposition forces. and here's the other problem no natural constituency. the plan that is hatched in the white house, hillary clinton's involved, bill clinton's involve. other white house aides. it's not one that sort of comes organically from some constituency out there. people don't understand it. they don't want to go, you know, protest for it. and it fails. so between the unpopular health care failure and the economic plan, which, you know, was turned out to have long run effects, but positive effects but was controversial in the short term. this leads to the loss of
congress in 1994. now we talked about constitution only, you know, what are the powers of congress? one of the important powers is the power of investigation and in many presidencies, we've seen congress put that power of investigation into positive effect, whether it's teapot dome or the watergate scandal. well, the republicans, once they come to power in the house for the first time in 40 years, start going after clinton on a whole host of kind of ginned up pseudo scandals as some people start referring to these. and i'm not going to go down the whole list i talked about it a little bit in our impeachment lecture, but while they never really result in any serious conviction or wrongdoing having been proved, they get the white house sort of bogged down and there's kind of this this air and washington of stagnation and
how much progress are we really going to make? so finding a way out of this is going to be sort of the real challenge. is it quite fast forwarding a little bit to 1996, clinton's quote, the era of big government is over, but we can't go back to a time when our citizens were just left to fend for themselves. now, it's interesting. usually you don't hear the second half of that quote. and again, it's sort of often wielded by the people who want to say, well, clinton was a conservative or, you know, something other than a liberal. when you see the whole quote, it's a bit of more balanced formulation. it's kind of an ungainly quote. that second half. well, what happened was the original phrasing was the era of big government over is over. but we can't go back to every man for himself. maybe that would have been quoted. but people in the white house,
you know, being liberals said you can't say every man for himself anymore. you know, that's that's gender language. so they started fishing around and changing the quote around and it kind of grew and as a result, people just remember the first, what, six or seven words there. but i think the phrase still encapsulates the way in which he was trying to work. sometimes with and sometimes against the republicans in congress. really, depending on what his objectives were. and i should say, even before he lost the congress in 1994, the republicans were, you know, a potent force. and so something like the north american free trade agreement, which was passed in 1993 to open up trade across mexico, canada and the united states was passed with some democratic votes, some
republican votes. we don't really do this much anymore. all of biden's kind of trying and has actually done it a few times. and some ways those laws are better because they last. they're not. they're less likely to be undone as soon as the other party takes power. i talked about the failure of health care reform. then there was the 1994 crime bill, another bill that today, you know, gets a lot of negative press, kind of negative reputation. at the time, it was seen as a liberal approach to bringing down crime. clinton was championing what was called commune de policing, having local police officers live in the communities where they worked. is sort of not being seen as this alien, hostile force, you know, descending on inner cities or other communities. it was full of gun control measures, including the banning of semiautomatic weapons, which
is, again, sort of an issue. people are wondering why can't we do that again today? the violence against women act, which sort of, you know, brought that issue into national law for the first time. so there are a whole bunch of things that clinton and the democrats want to try. there were also certain conservative policies that made it in there, too. so what you ended up is was kind of a grab bag. people tend today to focus on the conservative elements. but i should say and i have a slide about this, i'll just pop over to it and come back. we did see a substantial reduction in crime and also a reduction in incarceration. people sometimes say, oh, that clinton crime bill caused mass incarceration. no, no, no the mass incarceration started in the 60 years peaked in the nineties, and then starts to come down, which i think is sort of interesting. most people don't know that.
and of course you can see the violent crime rate came down as well. perhaps the biggest turning point in the clinton presidency, even though it's such a kind of mundane issue, was the question of the government budget and the shutdown. so in 1995 and people again remember this government shutdown because it's the time when monica lewinsky as an intern was working late and bringing pizza to the white house and we know what happened from there. but more significant, gently there was a real fight because the republicans now, again, for the first time in 40 years, controlled the house of representatives and newt gingrich, who was their leader, the new speaker of the house, was quite adamant about cutting the growth of medicare and medicaid, health care costs are a driver of the budget deficit. so he wasn't wrong to identify them as a big cost that
taxpayers were having to bear. but bill clinton, as in many ways a tradition liberal, said, no, you cannot like his his red lines or social security, medicare and medicaid, that those cannot be cut. so whenever the republicans would send up a budget bill that cut them, he would veto it. well, a certain point, the government has to stop functioning because needs money just appropriated to keep running. they pass these things called continuing resolutions, but sometimes they can't even pass those. so then what happens? it runs on a minimum staff, you know absolutely essential personnel come to work. but most government employees are not getting paid and this has an effect on people's lives. gingrich thought people going to blame clinton. clinton gamble people were going to blame gingrich.
clinton turned out to be right. people wanted their social security protected, their medicare their medicaid. as i said last time with that quotation from lloyd, free and hardly control america are rhetorically conservative but operationally liberal. you know what that means is they respond to this rhetoric of small government and pull yourself up by the bootstraps and all of that. but in practice, they actually like government programs. they make a difference in their lives and they don't want to see politicians monkeying with them. and this is why reagan failed to cut social security like gingrich failed to cut medicare and medicaid. and then there was, as i mentioned, the welfare reform probably the most controversial, i guess the crime bill's pretty controversial, too. one where people say, well, this was a kind of sellout to the right. again, i would say it was more of a centrist bill clinton twice
vetoed two republican bills that were much more punitive in abolishing welfare and came up replacing the old aid to families with dependent children with something called temporary assistance for needy families. so welfare didn't end, but it was changed. now poverty declined over the course of the clinton administration by 17%, which was the most since lyndon johnson's war on poverty. that's not primarily because of welfare reform. it's primarily because of the economic growth that was achieved in part through the 1993 budget bill and in part because of the it's c, which did a lot to alleviate poverty. but it's nonetheless the case that we see real gains among the bottom of of the income ladder.
i think the cumulative effect of all of these policy issues, you know, you can sort of say some are good, some are bad. i'm not really here to argue the case pro or con, but what it showed was, you know, clinton was taking this very pragmatic sort of policy focused view of the presidency. he was really less concerned about the rhetoric than he was finding ways to get some of these things done, even in this very divided country. and he had come up as a governor, very much focused on policy. he had been a student of policy. and really, you know, nowadays we hear this term wonk or wonky a lot. but when clinton was running and was called the wonk, people would define the term because it wasn't that familiar term. just everyday vocabulary. so here in his i think this is from his memoir, he puts it in quotes.
at first i worried about being too detailed and policy wonk, but i soon realized that people were looking for substance over style. think he's actually referring to the 1992 campaign, but i think this could be extrapolate to the whole presidency. certainly the whole first term. they were really hurting and want to understand how they could get out the fix they were in. so i did that. i should just move fire. so here again is sort of how i see kind of. the overall effects of all this policy innovation. give people sometimes think of the nine these they remember it was economically strong and so forth but the details really are telling. so the budget got balanced and there were even though budget surpluses, which clinton and his think it was 1998, say the union address, what should we do with
the budget surplus? save social security first comes back to the argument he used in 1992 against paul tsongas save social security first. al gore in 2000. picks this up people may be too young to remember the saturday night live sketch when they asked, you know, it was like a staging of a debate between the guy playing gore and a guy playing bush. and they asked them each for one word to define their campaign. and bush said strategically, which just not a word. and gore says lockbox, because the whole 2000 campaign, gore tech talked about creating this thing, you know, as an accounting mechanism. but put the social has put the surplus in a lockbox, save it for social security. so the social security trust fund would not go bankrupt. so forget clinton, gore. social security's really a
priority. you have continued economic growth. the biggest eight year run in in history. the greatest decline in poverty. i think i said that already since since lyndon johnson. the greatest growth in and overall income and wages and it's even true for the bottom 20%. they go by quintiles when economists assemble this data. so the bottom 20% saw its income growth go up by 16.3%. now, you say, well, wasn't this the era of inequality? it was. i mean, the inequality really starts in the in the seventies and eighties. continues. it's one thing clinton clinton policies are not able to do is close the inequality gap. but what happens is so the poor are getting richer, it's just the rich are getting richer by more. now, that's mainly not because of public policy. it's mainly because the rich
have money to put into things like real estate and the stock market. who's valuations kind of go up rather independent of what any president is doing or saying. and so most of the growth of that top 1% or even the top 30% is because those people have invest did in real estate and stock. that even if we were to go back up to 70% marginal tax rates, there would still be extreme inequality. it's it's a puzzle that continues, obviously, to bedevil us. there's also significant achievements in the social decline in crime decline in the welfare rolls, lower, lowest teen birth rate in 60 years. so there's a sense that a lot of these social problems that especially in the seventies, but even into the eighties, were really bedeviling america are also coming coming under significant control. so i think i do have time here
to get into our foreign policy. yeah. in fact, i don't know why i have a lot of time, so maybe we can take questions at the end. clinton's foreign policy. clinton foreign policy was not bill clinton's strong suit when he comes into office. like a lot of presidents. he had been a governor. and it's actually an interesting question. why is it that we tend to elect governors more than senators? now, i used to ask this question then obama became president and biden became president. so it's maybe seems a little less true than it once was. but by and large, there does to be something that correlates with having been governor, with having been an executive. right. you know how work with a legislature. you know how to get things done in that way. you know, sort of how to see the
whole picture of of everything that is going on in the economy, in a society. but the thing you don't really know much about is at least from experience, is foreign policy. and clinton, the issues in the 1992 campaign were primary domestic issues. they were about the budget deficit. they were the stalled economy. they were about health care. and how can we get national health care? foreign policy comes up from time to time in 92, but it's it's not a salient issue. but clinton found, as all presidents found, that you may not be interested in the world, but the world is interested in you. i think, you know, it's a paraphrase of trotsky or something like that. but this is something that a lot of presidents find you have to care about foreign policy. it's especially given the united states is place in the world. the united states is going to be a player no matter what.
his first year or two is really marred by indecision, uncertainty and some significant failures and blunders in haiti. a coup had ousted the democratically elected jean-bertrand aristide. and there's sort of pressure on the united states to come and restore him to power. after all, he's the rightful president. but when us military forces show up on haitian shores, they're sort of jeered away by an angry mob sort of a little bit like the bay of pigs with with the invasion of 1961 was to a huge embarrassment to the united states and to clinton. now, eventually, aristide is restored to power. so in the long run, it's not
such a failure, but it it plays into images, particularly of democrats, as being less than shorthanded. brings back memories of carter and the failed hostage rescue. then in somalia. also early in clinton's presidency, george bush, while he was president, had sent in a force to deal with a civil war. there. but under clinton, there is an american helicopter. i think it's an army rangers helicopter. i think i once called it the marines in print and got called out for that. i should know my services and it's shot down. and the american servicemen are sort of dragged through the streets of mogadishu again, in the greater geopolitical scheme of things, that's not such a big
deal, but it's a very visible humiliation for the united states. and another source of concern. you know, it is american power back, you know, after reagan and bush. george bush, you know who i did not give a lecture on, said, we've kicked the vietnam syndrome. bush had, you know, invaded panama. bush had invaded iraq. the first time. but then, unlike his son, had chosen not to occupy it in perpetuity. so it was seen as a kind of successful military intervention. and so bush had declared, we've kicked the vietnam syndrome. well, now it's sort of seem were we back to that kind of vietnam mentality of should we be intervening around the world? what are we doing? are we competent? are we capable. but eventually, clinton, i think, find his footing toward a more moderate and saner and successful foreign policy.
really, the key the major foreign policy question of his presidency centers on bosnia. so the former state of yugoslavia is breaking up after the fall of the soviet union. a lot of eastern european nations are undergoing great change. new governments in some cases breaking up czechoslovakia becomes two countries. yugoslav ivy was always a bit of an odd place because it was communist, but it was not under soviet control that tito, you know, had had famously broken with the soviets. but it, too, is undergo going the sort of post-communist upsurge in these different nationalisms, because yugoslavia was never really real country. it was always a kind of countries of different countries or regions, peoples kind of held together. and that's what many states are.
but even more than most, yugoslavia was very hard to hold together and the serbian president, slobodan milosevic, was basically waging a genocide against the bosnian people, both in serbia, but especially in bosnia, which, you know, before it became independ, that was sort of that was all part of yugoslavia. and he used the term ethnic cleansing, which was a euphemism and what it really was genocide, like ethnic cleansing. sometimes people use it today without irony, but it's one of those words like what was the word they used for torture, like enhanced interrogation techniques. it's one of those words that's actually meant to come over something up. but what were we going to do? you know, a lot of american felt
it's not our place to intervene even though there was going on. you know, europe was going this way in that there was a plan at first to kind of lift an arms embargo that had been imposed and lifting the arms embargo would allow the bosnians to fight back. that did not prove too successful then. the next idea was kind of creating safe that this would be a way of protecting people. but that too, without military force, you know, proved too hard and and too elusive. so ultimately, the united states does get involved with naito through a primarily an air campaign of bombing and one thing, you know, america people, we like to be the good guys on the world stage, but we also don't want to see any of our own
people killed. and what the air campaign did, you know, for better or worse, is it managed to spare american lives that there were you know, we started hearing the phrase boots on the ground, which was kind of in distinction to in the air, in other words, we could send in airplanes we could bomb the serbian forces and get them to desist and this actually ended up working and ended up driving them to the negotiating table. we american negotiators, richard holbrooke leads what are called the dayton accords. i don't remember why they picked dayton, ohio, of all places, but they have the, you know, bosnia in leaders, serbian leaders, croatian leaders are involved to to hammer out a peace agreement that sort of results in something like. what you see here for the time being.
milosevic gets off, but then a short while later, he embarks on a campaign against the kosovars. so you see, you know, within serbian montenegro in the south, there's an area called kosovo, which is also ethnically distinct. these are people who also want their independence. and when milosevic makes a new war on the kosovars. this provokes yet another american response with a lot less dithering and dilly dallying. it's much quicker, more forceful, and milosevic's eventually brought to the hague for war crimes trials, which is something we, you know, talk about a lot international law and how this is really the ideal way to sort of these problems of genocide and war crimes. but very rarely can we find the international consensus to pull it off. and yet we we did so in kosovo
and milosevic's ends ends up dying, i think, in the dock in the hague. so he's he's not know formally ever, you know, in prison. but he or maybe he dies in jail. i forget exactly. his resolution. he dies fairly soon after. but the example of kosovo and bosnia, i think, is important because it it it demands traits that there's sort of a path between been kind of just throwing our might around militarily and and backing off and saying, well, it's not the united states is place to get involved even when there are humanitarian disasters genocides and other such was a kind of middle path that seemed in the nine these or the late 90 to be quite successful. and i think one reason why there was a lot of optimism about the
prospects for the iraq invasion. of 2003 under george w bush was because not all i don't think this was the bush administration's thinking, but there were democrats like john kerry who went along with it. and i think they were thinking of the successful interventions of the nineties and they maybe saw that as a model and were hoping to achieve something like that. and in iraq, well, next time we'll get to why that was. to put it mildly, a bad bet. so again, clinton, with his rhetorical formula ations violence neither this nor that we must not be the world's police man, but we can and should be the world very best peacemaker, right? the united states is not going to be running around in every instance to intervene
militarily, but where military fourth can cut a path toward a peaceful resolution, as with the dayton accords. you know that that is the role that the united states can play. and clinton also, you know, significantly really tried to play peacemaker in two other very significant areas. one was in northern ireland with the so-called good friday accord. is that after years of conflict and terrorism by the ira, the irish republican army and brutal countermeasures from from the british government, they finally brought the sides to the table for a peaceful reconcile. ation, now known as the good friday accords. and then there were also the oslo accords in the middle east, which again was not instigated by united states.
it was instigated by, i guess, norwegian politicians, as well as israeli and palestinian who are very quietly, very secretive, because they knew they didn't. neither side could run afoul of public opinion with its own people began to chart out a path toward what we now call a two state solution, where the palestinians would recognize israel's right to exist and right to its borders and renounce violence, renounce terrorism, and israel would grant first autonomy and then eventually statehood to the palestinians. the west bank as well as in gaza. clinton kind of, you know, very cannily, but also appropriately takes over the process and then gets famously gets yasser arafat, lifelong terrorist, to
shake hands with yitzhak rabin, the israeli prime minister who had been an army general. so, you know, both men clearly dislike each other. you see it on their faces, but they still got together and shook hands and, you know, although, you know 20 some years later, it's looking more like a kind of pipe dream, it was sort of the closest those two parties came to a peaceful, resolute ocean of their conflict. and and even today, sort of set a degree of palestinian autonomy and sort of a degree of cooperate. and we don't hear that much about it, but the governments do cooperate when necessary very and on a whole host of issues that marked a considerable improvement on where things had been previously. so this idea of playing peacemaker appeals to clinton much as it appealed to many other presidents.
and you know, i think on balance, you know, has to be credited as a fairly successful foreign policy president. again, his foreign policy is not as much talked about or well known, but not insignificant. what he did in eight years. so here i'm really at my final slide and again, i think i have missed something in my lecture today because i'm i'm way ahead of pace. i've been watching clock b behind on the back wall. that's a half hour off. i think what's significant is clinton leaves the presidency with democratic party and liberalism and stronger shape than it's been in in many decades now. it's still not a dominant philosophy like it had been under jfk and lbj or before that fdr. and truman. but the whole term is of the seventies and eighties have have
shifted. we've entered a different kind of era. he had the highest popularity polling of any president to leave office since the advent of polling. so, you know, reagan had left pretty popular because of the imf accords. and clinton similarly leaves in a pretty high place. the economy is strong. we seem to be at peace in the world and, you know, people say peace and prosperity is what what they elect their presidents to bring about. then he al gore, you know, and i'll get into this a little bit in the lecture on george w bush, al gore really runs as a continuation of clinton. i mean, when gore was chosen as vice president, there was an odd thing, because historically who is the presidential nominee
typically choose to run with? usually it's quite different from himself or herself. usually it's someone from a different wing of the party, from a different region of the country, someone these days, maybe of a different race or gender. in al gore, bill clinton picked someone who is a lot like almost exactly the same age, which is very young for a president, 43. he picked someone also from the south. he picked someone who is also kind of of this new democrat mold, someone who believed in the ideals of liberalism but wanted to pragmatically re jigger the party to find different ways of getting there. and yet and gore is a very loyal kind of pro clinton vice president. he's not someone who, you know, you hear sniping or discontent. you know, were issues they had.
so gore is running basically on more more of the same, which is probably the best thing he could run on. and significantly, george bush is. first republican. you know, probably since before goldwater not to run on shrinking the size of government. gore and bush instead of you know, attacking government, says, well, i'm going to do that, too. so gore says next week the patients bill of rights. bush says, have my own patients bill of rights. gore says, i'm going to be the education president and do education reform. bush says, well, i'm going to do education. so on all these liberal issues, bush, instead of being anti tries to be a kind of me too candidate. me too used to mean something different. the meta meant a a politician who emulates his opponent.
and so gore, you know, so this ends, i think, as you know, in virtual tie in florida. gore has won the national popular vote. but the florida count. first, gore seems the winner, then bush seems the winner. the network calls keep getting pulled back. their various court cases and so on anyway. the counting is never even completed, but when the counting stopped, bush wins by something like 537 votes split. pretty close election in some ways you could interpret that. i don't want to overstate that as a third term for clintonism. i mean, gore winning the popular vote, running on a program of extending what he and clinton had done over the last eight years suggests a fair degree of popularity for that domestic
program. there's also kind a quieting down in some of these culture wars. i mean, the issues don't go away. but we're seeing just, you know, really mainly due to generation change and growing acceptance, growing acceptance of the sexual revolution going wrong, except of the presence of gays and lesbians who are out to their friends and family and even in the workplace, a growing acceptance of the increasingly diverse and pluralistic racial and ethnic complexion of the united states. now, in recent years, we've seen sort of this nasty backlash, which i sort of see as something of a last gasp of a revanchist right wing impulse. but, you know, things had had somewhat quieted down. it seemed like we were moving into this new future with the
degree of toleration. then, you know, as i said, a new faith in government. again, we're not back to the year of big government. people talking like lyndon johnson in that great society speech. but neither are they talking about, you know, government is not the solution to our problems. government is the problem that reagan line, rather, we're seeing in emphasis on government can work when it's efficient, when it's lean, when it doesn't waste money, when it does pointed, targeted, pragmatic programs to help people. liberal internationalism starts enjoying some new favor. so, you know, remember in the early clinton years, had we kicked the vietnam syndrome, had we not? i think by the end of the clinton years, there's at least a more goodwill toward the
united states in the world than has been in a very long time. you know. clinton whether he's traveling to south africa or eastern europe, you know, relations with china are pretty good at this point, as our relations with japan. there seems to be kind of moving toward a fairly peaceable status questions sort of relationships. it seems like, yes, maybe there are ways that we can intervene effectively when it comes to civil war, genocide side, humanitarian disasters. and yet the term liberal kind of remains is kind of one that politicians avoid. john kerry, a lot of politicians get asked this, you know, are you a liberal? and they you know, they won't say yes. they'll say, like, well, if by a liberal you mean, you know, do i support a balanced budget? yes, i'm a you know, the guy go
through these convoluted, convoluted, defensive reply. so maybe they want to use the word. and this is actually when the word progressive starts getting a new lease on life. so bill clinton had the progressive policy institute because he didn't want to call it in the eighties or the nineties or even the liberal policy institute. nowadays, progressive is starting to mean something further to the left of liberal right. it's these meanings of words change. so, you know, when i go on a rant about the meaning of neoliberal ism, its original meaning and the meaning that i find useful, you know, it's quite different from how it's commonly used today. and the same thing, i think with the term liberal. but you're starting to see liberalism getting even talked about in the international context. let's bring liberal institutions back to bosnia and kosovo. you know, let's see liberal reform in the middle east, liberal in that sense, still has
kind of a positive ring to it. so there we go. despite my fear of running over, i've i've left us with some time, so i'm happy to take questions. if you do have a question, put your hand up and we'll come over with a microphone. but you may not have questions. it's quarter seven. you may just be eager to get home. one question. yeah, yeah. wait for the mic. yeah. so outside of the monica lewinsky scandal, like what would he be most known for? like, would it be his humanitarian work or like something more of his like, policies? well, i think clinton's known for a lot of different things today. i don't know that there is a single legacy. what i do most like i catching right. i mean, with nixon we can say watergate. with reagan, we can say again, depending on how much credit one wants to, given the end of the
cold war. but again, with reagan you also say, well, reaganomics, budget deficits, you know, this change in the economic orientation. i think with clinton, you know, in a way monica lewinsky thing because it is, as you say, like this sexy issue, hot issue that tends to serve in public memory, you know, loom very large. i tend to think. i mean, the reason i titled this lecture, the revival of liberalism. so i think the story tried to tell today is really what his legacy is and you know, it's interesting until i'm saying this while i was, i guess, 2016 when well, maybe in 2008 a bit when hillary is running for the first time for president, you know, clinton was just remained off the charts, popular. obama even has come to the white house at one point to try to explain, you know, his economic
plan because he thinks clinton's good explaining. he calls him the secretary of explaining things. and, you know, i think some of the hostage ality that's emerged for clinton is has a lot to do with hillary, which in turn i think has something to do with sexism and has something to do with nepotism. the feeling that she was getting like a free boost from being his husband and sort of tied up with other issues that may not really answer your question, i guess don't have like a single line item that i would say, you know, this this is the one thing that's going to be, you know, in the first line of clinton's obituary i mean, i would say peace and prosperity. he probably. no more questions. okay. just not.
so use of the clinton's vernacular language was like strategically ambiguous and like nonpartisan. so we know that the media was on top of him for the lewinsky scandal, but was where they were on top of him for the way like went around issues, tried to garner support from both sides, and then have a specific policy. yeah, i mean, sometimes they could come down hard on him you know another example that comes to mind is clinton about abortion being safe, legal, rare. so again, people who are pro-choice. well, that sounds okay. you know, safe and legal certainly. and rare. well, you know, nobody's like thinking should be lots of abortion on the other hand, conservatives could hear that and say, okay, he wants to impose restrictions like make it make it less common. but our liberals also hear that as supporting birth control.
right. so the strategic ambiguity can can work in that sense, i think. but but people did, you know, in arkansas law, they called him slick willy. you know, there were lots of times when his passing words comes back to haunt him, gets ridicule, you know, famous examples in the lewinsky case. he's asked because he he had said there is no relationship there. and so he's asked under oath, well, did you lie? you said there is no sexual relations ship. and he says, well, that on what the meaning of is is and you know his thinking well there is no i didn't there was no you know so that kind of thing did get mocked and, you know, criticize in the press and know. right. right. rightfully so. but, you know, all politicians play games with that language to some degree. do you question.
when hillary ran the first few times i'm have a president did she parrot bill's and if so, did that help her at all or obviously she didn't win the presidency. was that viewed as a problem when you say did she parrot like that? she just repeat like she politically or were they the same or her difference? i think there were some differences. i mean, think about way people now talk about how trump has remade the party after clinton. most democrats to some degree or other, followed in his footsteps, whether it's obama or biden, because it seemed like deficit, even if that wasn't something, that comes out of the liberal playbook. it worked as a means to an end so that you could start doing again with with the budget or, you know, some of these other
issues. i mean, so i think hillary in 2008, in 2016 is more less running in the same ideological space, but particularly in 2016 with a challenge from sanders, she she probably, i'd say, can move somewhat to the left. for example, she you know, there was a pacific free trade agreement that obama had developed and, was all teed up to go and hillary obviously supported. i mean, all economists support free trade, but it was unpopular. and trump was attacking it. and there were other bernie attacking it. and so she says, oh, i'm not for the trans-pacific. this you know. so that was a kind of moving to the left in terms of political where the political winds are going that, you know, whereas clinton it was a big deal that he supported nafta because of
that. there were a lot democrats who supported it. and fdr was a free trader. jfk was a free trader. but at that moment, it wasn't as popular with democrats. so that was sort of a difference. but generally, i think she's running more or less in the same space. but i think even for even if she had carved out more differences, she was still linked to him like it was there was people would talk about the clintons of this and the clintons that and there was an unwillingness to recognize her as an independent agent, some with a mind of her own ideas of her own, and you know, i think that, like, it wasn't that they didn't like bill, so they like her. it's like being like the idea of a first lady running in her own right. and, you know, maybe there is something to be said for that. like, if she had come up separately as you know, an
office holder and then, i mean, you know, she had been in the senate and proved her independence as a politician there. but i think i think the animus toward her was tied up with a lot of things other than her precise political positions. no. that's so you spend a lot of time talking about sort of like how clinton positions himself not as like where he sits on the ideological spectrum. if you want to use that. but you a lot about how a lot of his language is specifically courting the right and liberals, not the left. i mean you talk about how even like you can interpret a lot of the bush presidency as in a way continuation, even though he is ostensibly on the right of clinton, i guess, your hesitancy to use the word neoliberal, talk about all these together is
weird to me. still, if only because you're talking about it is again, kind of move to group these two together. but then also you want to keep them apart still. well, i don't see much continuity. clinton and, bush, i mean, the the most significant thing bush did in domestic policy. i mean, obviously his foreign policy was hugely significant, was the repeal of the clinton clinton tax hikes. and this massive tax cut he does as his first thing in office, which totally wipes out the surplus throws the lockbox overboard. so i mean, and that's really the critical. we're talking economics and neoliberal is generally a term used to encompass philosophies. bush is really a throwback to reagan in that sense. lower taxes, stimulating the
private sector. you know, and that's, again, the opposite. i mean, now you could say, well they both believed in low interest rates. okay. but, you know, that's something that i think any any economist would say, well, that's how you generally you want low and you have like now high inflation where you to hike interest rates in order to bring down inflation. so i don't see a great of concern if people talk about deregulation. okay yeah there were some sort of late clinton. moves in finance it's the abolition of the glass steagall act. that's kind of what people often to as oh that's neo liberalism okay that's you know fair enough i'll give you that one. there there's some areas but overall it was a highly pro
regulation philosophy. i mean, i don't know what the numbers are, but they always talk about how many pages are added to the federal register, which is the, you know, book on regulation that comes out each year. so, you know, by and large, clinton is consumer regulation. he's for environmental. you know, certain kinds of financial regulation, whereas the bush administration is much more ideologically pro deregulation. so, again, i, i still see a difference there. you know, if you want to go back and say, well, how does it compare harry truman or fdr? yeah, sure, we see differences, but we also it's apples and oranges because the economy, the nature of the economy is different, i think the neo liberalism in the original sense, the way it was used in the seventies and eighties, is
really to think about this post-industrial economy. investment in, high tech investment in infrastructure. these were sort of the hallmarks of neo liberalism when liberals and democrats were consciously using the term very few people call themselves neo liberal now, which i think is a hint as to how the meaning has really shifted. i would say the other big, which i mentioned in the lecture, social security and medicare, too, you know, bush i'll talk about this next time. bush also tried to privatize medicare. you know, i mean, social security turned out to be it's sometimes called the third rail of politics. you know, you can't touch it. you'll get electric it happened
to bush in 2005. he come off this victorious reelection, tried to reform social security. even republicans rebelled, and said, now my constituents aren't going to go for this. so, again, pretty significant difference. i would say. will make this the last one. why do you think that clinton's sex scandals were such a big part of his legacy when infidelity among presidents has happened before and wasn't that big of a deal, their legacies? that's a good question. i mean, i think the first reason is that it was just seized opportunistically by gingrich and the republicans.
you know, even though gingrich, even as it was happening, was having an affair with a staffer himself who then became his wife and became our ambassador to the vatican under trump, you know, and the number two guy, robert livingston, was set to become speaker of the house, then had to resign because his affairs were being exposed. the third guy who did get to become speaker, denny hastert, later went to jail because as a wrestling coach he had molested all these young boys. so, yes there was a fair degree of hypocrisy there. i think the other reason is, you know, clinton did have this willie quality, this kind of rhetorical glibness and. so, you know when he first ran for president. in 92, he knew he had had affairs and he kind of wanted to
try to put this to rest because in the 1988 democratic presidential gary hart had been the front runner, had basically been knocked out of the race because of an extramarital affair. so that was like high moment of when the press was like seizing on this stuff and clinton goes to reporters and then, you know, in other situations saying, you know, he again had this clever formulation, something like, yeah, i acknowledge i've caused pain in my marriage. right? and then kind of saying, but this is between me and hillary, like we've chosen to stay together and he even, i think, made this argument like you're saying, like, is it's a penalty for not getting divorced, right. like the fact that they stayed together shouldn't, be held against them. i think for a lot of people. and then of these affairs
nonetheless became a big to do in the new hampshire primary period, the early period clinton's campaign. but he recovered from it. i think for a lot of people, certainly myself as a young person, i thought, okay, so we're electing a philanderer. big deal. i think other people are assumed and. i've heard this from a lot of people. so i think it's widespread, assumed there was sort of this promise like i've cheated in the past, but i'm not going to cheat again. and so when the lewinsky thing came out. they felt the sense of betrayal. and i think that was also at work. but the public, for the most part, yeah. as i said in the impeachment lecture, didn't really mind that much. i mean, the day he was impeached, his popularity, his approval rating was at like 73% or 71%. so people had the capacity to
hold two things at once. yes. in his personal life, the guy's a he'll be. but it's not something that should, you know, remove him from office. and he can still be a good president. and people are very capable of that. why the media, you know was more intent. yeah i think what was good story it was exciting it was you know sensationalistic but i also think you know the first really top notch biography of clinton to come out was called first in his class by david maraniss. and he was kind of like the first of their generation to become president then. and i think, i don't know if how you feel this you maybe you're too young to really have these feelings. like a lot of times people, if it's someone older than them who achieved something, you look up to them as a hero. it was something when younger so terrific like this up and comer but if it's someone like your age or cohort it who is
achieving more than you, you can kind of get the knives out. i think there was a little bit of that going on that clinton was sort of one of them. he was sort of the same age as a lot of these people. and there was a little bit of resentment like, why should this guy be the first to reach the presidency of of that baby boomer generation? so i know that's speculative, but a few thoughts for you anyway. thanks everyone, i'll let you go and get some. and