An iconoclast looks at four failed administrations
Few in today’s polarized world stigmatize two Democratic and two Republican governments alike, but the dishonors are about the same. Here are my honors.
The Clinton regime was one of a series created by the decline of national civil service conventions and the rise of the primaries. The new dispensation nominees had ambitions for themselves, not programs, and lacked in-depth experience and peer review. Reagan was a partial exception; He had convictions and two terms as governor of our largest state. But there were a number of untested candidates who would have failed a parliamentary system: Kennedy, Carter, Clinton, Junior Bush, Obama, and Trump. What they all had in common after the elections was the “what the hell am I doing now?” Syndrome resulting from the lack of a serious agenda and mandate for it. Trump was a partial exception; As a protest candidate, he had both a program and a mandate, but a negative one and not a reformist one. All made frivolous appointments in the domestic cabinet; There were no figures of stature like Harold Ickes, Henry Wallace, Frances Perkins, Robert Jackson, George Romney or George Shultz who came from our heroes.
Clinton threw away the opportunities that arose by the end of the Cold War. It was not for him that De Gaulle’s vision of a Europe “from the Atlantic to the Urals” or that of an FDR of a world order based on the five “policemen”: the permanent members of the Security Council. Instead, against the advice of Ambassadors George Kennan and Jack Matlock, we had NATO expansion and a revival of Russian militarism. Madeleine Albright has intervened in the emerging peace agreements in Yugoslavia and in two wars that have produced millions of refugees. At home we have had financial deregulation, the dot-com bubble, encouraging shareholder buybacks, equity for fund managers, careless trade deals, the escalation of the drug war, and federal intervention in local policing. Nepotism did not produce health reform.
The most important achievements were sponsored by the Republicans: a reform with two veto rights that reduced the births of teenage mothers by two-thirds, and a compromise tax. Expansion of earned income tax credit based on a Nixon initiative.
Clinton was an example of the generation after 1968 coming to power. Previously, as the late historian John Lukacs noted, presidents like Arthur and Harding had to disguise themselves as at least Christian masters; The coming to power of a well-known switchman and Philander was something new. He sympathized with blacks but did little for them; A discerning friend of mine said he was popular with them because they “see in him the chaos of their own lives”. Another friend, an Englishman, told me that the sex scandals were stupid, but of course if he were to lie to a large jury he would have to resign. His failure to do so left what Pat Moynihan referred to as “Defining Deviancy Down” as his most important legacy.
The Junior Bush also showed a lack of seriousness domestically. A centralizing “educational reform” was later repealed for general ridicule. An attempt to partially privatize Social Security failed because of flawed news: a failure to highlight the benefits of inheritable accounts for families with no property.
The nadir was the fictional “axis of evil” supported by neoconservatives who sought the overthrow of a number of governments in the Middle East by the US. The fact that Iraq and Iran despised each other and North Korea only valued them as arms customers made no difference. The U.N. Charter was ignored in a regime change war that produced millions of refugees. This has been accompanied by imprisonment without trial of American citizens and the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners in violation of national and international law. There was also an attempt to amend the insurgency law to encourage military rule in emergencies, which was foiled only after a protest from all fifty governors. And three redundant but potentially dangerous new bureaucracies have been created: the Department of Homeland Security, the Directorate of National Intelligence, and the Northern Command of the Military, whose potential for emergency dictatorship is celebrated in Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s memoirs.
Bush’s feat of redemption was an interest in pandemics and public health that his two successors did not share. He deserves monuments in most African capitals for his HIV-AIDS program.
Obama’s administration began with no other program than that developed by the leadership of the House of Representatives: a bailout for the non-progressive auto industry and a front-loaded Obamacare program that at high cost alleviated some people’s financial fears and did nothing about public health . called as: possible pandemics; Diet, diabetes and obesity; Reduction of lead colors; and contact tracing of STDs.
Unlike our three other villains, he displayed personal dignity and self-control. His moral shortcomings were political and not personal. He was brought to power by his realization that a black bloc vote could provide half the votes required for a majority in democratic primaries, and in many states a large number of votes. His exploitation of the breed is well documented in David Garrow’s massive and neglected biography of his early years. It continued with the Henry Louis Gates affair, inaccurate allegations of a black church fire epidemic, and exploitation of police misconduct in Ferguson, Missouri, on a tour of major cities by his former attorney general on the eve of the 2016 election. As with race on religion: by attracting the Catholic Church, it sparked an artificial controversy over insignificant amounts of money spent on contraceptives to attract the votes of unmarried women in an election year.
Its foreign policy in Syria and Libya was both lawless and ruthless, generated more refugees than the other three governments combined, and stabilized most of Western Europe.
President Trump, also a seasoned exploiter of identity politics, had a coherent, if negative, agenda. Its trade and immigration policies were unnecessarily clumsy and inflammatory. He put the brakes on the juristocracy and avoided serious foreign policy mistakes by chance or on purpose. His energetic policy towards Palestine had in part gotten out of hand; As the British Peel Commission’s 1937 report recognized, any solution depends on the sovereignty and equal dignity of the parties to the conflict, not just economic benefits.
His orthodox republican tax and deregulation policies fueled growth while he did nothing to address embedded inequalities or the deficits in the country’s education and training.
He left his post in deserved shame and believed neither in the rule of law nor in constitutional government. The 2020 election was not stolen from him. Mail-in polls were required due to the pandemic. The 4 million increase in democratic plurality between 2016 and 2020 was not due to stolen votes or suburban soccer mothers, but rather to the abandonment of libertarian ticket by more than 3 million of the 4.3 million voters who backed Johnson and Weld in 2016 .
Libertarian voters seem unwilling to cast neutral protest votes in an election where Biden was less flawed and frightening than Mrs. Clinton and when Trump’s call for armed militias to stand by threatened civil peace and constitutional order. There was a drop of 55,000 in the libertarian vote in Arizona, where Biden got a majority of 11,000 votes. In Georgia, the libertarian decline was 62,000 versus a biden plurality of 28,000; In Wisconsin, the libertarian decline was 68,000 versus a biden plurality of 20,000. The libertarian decline was roughly two-thirds of the Biden plurality in Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.
Will this sad record of 28 years of faulty leadership be continued? The signs are not encouraging. The Biden government has already doubled its identity policy in its appointments and produced another promising domestic cabinet. Instead of leaving the issues of the “cultural war” to the states in which they were previously fought, as General De Gaulle pointed out in the last volume of his memoirs, it has doubled on them, not on a recipe for national unity.
It is in the power of political parties, without legislative support, to revert to a convention nomination system based on local, state and federal officials. If we don’t, at the end of his long life we’ll stick with George Kennan’s prophecy: “Something like that [representative government] can be retained for a long time in European governments with their responsible parliamentary majorities and ministerial governments. But I’m afraid the trends are going in the opposite direction in the US. “
George Liebmann is the author of numerous other works on law and history Vox Clamantis In the desert, last America’s Political Inventors: The Lost Art of Legislation (Bloomsbury 2019).
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