Monday, February 9, 2009

On The Heels of Greatness

Since Barack Obama failed to save the country, let's go back to a sunnier time, when Bill and Hillary rang in their new administration with a word their followers don't usually associate with them: Hope. Yes, the Bells of Hope.The Clintons' TV producer pals came up with the idea of ringing in, ahem, Change, with every bell, gong and gamelan they could assemble, from the Liberty Bell to bells in space (the astronauts of the Endeavor, who would be asleep during the inaugural festivities, had to prerecord their bell solos) and the People would ring all their bells too. It would be magnificent, overblown, and deeply hopey, except that Clinton did not win with a majority. So that put something of a damper on the chimes.

Another damper was the trouble Clinton had run into even before the inaugural: his own campaign promises. The most immediately serious was his promise not to repatriate Haitian boat people without a hearing; while Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil could stay, Haitians were forcibly repatriated to the brutal regime that had ousted Jean-Bertrande Aristide.Desperate Haitians put together improbable collections of tires, boards, netting, piled onto them and pushed off into the open sea, only to drown or be picked up by the Coast Guard, who brought them to detention in, among other places, Guantanamo. They were not, however, put in stress positions, besides the basic one of being held while waiting to be forcibly repatriated.

After he was told that over 150,000 Haitians were ripping down every tree in sight to make rafts for their 600 mile journey, Clinton went back on his campaign promise, saying that forced repatriation would continue. The following paragraph from the NY Times is so upsetting I will let it pass without comment:
Indeed, in the last two weeks, members of Mr. Clinton's foreign-policy team have expressed concern that celebrations surrounding Mr. Clinton's inauguration, which will be widely televised, will be marred by news footage of Haitian boat people drowning in stormy waters while trying to make the 600-mile journey to the Florida coast. Mr. Clinton cited a report in recent days, still unconfirmed by the Coast Guard, that nearly 400 Haitian boat people drowned when their boat sank in the Bahamas.
The fledgling presidency was darkened by plenty of ironic foreshadowing: Bush I left a deficit that scuttled Clinton's middle-class tax cut. On the very day that Bush sent missiles into Iraq, Clinton remarked that as he was a Baptist, he believed in death-bed conversions, and so he was open to restablishing normal relations with Iraq. On the very day that Bush sent missiles into Iraq, Clinton remarked that as he was a Baptist, he believed in death-bed conversions, and so he was open to restablishing normal relations with Iraq, causing. He then snappishly denied being asked about normalization of relations, a question that appeared twice on the transcript. He also tried to finesse the Haitian problem:

He tried the same on Haiti. There was no joy in reversing a policy that was proving untenable, nor was there dishonor in a forthright acknowledgment of change. Yet Clinton insisted that he was not reversing anything. His earlier statements offering asylum, he maintained, had hinged on a distinction between political refugees, who were entitled to stay in the United States, and economic refugees, who were not. "Sometimes people hear only half the message," he complained. (from "the Survivor", by John F. Harris)

The hedging and nice sidestepping aggrieved reporters, and gave them warning to examine every Clintonian statement with a jeweler's loupe.

Meanwhile, Bill had named Hillary head of the President's Task Force on Health Care Reform, and she embarked on a series of secret meetings, much to the dismay of friends and enemies alike. The Clintons' sunnily optimistic plan called for both a budget bill and a health care bill to be pushed through the Senate, but Senatorial etiquettician Robert Byrd blocked it:

(he was)convinced the strategy amounts to a "prostitution of the process" by
pushing through "a very complex, very expensive, very little understood piece of

The process retained its virtue, and the very expensive, little understood piece of legislation died, only to be mocked in memorium.

President Clinton's other travails included his nominees being torpedoed by nannies and tax troubles, and his ultimate AG selection, Janet Reno, running afoul of the Branch Davidians at Waco. Each of these created a furor. But Clinton's compromise over his promise to lift the ban on gays in the military, the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, has resulted in well over 11,000 service members being expelled from the Armed Forces.

The Clinton Administration's first hundred days are a hard act to follow.

Cross-posted at, Brooklyn's Meatiest Blog.

~~~Thank you, Blossom Dearie~~~
A crisp little sugar cookie voice with a bite:


  1. yea, Clinton lost me after the Haitian boat people. Now mind you, I was 13 years old, and he only "had" me at "But I didn't inhale" so....

  2. "I didn't inhale"--just an opening shot in the Clintonian War on Meaning.

    Obama, on whether or not he inhaled:"Well, that was kind of the idea, wasn't it?"

    Whatever else I may be mad at him for, we'll always have that.