Clinton’s Legacy

CLINTON’S LEGACY….Did Bill Clinton leave much of a legacy? Or was his presidency just a series of transient, small-bore initiatives overshadowed by his impeachment? Ron Brownstein sets the record straight today:

The benefits of the Clinton boom were dispersed far more broadly than the gains under Ronald Reagan, in part because Clinton systematically implemented policies that encouraged and rewarded work for those on the economy’s bottom rungs.

Consider the scorecard. During Clinton’s two terms, the median income for American families increased by a solid 15% after inflation, according to Census Bureau figures. But it rose even faster for African Americans (33%) and Hispanics (24%) than it did for whites (14%).

The growth was so widely shared that from 1993 through 1999, families in the bottom [20%] of the income distribution saw their incomes increase faster than those in the top 5%. By comparison, under President Reagan in the 1980s, those in the top 5% increased their income more than five times faster than the bottom 20%.

Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush all had economic recoveries, but under Reagan and Bush it was (and is) primarily the rich who benefited. Under Clinton, the poor and middle class also benefited, and this was not just a coincidence. It was the result of deliberate policy choices inspired by a belief that when the economy grows, everyone should benefit.

Conservatives do more than simply disparage this: they ignore it, and it’s a telling ignorance. Perhaps more than anything, it tells you everything you need to know about the values and character of modern conservatism, and it’s not a pretty picture.

What Clinton showed was that careful economic policies could encourage both economic growth and equitable distribution of that growth. That’s a fact that the free market fundamentalists in the Republican party don’t care to acknowledge, but it’s a fact nonetheless. We can have both, if only we have a president who cares about both. Right now we don’t.