How the Democrats Can Win

Did you see Ken Starr’s piece in The Wall Street Journal trying to explain his disastrous investigation? He points out that 75 percent of Whitewater cases ended in hung juries compared to a 5 percent hung jury rate in criminal trials generally. This he attributes to “some people entered the jury room with agendas” and “judges sometimes appear to be swayed by politics.” Couldn’t another explanation be that Starr presented unconvincing evidence?

Starr does concede that he should not have taken on Monicagate, Travelgate or Filegate: “Moving beyond Whitewater/Madison slowed our progress, increased our costs and fostered a damaging perception of empire building.”

It is incredible to me that all of this investigation—Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate and Monicagate—produced no indictment against Bill or Hillary Clinton other than that he had lied about a personal matter, having nothing to do with his public duty. And that indictment—which is what impeachment by the House constituted—produced no conviction. Nor did any of the investigations by four other independent counsels of Clinton cabinet members produce a conviction, except on a lie by Henry Cisneros, also about a personal matter having nothing to do with his public duties.

Yet the Clinton administration is depicted again and again by the Republicans and by a large part—probably a majority—of the media as “scandal-plagued” or “scandal-ridden.”

I don’t think the Democrats can win if they don’t fight back—if they accept that Bill Clinton is a corrupt president who sold the Lincoln Bedroom. Democrats should answer Thank God for the Lincoln Bedroom. Decent politicians get down on their knees and pray for innocent favors they can do for their contributors. How much better to offer a night’s sleep at the White House than a change of administration policy on an important issue. Bill Clinton hasn’t sold out to the bad guys—the gun lobby or the tobacco lobby. How many Republicans can say the same!

Democrats should be proud, instead of ashamed of Bill Clinton’s record as president. The economy has performed superbly—with an amazing combination of low inflation, deficit reduction, and low unemployment. And during the last seven years, it’s been Bill Clinton who has been president, not Alan Greenspan, as the pundits seem to think when they’re praising the economy.

More jobs have meant that the major accomplishment of welfare reform, for which Clinton shares the credit, has been implemented, if not perfectly, with considerably better results than most liberals anticipated.

On a host of other issues from gun-control to the patients’ bill of rights, it seems to me that Clinton has been on the right side far more times than he has been in the wrong. For some of these, though, he gets no credit or at least none that I have seen. A case in point is antitrust. Clinton’s Department of Justice has had the courage and the savvy to take on bullies like Microsoft in the interest of fair play.

On foreign policy, many of his efforts, including those in Northern Ireland and Kosovo, have been laudable. In the Middle East, all you have to do is recall the testimony of the dying King Hussein that Clinton had done more than any other president Hussein had known. And Hussein had known Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

“I have never—with all due respect and all the affection I have held for your predecessors—I have never known someone with your dedication, evenhandedness, focus and determination to help resolve this issue.”

All of this is not to say that Bill Clinton has never done wrong. Indeed, he has often been criticized—sometimes severely—in these pages. It is to remind people that as angry as we may get at the man, on the whole he’s done an impressive job. That’s why the Democratic counterattack I suggest on behalf of Bill Clinton should extend to another matter: the role of government. Don’t let that lady get away with “I don’t want big government in my medicine cabinet.” Not just Democrats but every reasonable citizen should rise up and say “Look, sister, don’t you really want a CDC to warn you of dangerous diseases, and don’t you really want an FDA to warn you when what’s in your medicine cabinet may not be safe? In fact, you want unsafe products kept off the market, period.”

When that fat cat sitting next to you on the plane declaims against big government, ask him if he doesn’t really want the government to make sure that this plane you’re in is safe and that the pilots who are flying it and the air traffic controllers who are guiding them know what they’re doing.

And since fat cats usually own stocks, ask him if he doesn’t want an SEC to be sure he isn’t cheated by crooked brokers. Freely concede government agencies can be made better—they can and should be—but don’t let anyone forget that we need them.

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Charles Peters

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly.