It was the moment that we began to make America great again.
No, not one year ago next Wednesday, when Putin’s plaything seized control of the White House. The moment when America became better occurred twenty-five years ago this week, when Bill Clinton liberated the White House from a dozen years of Republican control.
I was three years away from voting age when Clinton conquered President George H. W. Bush and third-party oddity Ross Perot, but I still remember the palpable sense of relief among high school classmates the day after Clinton won. The Arkansas Governor was the overwhelming favorite of my fellow 10th graders, some of whom feared that the Democratic nominee would come up short, just as Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis had four years before. There was a sense of celebration in the halls the morning of November 4, 1992–a sense of celebration that some of our teachers did not share.
I remember being particularly struck by the joy of fellow African-American students. The memory of the Rodney King riots just a few months earlier was still fresh, and there had been a palpable concern among these students that America would have four more years of an administration that didn’t believe black lives mattered. Clinton’s victory meant that diversity would no longer be disparaged.
A quarter-century after Clinton’s election, it has become fashionable in some circles to regard the 42nd President as a de facto Republican who double-crossed progressives at every turn. It’s a shame that some folks suffer from this peculiar form of memory loss–that they have forgotten about Clinton’s appointment of enlightened judges to the US Supreme Court and federal appellate and district courts, his embrace of tax fairness, his efforts to battle the scourge of gun violence, his progress on health care for children and his selection of a Cabinet whose members passionately believed in the missions of their respective agencies.
Wouldn’t you rather have Madeleine Albright back as Secretary of State, as opposed to what we have there now? How about having Carol Browner running the EPA again instead of Scott Pruitt, or having Richard Riley in charge of the Education Department one more time instead of Betsy DeVos? I know Andrew Cuomo isn’t every progressive’s cup of tea, but even on his worst day as head of Housing and Urban Development, he was better than Ben Carson, no?
Were the Clinton years perfect? Of course not. Neither were the Obama years (or the Johnson years, or the Carter years, or the Roosevelt years). To paraphrase the famous Jay-Z line, Clinton wasn’t perfect and nobody walking this Earth’s surface is. However, on the whole, Clinton left office having made this country healthier, fairer, stronger.
As is the case with Barack Obama, Clinton’s accomplishments still haven’t been appreciated. Clinton restored facts and reality to the federal government. By selecting Al Gore as his vice-presidential running mate, he gave the former Tennessee Senator the platform and spotlight he needed to raise public awareness about the existential threat of human-caused climate change. Above all, he tried his best to keep this country united–and the importance of that achievement cannot be overstated, especially now.
When Clinton passes away, we will see shameless celebration on the right, “alt-” and otherwise, as those who believe they owned the White House by divine right delight in the demise of a man they spent several years–and several hundred million dollars–attacking with invective and investigations. What about elements of the left? Will that portion of the progressive movement contemptuous of Clinton give him his props after he’s gone, or will they continue to loathe Clinton’s legacy for different reasons?
The renowned Canadian philosopher Joni Mitchell observed that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. 25 years after Clinton broke the GOP’s iron grip on the Executive Branch, let’s take a moment to remember just how good we had it.