Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Legacy of Bill Clinton

There has been much made in the media about Bill Clinton's upcoming convention speech, his anger at being coerced into talking about national security issues in his endorsement of Barack Obama, etc. Apparently, Bill is upset that his image and legacy as President are being disrespected and tarnished. Well, to give fair time in my attempt to disrespect and tarnish the most right-wing Democratic President since Grover Cleveland, let us list the calumnies and evils committed by our man from Hope.

1. NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement): When Bill Clinton campaigned for President in 1992, he did so as a protectionist and critic of free trade (and supposed friend of labor). He lambasted Bush Sr. for "coddling the Chinese" after the Tienanmen Square massacre. He asserted that if he was elected President he would sign a striker replacement bill into law, banning scabs during strikes (the US remains the last industrialized country to permit this). When Clinton was first elected, the Democrats controlled Congress (with over 55% of the seats). Throughout 1993, Congress kicked around a striker replacement bill. It went absolutely nowhere. Indeed, President Bill Clinton never lifted a finger to lobby for its passage.

But he found the time to personally campaign over 200 hours in 1993 for the passage of NAFTA, the first big blow to labor in this country (and the most damaging piece of legislation to workers since the Taft-Hartley Act). He lobbied, made calls, even had committee chairmen offer up millions in extra funding (i.e., your tax dollars) to purchase the support of members of Congress. It worked. In the autumn of 1993, NAFTA passed the House (carried by Republican support [not the first time Bill Clinton would depend on Republicans to get his legislation passed]).

2. GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade): The global version of NAFTA, passed with much less fanfare in 1994. It was, however, the death knell of the American worker. It presaged capital liquidity on a scale much greater than ever before and led directly to the de-industrialization of our workforce this past decade. It also has gutted traditional industries that were heavily unionized, workers who had been told by their union leaders that they should vote for Bill Clinton. Of course, the striker replacement bill went nowhere, because after the passage of these trade bills (off the backs of Congressional Republicans) the GOP took over Congress.

3. Welfare Reform Act of 1996: If the trade bills were the assault on workers, the Welfare Reform Act was our Poor Law. Passed with the support and lobbying of both Bill and Hillary Clinton, the bill gutted what once remained of the Democratic Party's tie to the welfare state and the people who depended on it for some modicum of a living standard. The bill imposed penalties on recipients (or as Hillary liked to call it, "incentives"), including time tables for support, and eventually "freedom from poverty" (Bill Clinton's perverse lifting of Roosevelt's Four Freedoms speech) by being forced to work low-wage, no benefits employment (in which the government gave tax breaks to the low-wage employers to induce them to hire [with the knowledge they had a free hand to exploit] the people they were threatening to throw to the streets). The bill also made it easier to expel such folk from public housing (without anything resembling presumption of innocence when a resident was accused of a crime), and "encouraging" two-parent (i.e., potentially abusive and heterosexualist) homes, satisfying the neo-liberal tax dodgers at The Republic and holy rollers alike.

4. 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill: In 1980, the US retained over 600,000 inmates in our local, state, and federal prisons. Today, it is 2.2 million. The Omnibus Crime Bill of 1994 played a vital role in this, our largest lock down of African American males since the end of slavery. It also led to a massive infusement of funds into corrupt and abusive police departments, as well as the greatest expansion of the death penalty of any federal legislation in history. This crime bill made possible Rudy Giuliani's "miracle" as Mayor of New York in the 1990s, punctuated by a police department that used its local African American population for target practice.

The 1994 legislation also facilitated the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (following the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City the year before), replete with liberalized definitions of terrorism, new allowances for surveillance for the federal law enforcement, and not the least important restricting habeas corpus (becoming the enabling act for Bush's later assaults on the same principles with the Patriot Act).

5. Clinton Foreign Policy: We look back today from the Bush era and think how peaceful the '90s were. It was not. Bill Clinton bombed no less than a half dozen countries during his time in the White House. He killed 5,000 Serbs to make a point about the 200 ethnic Albanians killed in a civil war with the Yugoslav government. He bombed Pakistan, Iraq (multiple times), Afghanistan, Bosnia, and even Bulgaria (I kid you not. Look it up).

So, yes, this is the "legacy" of Bill Clinton. Militarism, representing the interests of global capital, an increasingly complex domestic police state, and with the exception of abortion an Administration any Republican could love. To that, I say, Bill, on behalf of the people who still believe in the progressive values you crushed, good riddance.

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