Bill Clinton was a real letdown for me, and that was before I knew that he used the Oval Office as a house of assignation.

Paul Wong
Joseph Litman, The low end theory

Independent of the quality time that he spent with Monica Lewinsky, my opinion of Clinton soured almost from the beginning of his first term, when he started compromising his personal beliefs and led the Democratic Party toward the center, a place far too right. It was difficult to watch an amazingly intelligent, wonderfully optimistic, ideologically congruent man who originally had so much promise do so little. The AmeriCorps program? That was a nice accomplishment, but hardly on par with positive changes like the New Deal or the Civil Rights Act. Perhaps expecting a legislative reform of that magnitude was too much, but Clinton seemed to leave no significant contribution, not even an idiotic ideological regime like his predecessors’, which sought to cast ketchup as a vegetable and minorities as criminals.

In these days of turmoil – looking for a job in a recessing economy, reading daily updates about an impending war and expecting William Rehnquist to author his legacy by prohibiting movement toward racial equity – I am prone to fondly remember President Clinton, though. At least his ineffectiveness was equal-opportunity inertia. Conversely, George W. has been quite active, but his efforts have only been on behalf of a precious few. If there is anyone else who thinks that he or she is off the current administration’s radar, please take a number and get in line behind me. I’m waiting ….

While the number of those following me may be underwhelming (Bush’s approval ratings are unreal), it is still important to acknowledge the facts, even if the discussion falls on too many deaf ears:

George W. Bush received fewer votes, in the aggregate, than Al Gore in 2002, and were it not for the Supreme Court’s intervention, Bush might not even be President. Following that debacle, it seemed logical that the slim and questionable results would force Bush to be conciliatory and work as a coalition builder. However, such has not been the case, and the opposite has instead been true. Starting with his administration’s decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty two springs past, Bush has seemingly only served just special interests who comprised his core campaign supporters – the defense, gun, oil, and finance industries – or his dad’s friends. Cutting foreign aid to programs meant to help women with contraception and alienating labor unions has only further illustrated that the people who tell Bush what to think have decided to ignore the majority of Americans who voted for someone else.

I mention all of this for two reasons. First, Elliott Abrams was named Bush’s director of Middle Eastern affairs last week, adding to the number of Cold-War-era, convicted-felon retreads that G-dub has welcomed back to the political mainland after eight sad years spent on Elba during the previous regime. Those who recognize Abrams’ name perhaps do so because he pled guilty to withholding information from Congress when it was investigating the Iran Contra scandal, an egregiously illegal scheme perpetuated by Ronald Reagan and Bush 41. Abrams joins similarly convicted or charged Pentagon official John Poindexter, U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte and State Department envoy Otto Reich on the president’s criminal, policy-wonk dream team, the only team with more charges against it than the Portland Jail-, er, Trailblazers. Abrams’ appointment is both smug and surreptitious; convicted felons who previously abused like powers have no place in the government and to casually welcome them back into the fold – beyond the jurisdiction of the confirmation process – is an insult to the public. Is no one offended by Bush’s arrogance?

The other reason that I now pine for the squandered-promise days of Clinton is that when Bush isn’t completely pandering to his friends or donors, he is wallowing in the mess that he’s created. Yesterday, the country’s Democratic governors had to meet with George and his regents to plead for money necessary to enact the new security and education policies that this administration has capriciously mandated. Bush’s response? Sorry, can’t help you guys; I squandered all the money the government had with my foolish, worthless tax cut. But at least we’re about to kill Saddam, right?

Never before have so many awful decisions made those not rendered seem so great. My question to G-dub: What have you done for me lately?

Joseph Litman can be reached at litmanj@umich.edu.

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