So I saw "The Hunting of the President" again recently. Now, I've got some strong feelings on impeachment, especially with what's being bandied about recently. Has George W. Bush committed impeachable offenses? I don't doubt it. Should he be impeached? I don't think so. I'm worried that with the debacle that was the Clinton impeachment trial in so recent memory, impeachment might just turn into another political ploy that gets thrown out every time a president is doing something the opposition dislikes with passion and briefly exposes a vulnerability. I would like nothing more than to see GWB thrown out on his ass, but I think that the neocon era would do much better if it sputters to a halt rather than ignite a vengeful spark in the hearts of hard-line conservatives. My entire political maturity has been in the GWB presidency, and I think the young folks in such revolt are either in the same position as I, or are just old enough to have been able to comprehend the details of Clinton impeachment while it was still in motion, which helps matters none.
So like I was saying.
The movie makes its points excellently, but I wanted to turn to a bonus feature on the DVD - the talk that Clinton gave directly following the premiere of the movie. While the entirety of the talk is rewarding, as Clinton is an engaging speaker who I love, it's when he turns his view toward the historical presidency that things get interesting.
He says that the personal animosity he engendered had the most parallels to 18th century America, when the main issues were whether we'd have a national economy and whether we'd have a national legal system, how the federalists and antifederalists were so hateful toward one another until everything was settled, followed by the Era of Good Feelings. The next battle was whether you could secede from the Union, slavery and all that, then following Lincoln's death and Johnson's impeachment what the reconstruction would look like, until that was settled with the election of Ulysses Grant, followed by several more decades of stability. The next sea change was in the early 20th century, regarding industrialism and government regulation of the corporations within. Roosevelt carried the flag of big government (zounds!) until Taft deviated from his policies and then Woodrow Wilson picked up where Roosevelt left off in the field of big government and the Democrats became the progressives. Clinton says that issue wasn't resolved until after the second World War, because following Wilson, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover played the role of reactionaries, the Depression set in, and FDR and Truman's policies established the US Government not only as the leader in the world but domestically a mediator for capitalism, to protect natural resources and competition and promote social justice.
Still with me? I know that was a long paragraph.
Clinton says that the main issue facing the United States today would be the definition of the role of government in a postindustrial era, in an era of unprecedented diversity, and asks what it means to define, defend, and expand the union. He argues that the Democrats are on the right side because throughout history at every crossroads we have elected to expand the union further - broader freedoms, community, and opportunities, that we've always gone forward. He also touches on the 2000 election and the even split, which can mostly be attributed to a discussion on tax cuts that didn't address the problems if taxes were cut, as well as social issues (god guns and gays).
I like that approach to the election, because it seems like historically the weakest presidents have not so much failed in their promises but rather deliver on promises that in the long run end up being the incorrect ones. The ones who promise the right things and don't deliver are generally ranked highly.
So I suppose the Clintonian view of Executive American History is that Democrats bring us forward, and Republicans slow us down. That's not to marginalize the role of Republicans, as progress can only happen so fast and normalcy is a good thing every once in a while. Think of the great post-Wilson Democrat leaders and their policies - a New World Order, the New Deal, Communist containment, the Great Society, Kennedy idealism, and then think of the responses from the Republican leaders that followed. We stayed out of the League of Nations (perhaps we weren't quite ready to lead the world) and pulled out of Korea and Vietnam. In the long view of it, Democrats are progress and Republicans are restraint.
A bold individual, probably my mom, once said that Republicans cut taxes so much that Democrats are forced to raise them to compensate, and then the Republicans win power again by capitalizing on that. Republicans have been in power way more frequently than Democrats - Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and GWB all got their second terms (and Reagan got a third, sort of) while only Clinton and LBJ get that honor. 12 years of Democrat rule since '68? Bogus. But I would argue that when Republicans sneak in they're only allowed to be in power for as long as it takes to start regressing, and then Democrat progress prevails.
Of course, the cold war tainted all that, and since I think it's not long before we all recognize the War on Terror as a sham, I look forward to the political scene of the 21st century. This is gonna be fun.
Labels: clinton, presidents