The Truth, Mainly - 01/08/2001

The Clinton years: big pictures and short views
by Leon Satterfield

We're in the final two weeks of the Clinton presidency now and you all know what that means. We're being inundated with political punditry summing up the Bad Boy's pluses and minuses, most of them deriving from the NY Times series called "The Clinton Legacy."

Here are some of the Clinton minuses the pundits are chewing over:

•He failed to produce meaningful health care reform. Remember when he held up the little card and said we'd all get one and that would be the end of our health care problems? What happened to that anyway?

•He's the first elected president to get impeached. Andrew Johnson wasn't elected, you dummy.

•Even though he was impeached, he was acquitted—but on a mere technicality. The charge was that he'd lied about his adultery. The mere technicality was that considerably fewer than two-thirds of the senators wanted to open up that can of worms.

•Even though he was not convicted of lying about his adultery, he was shamefully disgraced when the special prosecutor reported in great lascivious detail just how the adultery was carried out. Thus was the president's moral authority undermined, and thus were millions of Americans sickened and repelled and grossed out—no matter how many times they read the Starr Report.

And here are some of the Clinton pluses the pundits are telling us about:

•The national debt, which quadrupled during the Reagan-Bush years, actually decreased during the Clinton presidency. Big deal.

•The country's longest economic expansion on record happened during Clinton's eight years. Whatever that means.

•More Americans (7 million) officially escaped poverty during Clinton's presidency than during any other administration since LBJ's. Zzzz.

•The national crime rate at the end of Clinton's two terms is the lowest it's been in three decades. So is there a bowl game today? And so forth.

The pundits will go on and on with their pluses and minuses, but they'll all be Big Picture pluses and minuses. After all, they came from the NY Times.

But I'm more interested in the assessment of the Clinton years by the Little Guy with a Short View. I'm a Little Guy with a Short View. So how did the Clinton years affect me? Hah? I'll tell you.

Democrats like to ask if you're better off than you were in 1992 when Clinton was first elected. They're pretty sure you'll say yes. But as a Little Guy with a Short View, I've noticed a number of ways I'm not better off than I was in 1992. To wit:

•In 1992 I had more hair growing on top of my head than I had growing out of my nostrils and ears. It was an attractive arrangement and I liked it, but it's been reversed now.

•I currently have a smart aleck knee that amuses itself by going in and out on me. In 1992, my knee knew its place and stayed there.

•In 1992, my 1984 Toyota Tercel was a right little, tight little car, much admired by members of my extended family. Today it's rusty, dented, and using oil, a target of many jibes from my kinsmen.

•In 1992, I hardly ever forgot my home address. Today I hardly ever remember it. We moved last year. I can still tell you what my address used to be, but my wife tells me that doesn't count.

•And get this: in 1992, I remembered the names of many of the people I would talk to.

So no, from the perspective of a Little Guy with a Short View, I'm not better off than I was in 1992. That's a big Clinton minus and no pundit besides me seems to care.

And you know what else? Clinton has always—always!—been younger than I am. He was 46 when he was elected and he's 54 now. I was 58 when he was elected and I'm 66 now. I've had neck wattles during his second term and he hasn't. He's a big disappointment to me.

During the whole of my life before 1992, I was younger than whoever was president. FDR, HST, Ike, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush the Elder—I was younger than all of them.

And I took comfort in that. If the president did or said something I didn't understand, I always told myself it would become clear when I was as old as he was. Now when the president does or says something I don't understand, I figure it's his fault, not mine.

So there's another big Clinton minus that the pundits are turning a deaf eye toward.

I'm enough of a realist that I don't expect things to get any better. I'm not getting much younger and presidents aren't getting much older. President-sort-of-elect Bush is six weeks older than Clinton, but he's still too young to remember that Social Security is a federal program. And even in my dotage, I'm clear about at least one thing: I don't want my president to be confused about my Social Security.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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