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Editorial Roundup
Final Thoughts on the Clinton Years
__ Newspaper Editorials __
Excerpts from the following newspapers are included, as well as links to the full editorial text:
The Arizona Republic
Chicago Sun-Times
The Dallas Morning News
Hartford Courant
Miami Herald
The New York Times
New York Post
Philadelphia Inquirer
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Seattle Times
The Washington Post

By Jason Thompson
Washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2001

With President Clinton's eight-year run in the White House winding down, the editorial boards of some of the country's leading newspapers are weighing in on what the Clinton years meant for the country, and for Clinton himself.

While Clinton's true presidential legacy will not be known for many years, early editorial summaries are not being overly kind to Clinton, painting a picture of a paradoxical figure whose tenure, as the Philadelphia Inquirer states, was "an intricate tangle of strengths and flaws, successes and failures." According to the Seattle Times, "The problem with assessing Clinton is that there are so many Clintons to assess."

So as editorialists summarize the positive impacts of Clinton's policies, they also reflect sometimes tragically on unfulfilled potential and, according to the New York Times, the "national psychodrama" that was the Clinton presidency.

The Arizona Republic
His Real Legacy: He Got Away With It
"Perhaps it should be sufficient for Clinton that he be remembered as the best pure politician of his generation. His accomplishments were most often tactical. He bested the Republicans he so loathed on the field of political battle during the government shutdown budget confrontations and during his impeachment nightmare. He was a rapscallion whose great advantage was that everyone knew he was a rapscallion. His fellow boomers liked that in him. In their hearts, they liked him for his hellcatting youth, his draft dodging and even his lip-biting insincerity. Up to a limit, they even seemed to like him for the real lies. In the end, then, Clinton's legacy may be that it is, in fact, better to be lucky than good." - Jan. 7, 2001

Chicago Sun-Times
Life Under Clinton Certainly Not Dull
"Clinton aide Dick Morris once said that he never met anyone who could read polls like Clinton. This characteristic wins elections, but it also can create a void in direction. Clinton often confused winning with leadership... His supporters point out that Clinton enjoys high approval ratings at the end of his term. But what of the office of the presidency itself? Definitions of what constitutes sex; what the meaning of "is" is; Clinton wagging his finger at the American people and denying having relations with "that woman" – he managed to wiggle his way out of all the scandals. But what of the diminished stature and respect for the Oval Office? That's the price we pay for Clinton's reckless tenure." - Jan. 14, 2001

The Dallas Morning News
Bill Clinton's Record
"The feature about Bill Clinton's presidency that most Americans will remember is his impeachment, which followed round after round of scandal and investigations. The sad fact is that President Clinton cheapened his office. His affair with Monica Lewinsky was only one sad episode. Mr. Clinton turned the White House into a political machine that constantly grubbed for money. His supporters took their 1992 "war room" technique and turned it into a perpetual partisan operation. And Bill Clinton's need for attention, especially from the Barbra Streisand crowd, was often below the dignity of the office... Yes, Bill Clinton could persuade, and he fought to keep the presidency relevant. But his personal behavior and crass commercialization of the White House, to name just two points, denigrated the office. He undermined his own tenure." - Jan. 14, 2001

The Hartford Courant
The Clinton Years
"A generation hence, historians are likely to view Bill Clinton's eight-year presidency with more dispassion than the pundits who write about today's news. Even with the benefit of time, however, Mr. Clinton is likely to be regarded not as a hero but as a tragic and, perhaps, comic figure. ...The tragedy lies in what could have been were it not for the fact that Mr. Clinton's passion for personal pleasures got in the way of his passion for public service. A search for words to associate with the Clinton years would produce opposites: clever and dumb, articulate and facile, caring and duplicitous, empathetic and selfish, promise keeper and promise breaker. President Jimmy Carter once observed that he would like people to remember him thus: 'He made a lot of mistakes, but he never told me a lie.' That cannot be said of Mr. Clinton."- Jan. 14, 2001

Miami Herald
A Job Well Done by an Imperfect Man
"Friend and foe alike will agree that Mr. Clinton brought to the office a brilliant mind. In person he could charm almost anyone. As an extemporaneous speaker he has few peers. When he said that he felt people's pain, we sensed he was truthful. And his biography is the stuff of the American dream, as he was born to a widowed mother in Hope, Arkansas, educated on scholarships at Georgetown and Yale; a Rhodes scholar, a governor, a president. Friend and foe will agree, too, that, like so many of the post-war generation, he also brought to the White House a self-absorption, a personal conceit, an "if it feels good, do it" disregard for traditional morality. It is not possible in this space to fairly summarize this man and his presidency. But he will continue to be regarded by Americans as a living contradiction of all that we value in our president." - Jan. 14, 2001

New York Post
The Regrettable Record of William J. Clinton
"For rarely has there been a president so self-absorbed, so self-righteous – so confident that the universe revolves around him. He politicized the presidency as it had never been politicized before. Every single move was determined by polling – understandably, since Clinton brought no lofty vision, no long-range strategy and no sense of strong convictions, save self-preservation, to the office... But, at long last, the exhausting Clinton presidency itself is over. America survived – and prospered – even if it was substantially damaged by his manic self-indulgence... He leaves a needlessly diminished presidency – and a shameful legacy." - Jan. 14, 2001

The New York Times
An Appraisal: Bill Clinton's Mixed Legacy
"His White House years have been been marked by prosperity, rancor, achievements, disappointments and something approaching a national psychodrama involving Mr. Clinton himself. Trying to separate Mr. Clinton from the times he presided over is like trying, in Yeats's phrase, to tell the dancer from the dance. Mr. Clinton presented himself as an agent for change. But with or without him, the 90's were bound to be a decade when change rolled across the economy, international relations and the political culture with a grinding inexorability. Historians will surely record Mr. Clinton as the first president to be impeached since 1868 and as having presided over America's longest economic expansion. That's the easy sentence to write. But they may also come to see him as the shaper of some main themes of governance for the 21st century." - Jan. 14, 2001

Philadelphia Inquirer
Clinton Exits
"Bill Clinton plunged America into a vortex of contradictions. He was an empathic, charismatic leader who connected with millions of Americans but whose character weaknesses infuriated millions as well. He was an effective centrist on deficit-cutting and crime-fighting, yet a Gallup-driven, demagogic obstacle to centrist reform of entitlement programs. He rebuilt confidence that the federal government can accomplish major things, even after perpetrating a health-reform fiasco capped by a possum-playing fib, 'The era of big government is over.' He stood up for what was right in Kosovo and (belatedly) in Bosnia, yet his lies and unprincipled tactics in the wake of a sexual scandal nearly cost him the office. His tenure was such an intricate tangle of strengths and flaws, successes and failures, that people will long debate how to rate it." - Jan. 14, 2001

St. Paul Pioneer Press
His Personal Conduct Marred Policy Successes
"When his eight years in office drop onto the historical landscape..., Clinton's place will depend greatly on one's point of view. Ours is that a brilliant politician and policymaker squandered much of his promise with reckless, revolting personal conduct that invited the impeachment debacle and diverted energy from vital issues such as health care reform. A prudent man with so many dedicated enemies in conservative politics would never have risked his reputation so blatantly. But by many measures, this complicated man has succeeded in a job where he is earning his paycheck until the last day." - Jan. 14, 2001

Seattle Times
Bill Clinton: The Picture of a Paradox
"The problem with assessing Clinton is that there are so many Clintons to assess. He dominated the political culture in the final decade of the century but was burdened by paradox. He was the Great Empathizer yet at times was self-absorbed. He demonized his Republican opponents yet freely stole their best ideas. He preached tolerance toward gays as a matter of principle, yet, as a matter of politics, signed the law banning gay marriage and boasted about it in ads that he purchased on Christian radio... Most historians agree that he was also a canny political tactician with a sharp instinct for the middle ground – and that he used this talent to chart a course between Democratic liberalism and Gingrich Republican conservatism." - Jan. 14, 2001

The Washington Post
The Clinton Presidency
"Mr. Clinton was, and still is, an extraordinarily gifted politician. He did not use those great gifts to achieve major change in American life. The record suggests to us that in the end he lacked the commitment to do so, that political considerations too often mattered more to him than substantive needs, and that his politics were self-absorbed. The Democrats understood both his strengths and his weaknesses when they nominated him in 1992. The bet was that the gain would be worth the risk, and in some respects it was. He won the presidency twice; he regularly confounded the Republicans; and policy because of that was better than it would otherwise have been... But on balance, and for all the tumult that it caused, it was an oddly superficial presidency." - Jan. 14, 2001


Jason Thompson can be reached at jason.thompson@washingtonpost.com.


© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


 
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