What Bill Clinton Hath Wrought?

by Jimmy Akin

in Current Affairs

AndorianYesterday the San Diego Union-Tribune published a very worthwhile editorial by Joseph Perkins on the impact that Al Gore’s decision to contest the 2000 presidential election had on the country, how it created the situation we are in now, and how it may do long-term damage to American democracy.

It’s a fascinating read.

READ THE EDITORIAL.

Now I’d like to carry his analysis one step farther.

Perkins traces the potential crisis in American democracy to Al Gore’s refusal to put his own personal interest in winning ahead of the good of the nation. That created a crisis where none should have existed and put the nation through a tremendous convulsion that, despite the interposition of 9/11, has left the nation in an extraordinarily divided and partisan state.

Fair enough.

But can the chain be traced back further than Gore? Is there a reason why he, at that moment in history, decided to throw the nation into a constitutional crisis? Was it simply his own volition or can it be traced to other causes?

It seems to me that a case can be made that the reason he did so may be that he had just spent four years under the political tutelage of Bill Clinton.

Now, I am not one to try to blame every evil under the sun on Bill Clinton. As evil as Clinton was, I am not seething with rage against him. To me he has become a joke–a self-parody–who occasionally turns up in the news and who I greet with little more than indifference.

But it strikes me that Clinton may have been a significant influence on Gore that either explicitly advised Gore to contest the election or who implicitly set the example that Gore followed in doing so.

As evidence for this, I would point to a moment that occurred during the impeachment brouhaha. As later reported by one of the participants, there was a meeting between Clinton, James Carville, and George Stephanopolous. This meeting took place at a moment when it was clear that the chief executive of the United States had lied under oath in a court of law. The fact that he had lied in order to cover his sexual misdeeds was a fact that members of his party would use to distract the public (“It’s all about sex!”) from the fact that the chief executive of the nation–a man sworn to uphold the laws of the land–had just violated one of the most sacred of those laws by offering false evidence to the judiciary.

At this particularly dark moment in the history of the Clinton presidency, George Stephanopolous was overcome with the magnitude of the problem, the fact that the president could well be impeached by the House and possibly even convicted in the Senate, which would result not only in the humiliation of Clinton himself but also in putting the nation through a horrible national crisis.

Moved by these considerations, he wondered aloud whether Clinton might ought to do the statemanlike thing and consider resigning, for his own good and the good of the nation.

This would not have been an unprecidented thing. When faced with impeachment President Nixon had mustered the statesmanship to resign and cut short the Watergate crisis that was tearing the country apart. Other presidents, such as Lyndon Johnson, had crises come upon them late enough in their terms that they decided not to run for re-election for the good of themselves, their party, and the nation. They willing let go the reigns of power for the greater good.

George Stephanopolous suggested that Clinton consider doing the same.

Clinton and Carville looked at him as if he had just transformed into an Andorian.

It was inconceivable to them that anyone would voluntarily give up power. They had been schooled in a political philosophy that involved winning at all costs. Power was something to be relinquished only when it was pried from one’s cold, dead fingers. (This incident also served to them as proof that Stephanopolous was weak and didn’t “get it.”)

And so Clinton didn’t resign.

And the opposing party fell into the “It’s all about sex!” trap and didn’t keep the public’s attention adequately focused on the fact that the chief executive had lied under oath.

And he wasn’t convicted in the Senate.

And the nation went through a huge, polarizing crisis.

This crisis set the stage for the bitterness of the 2000 election. It left both the Democrats and the Republicans out for blood, both seeking vengeance and payback for what had happened with the Clinton fiasco. This is indisputably one of the ways what happened in 2000 can be traced to Clinton.

But perhaps there is another way.

Perhaps that “win at any costs” mentality that shaped Clinton’s political outlook was something that he transferred to Gore. Perhaps he counseled Gore to contest the Florida results. Perhaps he had just mentored Gore long enough that Gore did it on his own. Gore was never an especially strong and decisive man, and whether by counsel or example, perhaps it was the influence of Clinton that pushed him over the edge in the decision to contest the 2000 Florida results.

From that, one domino after another fell, until we now end up with a still bitterly-divided nation, with countless lawyers lined up on both sides. If the vote is close come Tuesday, we may not have just one Florida, but six or seven, throwing the nation again into a Constitutional crisis and doing further grave and lasting harm to American society.

Bill Clinton is not the cause of every evil under the sun.

But he just may have been the cause of this one.

That, historians may determine, may be a key part of the Clinton legacy.

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{ 8 comments }

Bill Walsh October 31, 2004 at 1:06 am

Don’t forget the famous quote to Dick Morris, recounted here in a story about the advisor:

Despite his disgrace, Morris continued to quietly advise the president. On Jan. 21, 1998, the day the Monica Lewinsky story broke in the mainstream press, Morris says Clinton called, explained that he had “slipped up” with Lewinsky and asked Morris to take a poll about the potential impact. When Morris reported that Americans would favor his impeachment or resignation if he lied under oath, he says Clinton replied: “Well, we’ll just have to win, then.”

From: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/stories/morris020399.htm

Mia Storm October 31, 2004 at 9:46 am

http://www.wordiq.com/definition/U.S._presidential_election,_1800
In all fairness to Clinton and Gore, Gore wasn’t the first presidential candidate to put self-interest before the good of the nation. Aaron Burr had that dubious distinction in the presidential election of 1800. But it is notable that it was exactly two hundred years before another man decided to plunge the country into a constitutional crisis rather than graciously concede defeat for the greater good of his country.

Mia Storm October 31, 2004 at 9:54 am

Small correction: Burr was the candidate for vice president, not president; so I guess it is fair to say that Gore was the first legitimate presidential candidate to plunge the country into constitutional crisis. Although, come to think of it, wasn’t there some controversy surrounding Hayes’ election in the nineteenth century? Maybe every hundred years, give or take, we’re simply burdened with public figures who cannot put the good of their country before the temptations of power.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rutherford_B._Hayes

Jonathan Prejean October 31, 2004 at 1:15 pm

You haven’t gone back far enough. All of this started from day one of Clinton’s administration. He was adversarial almost instantly after he reached the White House. His staff was dominated by Washington outsiders, and he blundered around like a bull in a china shop with his veto threats and constant disrespect for (and marginalization of) the Republicans in Congress. And in politics, the executive power is like a nuclear bomb, best used as a threat rather than an actual weapon unless you want all hell to break loose. Well, Clinton chose the latter option, and the Contract with America and impeachment were simply part of the Republican counterstrike to Clinton’s nuclear assault. The way Clinton wielded his power left the Republicans with no choice but mutually assured destruction, and we are left with the “scorched earth” results.
Of course, Clinton could have stopped it at any time before the Republicans took the majority, simply by showing even a smidgen of bipartisanship or compromise, but that was evidently too much for his ego. And if he didn’t have to sense to back off of his egotistical stubbornness earlier, no way was he going to change his ways during the Lewinsky scandal. The irony that leaves the most bitter taste in my mouth is that Bush is the one getting excused of being too stubborn and inflexible. Clinton was the poster child for political inflexibility, and his legacy is the ruin of American political discourse.

Ken Crawford October 31, 2004 at 2:32 pm

I’m no Clinton fan, but I think you’re off base on this one Jimmy for two reasons:
1. IMO, Clinton would NOT have contested the Florida election results.
2. Clinton had nothing to do with encouraging Gore to contest them.
What made Clinton a successful politician is that he wasn’t willing to go down a path where he would ultimately have lost. In the end, the 2000 election controversy was suicide for Gore. It killed his career. Clinton would have had the foresight to see that the challenge could only end up in the US Supreme Court and that they were going to side with Bush. As such, he would have avoided the challenge in the first place and lived to fight another day. It probably would have included as speach about how, although he thinks he was the rightful victor, he was unwilling do divide the country by challenging the results.
As for point #2, remember that Gore and Clinton were and are not chummy in any way. They do NOT get along. Many have argued that Gore would have won in 2000 if he would have allowed Clinton to help more or at least make his endorsement of Gore more public. But Gore wanted nothing of it. I don’t think Gore was taking any advice or following the lead of Clinton in any way.
In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Clinton tried to council Gore to avoid the challenge and it pushed Gore over the edge thinking “That Clinton just wants to sink me!”
So while I’m no Clinton fan, I think you’ve got this one wrong.

Esquire November 1, 2004 at 7:37 am

GORE contested the 2000 election?!? The Supreme Court case was titled BUSH v. Gore. That should go without saying, but somehow apparently doesn’t, that BUSH filed the suit. You know, the one in which Scalia uttered the memorable phrase “counting the votes will do irreparable harm to Petitioner Bush”.
Up is down. Weakness is Strength. Mission Accomplished.

Mike Koenecke November 1, 2004 at 1:41 pm

I am afraid that “Esquire” is sadly misinformed, as well as mis-named (“Esquire” is commonly used to refer to a lawyer, which he or she is clearly not)*. The case was titled “Bush v. Gore” because Bush appealed the ruling; i.e., he was the “Petitioner” and Gore was the “Respondent” in the appeal. Gore was the original plaintiff.
* Yes, as a matter of fact, I am one.

Circuit Rider November 2, 2004 at 9:54 am

I hope that Andorian has been here the requisite 5 years and obtained citizenship before voting.
The Andorians are honorable people, but I don’t like illegal aliens voting. . . :-)

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