Clinton is not a failed president, only an insignificant one. In his interview with Rather to plug My Life, he claims two great accomplishments. One is “the creation of 22 million jobs.” The other is the toppling of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in the Balkan war. So Clinton takes credit, above all, for high job growth and a positive outcome in a relatively minor foreign policy crisis. One qualification: On jobs, while Clinton deserves credit, presidents merely make jobs a bit easier or harder for the economy to create. They don’t create jobs themselves, except by expanding government. In sum, Clinton’s twin achievements match Coolidge’s almost exactly. The highlights of Coolidge’s term were a flourishing economy and triumph in three minor foreign ventures.
Clinton had three major successes in Congress during his eight years in office, but it’s no surprise he downplays them. They reflect his weakness as a president. The first was passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. This measure was proposed by President Reagan, negotiated and signed by the first President Bush, and ratified with Republican votes as congressional Democrats abandoned Clinton in droves. The second was welfare reform that reduced the rolls dramatically. He signed this Republican bill reluctantly in 1996 only after his political adviser, Dick Morris, told him his reelection would be jeopardized if he didn’t. The third Clinton success was the arrival of a balanced budget, again a goal Clinton had warily endorsed but not expected to achieve so soon.
Now consider these achievements for a moment. Do they remind you of anyone’s agenda? The answer is Reagan’s. All three were longstanding aims of Reagan, not of Clinton or Democrats. Yes, Clinton campaigned in 1992 on changing the welfare system “as we know it.” But the bill he was forced to sign cut far more deeply into welfare rolls than Clinton wanted and was fiercely opposed by liberal Democrats. The point is that the Clinton presidency was, in effect, an extension of the Reagan presidency, though Clinton would be loath to admit this. Completing the Reagan agenda was not his intention.