At Least Clinton Kept Us Safe!

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I recently unearthed this historic defense of Clinton by James Carville and Paul Begala. Since it was never published, I include it below, in full:

At Least Clinton Kept Us Safe!
By Paul Begala And James Carville

The Washington Post
January 20, 2001

As George W. Bush takes the oath of office today, Republicans will be rejoicing at the inauguration of the man who sold himself to the electorate as the complete opposite of Bill Clinton. But these confirmed Clinton-haters, who reviled the president with crass catcalls about ethics and a vain and tawdry impeachment attempt, would do well to look beyond their baser instincts and contemplate the better world that Mr. Clinton has nurtured, and today delivers safely into the hands of Mr. Bush, who is now charged to preserve and to protect it

That world embodies two undeniable realities that represent accomplishments for Mr. Clinton, but serious challenges to Mr. Bush.

First, Mr. Clinton has overseen an era of historic revival and surging growth, saving the economy from the depths of the recession that he inherited from the first Bush administration.

And second, since the 1993 attack on Tower One of the World Trade Center in New York, Bill Clinton has preserved and protected our country from attacks by foreign terrorists on our own soil for over seven years.

Will George W. Bush, whose campaign reviled Mr. Clinton ceaselessly and promised "to change the way Washington works," be able to embrace and enhance President Clinton’s achievements during his term in office?

Or will he fail, and put our country’s economy and security at grave risk?

As advisors to President Clinton who are proud of our achievements, we put this challenge bluntly to the Republicans: Yes, Mr. Bush’s right-wing Clinton-haters might cheer at his faux victory, but they should be on notice that the new president will be judged by history on these two fundamental criteria: Will President Bush continue to protect Americans from another terrorist attack on our native soil, as President Clinton has so ably done? And will he continue the industrial growth and flourishing twenty-first century economy that the Clinton Administration has delivered to him on a silver platter?

If, by the end of his four, or (fates forbid!!) eight years in office, President George W. Bush can deliver to his successor a country that has been free from terrorist attacks since today (January 20, 2001), and an economy that is even stronger and more robust than the one he inherits today, then he will have met the challenge.

But if — and we pray (seriously!) that this will not come to pass! — if President Bush fails to prevent a terrorist attack on American soil during his time in office, or if he squanders the burgeoning and virtually unprecedented economic miracle that today’s America enjoys — if President Bush has failed at either of these two fundamental responsibilities, then he will rightly be judged a failure and will probably never recover from the ignominy that will justly be directed at his malfeasance. In short, he will be condemned by history — and he should be.

Let us assume the worst: that Mr. Bush serves eight years in office. Should that come to pass, will he be able to say, on January 20, 2009, "My fellow Americans, For these past eight years, I have successfully protected the nation. I have kept America safe from an attack by foreign terrorists, as it has been since 1993"?

Under President Clinton, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has tripled. Today, it stands at over 10,500. When President Bush leaves office in 2009, will he be able to boast a Dow that soars over 30,000?

If Mr. Bush cannot honestly point to those achievements in 2009, then his administration will and should be considered a dismal failure.

Let history judge.

[The authors served as Senior Advisors to President Clinton]

Oh, you don’t remember reading it? A busy day, perhaps?

OK, I made it up.

But doesn’t it sound familiar?

It should. Because last month, as Obama was inaugurated, the ink fairly flowed for Bush apologists who sang to the skies the outgoing president’s praises. In particular, three former speechwriters for Republican presidents went even further, challenging the new president with dark premonitions, schoolyard taunts from the losers who seethed at the success of the new guy, especially at his supporters (all of them "left-wingers," of course) who opposed Bush’s great "success," the Iraq War.

Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan conjured up a grim future epithet that she wants Obama to think about every day: "At least Bush kept us safe — unlike Obama." Peter Wehner, who wrote speeches for Bush, insisted in USA Today that "Bush Kept U.S. Safe." And on inauguration day, Wehner’s White House colleague Bill McGurn, who now writes speeches for Rupert Murdoch, wrote in the WSJ that Obama "will soon find himself under pressure to measure up to two Bush achievements: a strategic victory in Iraq, and the prevention of another attack on America’s home soil."

Of course, their assertions are as spurious as my channeling of "Carville and Begala," above. Bill Clinton didn’t "keep us safe" from terrorism — just ask anyone in Oklahoma City. And neither did George W. Bush — unless history began on September 12, 2001, and the Constitution doesn’t matter, and you don’t count thousands of new Al Queda recruits that killed thousands of Americans in Iraq, and Osama’s ongoing monologues, ad nauseam.

This entire charade is all of a piece with Bush’s insistence that history will vindicate him someday, since today a generous majority of his own generation has repudiated him.

Camouflage aside, it is time we look seriously at Osama Bin Laden’s own explanation for the 9-11 attacks: he spent half a million dollars funding the operation, in hopes that Bush’s response would ruin the country. Alas, by Osama’s standard, Bush has succeeded splendidly. So far, America has paid with trillions of dollars, a broken economy, a nearly collapsed military, and a socialist president who appears to be intent on finishing the job.

But consider the tenor of the Bush years. Had the real Begala and Carville written such a noxious diatribe eight years ago, Republicans (and especially those famous "Clinton-haters"!) would have been up in arms and demanding their scalps, condemning "Bush-haters" with grim moralisms. But apparently not even the real Carville and Begala, for whom Republican esteem could hardly have been lower in 2001, stooped to that level.

Ah, but today the shoe is on the other foot. And lo! Three Republican stalwarts have no problem taking the lowest available road in welcoming President Obama to the Oval Office. Apparently, defenders of Bush have little else to offer but spite — and fear. Apart from that, their quiver is empty.

It’s fair to ask, will Bush’s defenders — who always couple assertions of "success" in Iraq with the "safe at home" mantra — will they ever come around and admit Bush’s mistakes, and theirs? Privately, a number of my Republican friends — especially on Capitol Hill, but even some who worked for President Bush — have done so; some regretting the war, others (more numerous) on the point that, whatever his accomplishments, Bush ruined the economy and virtually guaranteed the onset of a long and powerful Democratic era.

Although the war has strained some friendships, a lot of us still talk. But when I wrote Mr. McGurn regarding his piece, he replied questioning the very possibility of our having a rational discussion, since I had criticized him here for asserting last April that Pope Benedict had finally come to his senses and now supported the war (a textbook example of what Mr. Justice Goldberg once called "a gross canard, cut out of whole cloth!").

So: will they admit their mistakes? Boston University Professor Andrew Bacevich doesn’t have high hopes.

"Don’t expect triumphalists to recant or apologize," he writes. "Yet their time has passed. The Age of Triumphalism has ended."

Ironic, isn’t it, that the democracy-exporting "triumphalists" should proclaim their smashing victory in defiant unison, in the face of such a domestic democratic defeat so overwhelming that all they can do is taunt the victor with vacant platitudes? Bearing in mind that it was the failure of their cherished policies that guaranteed his victory?

Indeed, their time has passed. Whether that goes for conservatism as well is yet to be seen. One thing is certain: if it is these unrepentant losers are going to be in charge of resuscitating the Republican cadaver, the result is sure to be a Frankenstein.

Christopher Manion Archives

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