Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Some Thoughts On VIsiting The Clinton Presidential Library

I remember reading this issue of Rolling Stone in 1992 and getting excited about a Clinton presidency. 

I am currently on a long and extended road trip between New Jersey and Nebraska, with the ultimate goal of arriving at my parents' house in time for my daughters' birthdays on July 4th.  We decided to take a long detour through the South in order to visit friends and family, which has been a great experience.  Today we were just concerned with getting down the road, and stopped in Little Rock.  In the spirit of seeing things along the way, we decided to go down to Bill Clinton's Presidential Library.

I was more interested in examining its narratives and approach than anything, especially having visited the museums for Truman, Eisenhower, Ford, and Carter, had plenty of things to compare it to.  It was hard to do this, mostly because two toddlers are not the best people to take to a museum when you want to linger over exhibits.  It ended up not being too hard, because the narrative of the museum was about as subtle as Rip Taylor.  There was almost nothing about Clinton the person or the usual array of presidential paraphernalia, and a whole lot about his policies and legislative accomplishments.  It basically boiled down to "look what a great job Clinton did as president!" but in the kind of overly extensive, policy wonk overkill way that Clinton himself was often criticized for.

The tone was very different in the introductory film, which we saw last because, again, traveling with toddlers means having to bend a bit to their iron wills.  Clinton himself narrated a magnificently corny piece of agitprop showing leaders like King Hussein of Jordan and Nelson Mandela praising him.  Clinton himself lays it on thick, using the same effortless, charismatic appeal that allowed him to survive scandals and gain a high level of popularity by the end of his term in office.  It was the kind of thing meant to have you standing up, shouting "four more years! four more years!"

I even got enthusiastic, but just for a second or two.  I then remembered how his administration had pushed through NAFTA, cut the social safety net, signed the Defense of Marriage Act, gutted banking regulation, and supported mass incarceration policies.  Clinton's cynical triangulation strategy after the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress meant that actual progressive legislation became a dead letter from that point onward.

Despite those sour feelings, I also felt a wave of nostalgia for the time between 1993 and 2001, when I went from being a high schooler to a grad student and passed through the young adulthood's ring of fire.  That kind of thing is probably inevitable with a early-middle aged guy like myself, but there was something a little deeper there, I think.  The exhibits threw me back into the world of the 1990s, and reminded me what a feeling of hope I had for the future back then.  The Cold War was over, and democracy appeared to be advancing all over the world, including the former Soviet Union.  When America exercised its power abroad, it was often in positive ways, such as ending genocide in the former Yugoslavia.  Perpetual war, as we have experienced for the past 14 years, was barely conceivable.  The economy was not showering its benefits equally, but it was growing in a big way.  Gun control was actually possible, both in the form of the Brady Bill and in the assault weapons ban.  The Oslo Accords created hope for a path to long lasting peace in Palestine.  I thought a lot about the long, post-Cold War peace that could have been, and the last fourteen years of war and paranoia.

I see little in the high political world today that gives me much hope for the future.  At least more people are taking to the streets these days, but those controlling the levers of power are deaf to their cries.


Anonymous said...

I am curious to hear your opinion about Bernie Sanders event in Madison.

Terry said...

As a Boomer, I see great hope in the generation of my son and younger folks. The internet has empowered people like never before. Used intelligently it could move mountains.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

@Anonymous: I would expect a big Sanders rally in Madison, since highly educated white liberals are his base. Can he get that crowd in Detroit or Cleveland? I doubt it. He will push Clinton to the left, which is a good thing.