A Tale of Two Ex-Presidents
There are only two living Americans who have completed the legal maximum of two terms as President of the United States: Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George W Bush. How each party has treated its former President at its 2012 convention speaks volumes about how each party views its own recent record of leadership of this country.
Bill Clinton was honored by his party last night (September 5) with the opportunity to nominate President Barack Obama for a second term. His prominence on the program is a sign that the Democratic Party respects his record of eight years in the White House, despite his failure to reform health care, the loss of a Democratic majority in Congress during his first term, and the lurid Monica Lewinsky scandal that lead to Clinton's impeachment, only the second for a president in US history. (1)
The Democrats honor Clinton because his two terms, together with the first eight months after he completed his service, were the last time that America was happy. The stock market rose steadily, unemployment remained remarkably low, and his last four budgets produced a surplus, which was used to reduce the National Debt. Except for USFY 1969, those were the only years in living memory that the federal government actually reduced its level of debt. Although Clinton mentioned his terms as President several times in his speech, he never mentioned signing the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had prevented commercial banks from speculating in the securities and derivatives market. This de-regulation of banking, with broad support from both major parties, opened the door to the abuses that triggered the financial crisis of September, 2008.
Except for the brief air-war over Serbia, American armed forces were not involved in war during most of Clinton's two terms as President. Younger voters cannot even remember a time when the US was not fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan or anywhere else. As James Carville once asked, "What didn't you like: the peace or the prosperity?"
So, did the Republicans point with pride at the two terms that their last President George W Bush served? No. The only Republican presidents they remember are Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, and only Reagan inspires them today. There are legions of Reagan-Republicans, but Bush-Republicans are about as common as the T Rex. Why?
Maybe luck played a role, but while Clinton's terms coincided with the development of internet commerce, GWB's terms were bracketed by two September disasters: the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the financial collapse of September, 2008. The first of these led to the War on Terror, the invasion of Afghanistan and the USAPATRIOT Act. Although Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, the terrorist attacks created the political climate for the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003. Usually war means higher taxes, but Bush officially estimated that neither war would cost anything, so taxes were actually reduced while the US borrowed the billions that they did cost. At the same time, President Bush created Medicare Part D, which helped seniors pay for prescription medicines, with broad bi-partisan support. With the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, Bush introduced unprecedented federal funding and regulation into state education programs.
Considering how GWB's presidency ended, it is no surprise that he was not invited to speak at the 2012 Republican National Convention. But I say that the reason he was not even mentioned (per media accounts) is deeper: those who run the Republican Party today are viscerally opposed to Bush's record of big spending, big deficits, and big federal intervention. When he was President, the only Republican to object consistently to these policies was Rep. Ron Paul; the Democrats mostly went along with him, either because they agreed (as in Medicare D and NCLB) or to appear patriotic (as in the wars and the USAPATRIOT Act). When Bush, at the behest of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, called for a federal bail-out of the big banks and AIG, he initiallly got more support from Democrats (including Senator Obama) than from Republicans. But once Bush left the White House, the Republican Party fell into the hands of Grover Norquist, the Koch brothers and the Tea Party activists who really want minimal government and minimal taxes.
So, the reason that the Democrats listened to Clinton, but the Republicans did not listen to Bush, is that the Clinton legacy is at the center of today's Democratic Party, and the Bush legacy is worth nothing to the Tea Party types who now lead the GOP.
Gerald S Glazer
(1) Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 after the House Judiciary Committee approved four articles of impeachment, so he was never actually impeached. Both Andrew Johnson and Clinton were acquitted by the Senate.