Clinton's Economic Policy?

By LoGerfo, James | Contemporary Review, August 1998 | Go to article overview

Clinton's Economic Policy?


LoGerfo, James, Contemporary Review


At the point last winter when President Clinton's popularity, as measured by public opinion polls, seemed to defy reason and rose to new heights after accusations of gross personal improprieties, political analysts stretched the limits of their wisdom to find an explanation. They concluded, as with one voice, that the American public was sufficiently charmed by the flourishing economy and absence of war that they were willing to distinguish between the policies and the pleasures of the President, offering support for the former and indifference to the latter.

The scandal of the day was, to be sure, relatively mild in comparison to earlier ones, like the sequestration of 900 files from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the alleged abuse of power, using the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI, in the arbitrary dismissal of the White House's travel office employees. The weekly polling of the public on whether they thought Mr. Clinton was doing a good job as President yielded results that should not have been surprising. (Other questions, relating to the President's morals or his value as a role model for the nation's youth offered more realistic responses.) The economy and war affect the public's perception of presidential performance because they have immediate impact. The economy was flourishing, despite the mild impact of Asian financial mishaps; and there certainly was no foreign war under way. Mr. Clinton had taken a firm line with the Iraqi despot, and appeared resolute for a long time without having to resort to warfare on the matter of UN inspections of Iraq's secreted biological weaponry.

The poll respondents evidently also disliked the attitude of the press, including the suddenly hostile mainstream media, toward the allegations of improprieties with a White House intern, as much as they appreciated the work they thought Mr. Clinton had done as President. By rating the President highly, they were in effect chastising the press for what appeared to be unaccustomed persistence.

The President also benefits from what the German sociologist Max Weber once described as 'institutional charisma', the mystique attached to a high office, as distinct from the personal qualities of the occupant of the office. The distinction can often be blurred in the media but at the very least gives the occupant a presumption in his favour.

Mr. Clinton has presided over a robust continuation of the recovery in the business cycle that began in early 1992, a year before he took the oath as chief magistrate of the republic, and he has never eschewed an opportunity to take credit for the sustained period of prosperity, for which the public appears appropriately grateful and which appears equally to have insulated him from public discontent.

But is that insulation fully merited? Have he and his economic policy been responsible for the prosperity, including the low unemployment rate that is the envy of the industrialized world? Given the gravity of the charges laid against him, and the role prosperity has presumably played in permitting him to transcend those charges, a review of his economic policy will repay examination.

His economic policy is best described as inchoate. He made the monster federal deficit as it stood in 1992 an issue in that year's campaign, albeit a small one - to attract voters from H. R. Perot, who made the deficit his major issue. The need for a balanced budget had in fact become a totem throughout the campaign.

Presently on taking the oath of office Mr. Clinton proposed a massive $50 billion public works programme, designed to relieve the marginally serious unemployment rate then lingering from the recent brief recession; however well-intentioned, it was scarcely calculated to reduce the $300 billion annual deficit. He next proposed nationalizing, against all lessons learned from other western countries, the nation's medical care system, one-seventh of the private economy. …

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