Thursday, February 20, 2003

Clinton's Greatness

Clinton is famously vexed by the fact that he had no opportunity to become a "great president." He's especially unhappy that it was that boob, Bush, who got to be president when a really big problem in the form of 9/11 came up. But, in fact, Clinton had chances to be great, but he passed them all up in order to remain popular.

Clinton could have responded to terrorism when the World Trade Center was attacked in 1993 or after the embassy bombings, but rather than unleash the righteous fury of the arsenal of democracy, Clinton delivered a "proportionate response" attacking two of bin Laden's assets, because bin Laden attacked two of ours.

Bill Clinton believed he could will events into being because he knew more than everybody else. He believed he could manage Osama bin Laden and Arafat and North Korea — and history itself. Tit-for-tat, bribes, endless memos-of-understanding and treaties, and, most of all, talk, talk, talk: When you look back you can see that Bill Clinton wasn't the first black president or the first feminist president so much as he was the first French president.

Of course, Clinton would have taken a ton of flak, at least at first, for doing anything really substancial about these attacks, and his popularity might have hit the bottom. The Europeans, instead of admiring him, would have hated his guts. The Republicans, or at least some of the Republicans, would have been all over him. Hollywood stars, instead of campaigning for him, would be writing songs and making videos that trashed him. He might not have been re-elected if his efforts failed. But it would have been the right thing to do, even if only he and his closest supporters knew it.

When you're terrified of rocking the boat, it's difficult to achieve greatness. When you sweep all the nation's problems under the rug so the next guy has to deal with them, you stack the deck for the next guy to become a great president — if for no other reason than that you've let problems fester into crises and hence greatness will be thrust upon him.

(Quotes in italics are from Jonah Goldberg at NRO).