What will be remembered about the Administration of William Jefferson Clinton is not the sniping attacks of his critics, but rather his eight years of considerable achievement. The center held, the economy flourished and those bent on a cultural civil war were kept at bay. If George W. Bush does half as well, the Republicans will hail him as a savior.
The two previous Republican administrations created more red ink than all previous administrations combined, but the GOP still will not credit Clinton with putting the federal budget dramatically in the black.
Nor can they, even now, admit that Newt Gingrich's reckless road map known as the "contract with America" was a divisive prescription for disaster. By stopping Gingrich in his tracks, Clinton at least temporarily stalled the right-wing lurch that the new Bush Administration seems hellbent on reviving.
Clinton leaves office with unprecedented high approval ratings because he demonstrated that it's possible to have a progressive federal government that cares for the needs of the people while bolstering, rather than bankrupting, the economy.
He gained the allegiance of poor and minority voters because--despite an ill-conceived welfare reform--his centrist policies contained reassuring support for affirmative action, earned-income tax credits, college scholarships, family leave for workers and other measures to insure that their lives are not totally ruled by the anarchy of the market and a legacy of societal inequality.
He had the support of a clear majority of those on the cutting edge of economic change on both coasts because they shared his alarm at the forces of intolerance, be they inspired by misguided references to religion, family, patriotism or sexism.
He supported immigrants, who are the lifeblood of our prosperity, and dared to suggest that homosexuals should be treated the same as any other productive and law-abiding segment of our population.
In foreign affairs, Clinton left his mark as a peacemaker willing to deal boldly with the seemingly intractable problems of Northern Ireland, the Balkans and the Mideast, while easing trade and other barriers among nations.
True, the jackals nipping at Clinton's heels from the days he announced for the presidency got their pound of flesh. But it's Clinton who triumphed. When Jackal-in-Chief Kenneth Starr popped up on one of last Sunday's talk shows to judge the Clinton years an "unfortunate era," he must have been referring to his own miserable performance and not the well-being of the nation.
At no time in our modern history has a president been subject to more abuse for claimed offenses that primarily concerned his activities before attaining office. A minor investment, in which he lost money, was blown out of proportion by the most respectable quarters of the media.
Think of the public outrage now if that same effort were put into digging up the dirt on the new President's past business dealings, let alone the excesses of his previous personal life. Imagine if the Los Angeles Times were to conduct in-depth interviews with disgruntled Texas Rangers, as the newspaper did with Arkansas troopers who had guarded Clinton as governor. Or if the New York Times were to launch a four-year investigation of the claims of one of Bush's less happy former business partners. Would CBS' 60 Minutes consider a show based on what Larry Flynt's investigators unearthed concerning allegations about Bush's personal behavior in the years before he was president?
Nope, because the media has a double standard. Intimidated by the right-wing's absurd claim of a liberal bias, journalists tend to be hard on Democrats while granting Republicans a free pass. When will one of those pompous media moralizers admit that his or her personal life is as messy as that of the President they spent eight years denigrating? And, face it, those rich media superstars lust for Republican tax breaks for the rich as much as anyone.
We now know more than we need to know about the personal lives of our leaders. It's doubtful that any of our past heroes could have better withstood the merciless scrutiny extended to Clinton. He was flawed in a way that all too many of us are, but the love and success of his wife and his daughter suggest that some basic family values were intact. Yes, he was a product of the sixties, and thank God for his not being self-righteously square.
Clinton's historical reputation will more than surmount the petty complaints of contemporary critics and leave him remembered as one of the hardest working, most competent, fundamentally decent and smartest men to ever serve in the office. He was an excellent President.