Not Even Clinton Could Have Saved Us?

I watched Bill Clinton’s address to the Democratic National Convention out of curiosity. Would he try to help President Obama, whom he clearly disrespects, or would he find subtle ways to undermine him?

It was Clinton who gave Ed Klein the title for Amateur, Mr. Klein’s best-selling book that thrashes the President from cover to cover. And so the most memorable line from Clinton’s speech, the one where his self-love is on clear display, assured us that nobody, not even his eminence, could have turned around this economy in four years.

How that reminder of failure helps Obama is anyone’s guess, but the broader point is yet another Clintonian assertion that deserves some historical perspective. To hear the former president tell it, it was impossible to turn around the economy in one presidential term because other than Franklin Roosevelt, no president had ever inherited such an impossible mess.

I beg to differ. Sure, Obama inherited a slumping economy, but I seem to remember another recession in the early 1980s that was arguably worse. Like Obama, Ronald Reagan inherited a contracting economy with growing unemployment. Unlike Obama, Reagan also inherited double-digit inflation and double-digit interest rates. Also unlike Obama, Reagan managed to turn it around in four years. 

Can you imagine how bad the current economy would be with inflation over 10% and interest rates well over 10%?

I’d give a $1 bill to any Clinton administration official who acknowledged that the prosperity of the 1990s was primarily due to a new economic driver that brought the economy to a higher level – the Internet. Mr. Clinton can claim some credit, but the Internet and information technology and all the related innovations that came after its introduction into the private sector had more to do with it. 

Our economy, as delicate as it is, continues to benefit from this continuing innovation. The 1990s economic explosion, combined with rare spending discipline, helped bring the federal budget to a brief but glorious balance.

Where I applaud Clinton is that he was wise enough not to screw it up. The usual political temptation whenever a golden goose emerges is to tax it, regulate it, and otherwise stone it into submission. For resisting that temptation, P42 deserves a Nobel Prize for economics. 

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