August 20, 2002
How do you figure that?
Atrios prints a letter from a reader named D.M. which discusses this Thomas Sowell column. He notes the following items from Sowell:
According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, in 2000 median income in the United States reached `the highest level ever recorded' up to that time. This included black and Hispanic incomes that `hit new all-time highs' for these groups. But did you hear the news reported in the media amid all the gloom and doom?
One undeniable accomplishment of Bill Clinton's presidency: it kept Jimmy Carter from being the worst U.S. President in history.
D.M. goes off on a rant about how Herbert Hoover is a good candidate for worst president ever, but doesn't spend enough time talking about the obvious flaw in Sowell's reasoning (though he did mention it), namely that the two cited bits would seem to contradict each other.
There are a number of ways in which one can evaluate a presidency: handling of a crisis, significant achievements, popularity, and so on. Surely one such way is to look at basic bread-and-butter measurements like the one that Sowell cites. How could any president who saw median incomes reach their highest recorded levels ever be considered a candidate for the bottom of the pile?
You can certainly make the case that presidents don't have all that much effect over the economy. There's a lot of truth to that. Clinton benefitted from being in the right place at the right time, no doubt about it. But while presidents can't do all that much to help, they can certainly do a fair amount to hurt, as Jimmy "National Malaise" Carter and George W. "The fundamentals are sound" Bush have demonstrated. If nothing else, Clinton wins a Hippocratic Do-No-Harm award for his term in office.
And let's face it: Sowell is a standard Clinton-hating partisan. He must believe that presidents have some effect on the economy, as he has no trouble lionizing Ronald Reagan for the 1980s, but gives no credit to Bill Clinton for the good times of the 90s. You can't have it both ways.
By the way, be sure to check out the comments on that post for some interesting theories about who was our worst president and why.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 20, 2002 to Show Business for Ugly People
I'm not sure you can argue that Clinton had nothing to do with the popularity of new tech in the '90s. Of course, Gore had even more to do with it, but being VP helped a lot, and he's the guy Clinton picked for the job.
You make several good points about the note I sent to Atrios. I felt that the comparison of the economic records of Clinton and Hoover made the point with regard to the the inherent contradiction in Sowell's logic.
Presidents, while obviously not controlling economic performance in a free market economy, do have large impact on economic performance. In a very direct way Presidents can alter fiscal policy by tax and spending decisions. The overall tenor of fiscal policy matters as well as the emphasis on the particular spending and tax decisions. Four examples of spending decisions that had large economic impact prove the point. Thomas Jefferson's deficit spending to make the Lousiana Purchase had large, obvious and beneficial econonic impact for the United States. There can be little doubt that Kennedy's decision to fund the space program had a large long term inpact on technological development and economic growth.
Similarly, Eisenhower's decision to fund the construction of the Interstate Highway system produced significant economic benefits. Finally, it would be difficult to argue that Truman's funding of the GI bill did not benefit the country economically for a generation.
Presidential control over monetary policy also effects economic performance. Presidents effect monetary policy indirectly through appointments to the Federal Reserve and jawboning.
Presidents have direct impact on trade through tariff policy and through bilateral and mulitlateral trade agreements. Finally foreign policy often impacts economic policy.
Roosevelt's New Deal had long term economic benefits to the country through restructuring. The creation of the SEC, the development of the FED and the creation of social security and other safety net provisions had lasting economic benefits.
Thus, it would seem that the economic performance of the economy is an imperfect but important element in evaluating a President's performance.
With regard to the issue of identifying the worst presidents in history, it should be noted
that it is easier to identify the best. I suspect that Lincoln, Washington and Roosevelt (FD)would rank in the top few for most historians. Wshington's role in the founding of our nation, Lincoln's role in the saving of the union, and Roosevelt's efforts to combat both depression and WWII stand as momumental achievements.
Some presidents exhibited greatness outside their role as President. Jefferson was instrumental in writing the declaratioin of Independence. (IMHO, he ranks as one of the great presidents for the foresight to unite the continent by the Lousiana Purchgase). Madison wrote large portion so the constitution, an achievement that dwarfs any opportunity he had for greatness in the presidency.
From the posts at Atrios's site, we have the following nominations for the worst presidents:
Warren G. Harding whom I nominated on the basis of him being dumb as a box of rocks and currupt to the core. Then the three one-term administrations that led up to the civil war: Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan. Finally one nomination for Grant who, while poor, is not really in a (third) class with the others.
It is interesting that no one nominated Hoover or Nixon. I am surprised at both. My personal bottom list in acending order:
Any others anyone would like to add?
My main point was that people like Sowell downplay or emphasize a president's role in affecting the economy based on whether or not he likes the president in question. He doesn't even pretend to do otherwise.
DM, I'm hard pressed to come up with any other worst-president nominees. Grant gets consideration because he had a lot of corrupt friends in his administration. This is usually attributed to him being softhearted rather than corrupt himself, but still.
After the "I'm not a Commie" rap below, maybe you shouldn't refer to anyone as a "standard Clinton-hating partisan". Especially one so brilliant and accomplished as Thomas Sowell.
For all the fuss about Harding, he himself (and US Grant) were clean - it was their cohorts who did wrong. OTOH there's no question Clinton himself was crooked.
And some of us contend that you can't be a good President without being a good man, even if you want to give Clinton credit for some economic gains that, given current scandals, may turn out to have been illusory.
And incidentally, what is your basis for claiming that Presidents can make the economy go down but can't make it go up, and your suggestion that George W. Bush is responsible for the current circumstances?
Bottom line - you can be a liberal without defending Bill Clinton. Really.
Avedon - what did Clinton or Gore have to do with the "new tech of the 90's"?
J Bowen writes: "OTOH there's no question Clinton himself was crooked."
I question it. Except for lying about sex, what have you got?
Mr. Margolies: It doesn't matter what you lie about under oath, it's still against the law. It would have been the same if he had lied about his age, his golf score, or the size of some fish he caught.
I hope you're never falsely accused of rape. But if you do, it'll be OK, right? - it's only lying about sex.
It was also illegal to fund the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s and to lie about it under oath.
It's deceptive to claim to have been "out of the loop" when there are records that indicate that you were in key meetings when it was discussed and you were in favor of it.
I think Clinton was stupid, but I think any criminality pales in comparision to that of Reagan and Bush (41).
I agree with Michael, as usual, but then again, Chuck, you already know I think George the Elder was the political antichrist.
As for Clinton lying about sex under oath, he should never have been under oath on all that in the first place. If that Upright Man of Virtue, George W. Bush, had said a bunch of the things he said about his association with Ken Lay under oath, he'd be in a world of hurt bigger than Clinton ever was right now. But hey, he's not crooked, 'cause nobody made him swear first, right?
I've never understood what's wrong with liking Clinton, other than that right-wing partisans hate his guts and his wife's and his kid's and his puppy dog's. So what if he's not perfect? We knew he was a horndog when we elected him.
All politicians lie and I'd much rather the president lie about getting a blowjob from someone not his wife than, say, lie about how close he was to a major contributor whose company got the head of a regulatory agency he didn't like deposed. Not that I could think of any presidents who would do that.
I suppose the proper response to "you can be a liberal without defending Bill Clinton" is "you can be a conservative without disparaging Bill Clinton".
The point I was making here was that Thomas Sowell sees good things happen economically in the 1980s and gives all the credit to Ronald Reagan. He sees good things happen economically in the 1990s and gives no credit to Bill Clinton. That's the mark of a partisan who makes up his mind without regard to the evidence.
J. Bowen writes:
"It doesn't matter what you lie about under oath, it's still against the law. It would have been the same if he had lied about his age, his golf score, or the size of some fish he caught."
Actually, the perjury laws are more complicated, but I agree is was against the law. So that is all you have got. I thought so.
"I hope you're never falsely accused of rape. But if you do, it'll be OK, right? - it's only lying about sex."
Slight difference between saying you did not have sex and saying you did, with regard to rape accusations (a false accusation is very different from a lie to protect a reputation). The fact that you equate them tells me what I need to know about your logic and consistency.
Mr. Margolies: If you dispute that Bill Clinton was crooked, I simply don't have time for you. Especially now that I can see the ad hominems that will follow. But be assured that that's not "all I've got" - if you're really interested maybe you ought to consider some independent research.
Do you suppose it ever occurred to Bill Clinton that a more effective way to protect his reputation and his family would be to keep his hands off the help? Anybody but a govt official would be canned on the spot for that.
Mr. Kuffner: It is possible to be a conservative without disparaging Mr. Clinton. After all, some never knew of him. As for me, I'm too libertarian to be a right-winger, but I know sleaze when I see it.
And if you think Bill Clinton had anything to do with improved economic performance in the 90's, please tell us what he did and the mechanism by which it worked. That he was there at the same time the Internet took off means nothing - if you'll recall, he and Al Gore even had difficulties with their Emails, photo ops notwithstanding. He inherited an economy on the way up after George HW Bush had cleaned up after the S&Ls. He gutted the military which emboldened creeps like Saddam and OBL, and the best things he did he did against his party (welfare reform and NAFTA).
OTOH Reagan had a Cold War to deal with and inherited Jimmy Carter's "malaise" economy.
Whatever the "mark of a partisan" might be, how can you know what evidence Thomas Sowell considered in reaching his conclusions?
Ginger and Michael: what's the point of bringing up others? If GWB starts World War III tomorrow, that won't make Bill Clinton a better man or improve his legacy.
Clinton took a number of steps that improved economic performance during his presidency. The following is simply a partial list:
1) he inherited a large federal budget defict. During his tenure the deficit not only disappeared but moved to a substantial surplus. The means by which the defict was eliminated involved modest tax increases on upper income Americans, spending restraint and tax cuts for large segments of the population.
The reduction of the deficit operated to greatly reduce long term interest rates which became a major stimulus for economic growth.
2) he cut taxes on large segments of the population. Those cuts included the expansion of the earned income tax credit that helped move many people above the poverty line. it also included a reduction in capital gains taxes for long term holders of stock in start up companies thereby rewarding risk taking. It also included permitting small businesses to expense purchases of equipment up to $25,000 thereby making it less expensive for small business to take advantage of the information revolution.
3) Clinton expanded free trade by support and implementation of trade agreements including NAFTA and GATT. Free trade (as opposed to increasing steel tarrifs or keeping textile tariff's high) promotes economic growth.
4) Clinton reduced the federal work force to its lowest levels since the early 1960s.
That list is by no means exclusive. Apparently Rush forgot to mention any of those items to you.
J. Bowen writes:
"Mr. Margolies: If you dispute that Bill Clinton was crooked, I simply don't have time for you. Especially now that I can see the ad hominems that will follow. But be assured that that's not "all I've got" - if you're really interested maybe you ought to consider some independent research."
I have done plenty of independent research (and am unaware of Clinton crookedness other than lying about sex). You, on the other hand, have not provided even a hint of crookedness other than lying about sex. This is how these discussions always go. One asks for examples, and the peron your are talking to goes off in a huff. Maybe it is because they cannot come up with examples.
I agree with your comment about keeping his hands off the help, but that is not crooked.
As to the economy, I would add: a disciplined and very competent team of economic advisors who were allowed to do their job (contrast with the current administration); conservative economic predictions that generally erred in the right direction (contrast with the current administration's deficit estimates); refusal to take short term political advantage at the cost of good long term policy (steel tarriffs, anyone?).
I was going to mention the budget of 1993-94, passed without a single Republican vote amid dire predictions of looming economic disaster, but dm beat me to it. If you think that had no effect on the economy, or that Clinton had nothing to do with it, then I agree that we have nothing more to discuss on this.
We know what Bill Clinton's legacy is. The long national nightmare of peace and prosperity that ended when GWB was elected President.
(Sorry, Chuck, but the Clinton-haters are so cute when they froth.)
If you believe Clinton was a crook, that's your right. It's also your right to believe the earth is flat, but that doesn't make it so. If your point is that he perjured himself when entrapped in a morally reprehensible way by a bunch of whack-job Republican activists, and that makes him a Bad Man, I gotta wonder about your standards.
And yes, if we're talking about what the standards for good president and good man are, the activities of the current occupant of the White House are certainly relevant. I'd so much rather the president lied about hummers than lied about how his cronies buy/obtain influence with the government. But you don't need to waste your time on me; years and years of hysterical Republican screaming about Clinton haven't convinced me he's a crook. All they've done is convince me Republicans can't stand a tough Democrat.
Mr. Kuffner: I'm going to try one more time to get a responsive answer around here, uncluttered by ad hominems and standard partisan rhetoric.
"I was going to mention the budget of 1993-94, passed without a single Republican vote amid dire predictions of looming economic disaster, but dm beat me to it. If you think that had no effect on the economy, or that Clinton had nothing to do with it, then I agree that we have nothing more to discuss on this."
So one budget accounts for all subsequent success? What did it do right, and how?
And it is correct that the predictions of looming economic disaster did not come to pass. They assumed that the same party would continue running the Senate and the House.
Ginger: I knew I was cute, and I'm even cuter when I'm laughing out loud. Let me assure you that whatever Republicans might not like about Bill Clinton, it's not that he's "tough".
You said "We knew he was a horndog when we elected him." Actually, no. He went to great lengths to dispel this, such as the appearance on "60 Minutes".
You can be sure I won't spend any time trying to convince you Bill Clinton was a crook.
dm: 1) and 2) will take too much space for a comment. But I'll address them on my site, probably by Tuesday of next week, using CBO numbers.
3) I mentioned NAFTA, noting that Clinton opposed his party with this.
4) I mentioned "gutting the military", which is how Clinton reduced federal personnel.
The gratuitous Rush reference is duly noted, and unworthy of the rest of the post.
Mr. Margolies: I would contend that the abuse of help is abuse of power, and that that alone is crooked. But that's a distraction that has taken us far afield from my original comment (does anyone remember what it was about?), which, along with lack of space, is why I don't pursue the crookedness further than what you brought up yourself.
There is not enough space to do this justice, but for now I'll just note that I differ with all three of your claims in the last paragraph (to say the least), which appears designed more to attack W than to defend Clinton. In particular, you might not want to claim too much credit for Rubin.
J. Bowen writes:
"Mr. Margolies: I would contend that the abuse of help is abuse of power, and that that alone is crooked. But that's a distraction that has taken us far afield from my original comment (does anyone remember what it was about?), which, along with lack of space, is why I don't pursue the crookedness further than what you brought up yourself."
Translation: actually, I do not have any example of Clinton crookedness beyond lying about sex, but if I bluster, maybe no one will notice. (Your original comment: "For all the fuss about Harding, he himself (and US Grant) were clean - it was their cohorts who did wrong. OTOH there's no question Clinton himself was crooked." And later "But be assured that that [lying about sex] is not all I've got" You said it, I just asked for examples and details.)
"There is not enough space to do this justice, but for now I'll just note that I differ with all three of your claims in the last paragraph (to say the least), which appears designed more to attack W than to defend Clinton. In particular, you might not want to claim too much credit for Rubin."
The claims again were:
1. a disciplined and very competent team of economic advisors who were allowed to do their job (contrast with the current administration).
2. conservative economic predictions that generally erred in the right direction (contrast with the current administration's deficit estimates);
3. refusal to take short term political advantage at the cost of good long term policy (steel tarriffs, anyone?).
Mr. Bowen makes no substantive points (indeed, no points at all beyond "I disagree"). As to 3, Clinton was urged to put anti-dumping tarriffs on steel and did not. Do you disagree with that? As to 2, when estimates put out by the Clinton OMB (or other officials) were wildly wrong in the bad direction? As to 1, perhaps you can give examples of White House policy aides undermining the economic team?
As to Rubin, what offhand comments did he make that sent other contries economies into turmoil? When did he say "I am amazed anyone cares about what I say"? (He seems to have actually understood what his job entailed.)
As to other members of the economic team, when did the Clinton OMB put incorrect figures on its web site and "retract" them by leaving them on the web site but telling reporters who called they were in fact incorrect?