Presidential Legacies

Saturday night I watched HBO’s new film about Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, “The Special Relationship.” It was for the most part a good film, focusing on the relationships between the two men and the countries, using the Irish peace process, Yugoslavia, and Clinton’s sex scandals as the focal points. Michael Sheen did a great job playing Blair, adding a little more depth than he did in The Queen. It was weirder seeing Dennis Quaid as Clinton, though, given that I’d already seen him play George W. Bush in “American Dreamz.” His mannerisms were pretty good, but his voice work was horrendous, worse than John Travolta’s. I also thought the writers were a bit tough on Clinton – I don’t know the full details of the Clinton-Blair relationship, but I doubt Clinton was that petty towards the end.

But I’m not making this post as a movie review. I’m making it to play a little game. In the film, Clinton tells Blair that, even though he’s only been in office for a month, he needs to start thinking about his legacy. Blair scoffs, but Hillary backs Bill up and says you will only be remembered for one thing, so you have to pay close attention to what that one thing is. I think there’s some truth to that, so I’m wondering, what do you think our recent presidents’ legacies will be?

George W. Bush
A) Iraq
B) General incompetence
C) 9/11 and terrorism
D) Other

Bill Clinton
A) Health care failures
B) Economic prosperity
C) Sex and impeachment
D) Other

George H.W. Bush
A) Desert Storm
B) “Read My Lips”/new taxes
C) Latin American politics
D) Other

Ronald Reagan
A) “Ending” the Cold War
B) Tax cuts and/or deficits
C) Iran-Contra
D) Other

Tags: Bill Clinton, history, movies, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, tony blair, hbo (all tags)



And Obama's?

For Obama they are: (so far)

A) Health care reform
B) Oil spill
C) Unemployment
D) Other

by esconded 2010-06-01 10:03PM | 0 recs
RE: And Obama's?

I left Obama out because we're not even half way through his first term. But, as far as he goes, I would add tackling the economic downturn - the stimulus, now financial regs, and continuing Bush's bailouts. Unemployment plays into that arc.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-06-01 10:54PM | 0 recs
Reagan: Prosperity/ Morning in America

You may not like to admit it, but the Reagan 80's are remembered as good economic times: hope, growth and opportunity. He inherited 14% inflation, 18% interest rates, and 7.6% unemployment. By the time he left office, inflation was under 5%, and unemployment had been cut to 5.2%. Reagan ended the Keynsian myth that you can't fight inflation and recession simultaneously.

What you need to understand about deficits is that most economists measure them as a % of GDP, not in absolute dollars. Reagan grew the economy by a third, so that the deficit only grew from 2.6% of GDP to 2.9%....not significant when you consider that he had to rebuild the military after the neglect of the Carter years.

I don't think you'll want to dicuss deficits once the Obama record is laid out. And time will tell how successful he is when it comes to his #1 Pelosi's words, "jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs!"


by BJJ Fighter 2010-06-02 01:14AM | 0 recs
RE: Reagan: Prosperity/ Morning in America

wow, prettty much wrong on all counts.

fighting inflation was one of the main causes of the recession. They depressed growth to wring inflation out of the economy. It resulted in a bad recession.

you say "Reagan grew the economy by a third". How, pray tell, did he do that? And don't say "tax cuts", as he actually signed tax increases into law every year from 1982-1988, with the 1982 tax hike being the largest in US history in peacetime (by %GDP).

He did spend like a drunken sailor on shore leave, which we keep being told by the guys on Fox News leads to depression, not growth (funny how it didn't doom us all back then).



by jeopardy 2010-06-02 03:25PM | 0 recs
There you go again

President Reagan inherited a recession from the hapless Jimmy Carter, so Reagan's successful efforts to end inflation can hardly be regarded as its cause. And you make it sound like "wringing inflation out of the economy" was a bad thing. Four Presidents---LBJ, Nixon, Ford, and Carter---were unsuccessful in their attempts to conquer inflation, which is the cruelest tax of all on working people. It took Ronald Reagan to actually get it done.

As to tax cuts, you're wrong on that one, too. Reagan signed tax increases in 1982, but they were a fraction of the supply side tax cuts he enacted the previous year. Nervous Democrats in Congress didn't have the guts to stay the course with the Reagan Recovery plan; they were soon proven wrong when the economy came roaring back. 

So let's see how "Barack" does with the economy; so far, the only thing he's done is to take the unemployment rate from 7.7% to 9.9%.....even after spending a trillion dollars on a stimulus (actually, a sedative) plan. Although things should look better this Friday.....amazing what 300,000 temporary census jobs can do for the numbers.


by BJJ Fighter 2010-06-03 01:50AM | 0 recs
RE: There you go again

1) You keep ignoring the fact that Reagan signed into law tax hikes, including some massive ones, year after year after year in his presidency, including the biggest one in US history years before the economy turned around.But of course, you are only too willing to credit the tax cut in 1981 for expansion years later (after many of the tax raises). Nice job picking and choosing evidence to fit your ideology.


2) Volker became head of the Fed in November 1979. By the end of 1979, the Fed started fighting inflation the only reliable way known - by tightening up monetary policy.The Federal funds rate went up by 9% between november 1979 and June 1981(a few months into the Reagan Admin.) It was important to get control of inflation, and I'm glad that Reagan didn't screw up Carter/Volker's policies on fighting inflation.

If the conservative critiques of Keynes had been right, it wouldn't have had to lead to a severe recession, but it did and the US fell into a deep recession in the summer of 1981. 

By the summer of 1982, while inflation had fallen sharply, the economy seemed on the verge of a tailspin. So the Fed abruptly shifted policy and began aggressively trying to expand the economy. It worked and the economy roared back (helped by all the idle capacity that was sitting around due to the really bad recession.

By 1984, when the recovery was well established, the Fed began trying to reign in the economy, and it was successful. That helped a slower expansion to continue.

In 1987, the crash of the stock market threatened a new recession, but the Fed responded a quick expansion of the monetary base and managed to avoid a slump.

This all happened irrespective of whether the gov. passed tax cuts (like 1981) or tax hikes (like 1982-1988). Further, it happend despite large increases in government spending during the 1980's (which didn't seem to doom us all afterall).

Nonetheless, the 1980's had a slower growth rate overall than the 1970's as a whole, and the 1980's growth was well below the golden period of 25-30 years after WWII (which had much, much higher top marginal income tax rates, btw).

by jeopardy 2010-06-03 01:27PM | 0 recs
RE: There you go again

The one thing I will say about this debate is that while Reagan did raise taxes massively, he cut them more than he raised them for a net drop. A net drop that he didn't pay for, thus raising the deficit.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-06-03 02:28PM | 0 recs
RE: There you go again

that is true.

however, the fact that the economy didn't recover after the tax cuts, but then later did in the middle of tax hikes before and after the recovery doesn't support the assertion that the tax cuts was what did the job.

The fact that you can track reduced inflation and reduced/increased growth extremely closely with the Fed's policies no matter what the tax or spending policies is a much, much stronger argumen for what was having the largest effect on the economy.

Further, the fact that most of the Fed's rate increases happened before Reagan even came into office demolishes the right-wing talking points giving credit for fighting inflation to Reagan.

by jeopardy 2010-06-03 02:47PM | 1 recs
RE: There you go again

Yes, the deficit under President Reagan increased from 2.6% of GDP when he took office, to 2.9% when he left. When you compare those numbers to what we have today in the age of Obama-nomics, that increase seems fairly trivial.

In exchange for this massive runaway spending under President Reagan, we got a reduction in inflation from 14% to 4.3%, a reduction in unemployment from 7.6% to 5.2%, and an economy that grew by one-third. GDP increased from $4.9 to $6.6 trillion dollars over eight years. And interest rates came down from +18% to 6.3%, allowing small businesses to borrow and the economy to grow.

I'd say that as a country, we came out ahead--with optimism, hope, growth, and opportunity. And I doubt that anyone would want to go back to the malaise, failure, and misery of Jimmy Carter.


by BJJ Fighter 2010-06-04 01:39AM | 0 recs
RE: There you go again

With all of your gobblygook, you've probably convinced yourself that Jimmy Carter was a raging success, and one of the greatest presidents in history. And all of Ronald Reagan's success was just dumb luck. 

Reagan grew the economy and GDP from $4.9 trillion to $6.6.....a 33% increase, essentially eliminating inflation and reducing unemployment at the same time. And getting interest rates down from +18% to single digits.

So President Reagan restored our economy, won the Cold War, made America strong again, and restored respect for us around the world. You go ahead and take the misery of the Carter/Obama administrations, I'll be very happy calling myself a Reagan/Clinton Democrat. 


by BJJ Fighter 2010-06-04 01:23AM | 0 recs
RE: There you go again

Wow, you are not even trying to refute what I said.

That's pathetic.

by jeopardy 2010-06-04 10:20AM | 0 recs
RE: There you go again

Lets just take fighting inflation, for instance. You are giving credit to Reagan for that, but what are you suggesting he did?

It's pretty commonly accepted (or so I thought) that inflation came down because of the Volker Fed aggressively raising rates. Well, the majority of that happened before Reagan was even sworn into office. So I guess you are saying Reagan did something else.

Maybe you are talking about Reagan's tax cuts and free spending. But I know of no argument from any school of economics that claims that pumping more money into the economy lowers inflation (the opposite, if anything).

So what is it, BJJ? WHat did Reagan do to lower inflation?

by jeopardy 2010-06-04 10:48AM | 0 recs
RE: Reagan: Prosperity/ Morning in America

"I don't think you'll want to dicuss deficits once the Obama record is laid out."

You think I'm shallow enough to base my opinion of the issues on the candidates? Let's flip that around. I won't want to discuss Obama much if he doesn't turn his fiscal record around in the next year or two.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-06-03 02:29PM | 0 recs

Some comments: 

Reagan:  If Reagan were really good at fighting unemployment and inflation the first would be at 4% and the second at 2%.  That is what they were in previous times.


Clinton:  Economic prosperity?  Sure if you count a whole mess of low-wage, part-time, temporary jobs.  And with his neoliberal policies Clinton helped pave the for our present debacle. 

by demjim 2010-06-02 10:31AM | 0 recs
You need to study economics

President Reagan inherited inflation from "Jimmy" that was at +14%. Expecting him to reduce it to 2%---instead of the 4% that he actually achieved---is like asking why he only carried 49 states in 1984 instead of all 50. Get a grip.

And to suggest that inflation was at 2% "in previous times" is incredibly ignorant; it's that kind of remark that keeps bloggers from being taken seriously. Prior to the Reagan miracle, four Presidents failed in their efforts to deal with inflation. LBJ was too consumed with Vietnam to even notice. Nixon tried Wage & Price Controls, which failed; Ford issued "WIN" buttons (Whip Inflation Now) which didn't do much better. And Carter just wandered around looking worried all the time, mumbling about malaise.....

We should all thank Divine Providence for Ronald Wilson Reagan.


by BJJ Fighter 2010-06-03 02:09AM | 0 recs
RE: Presidential Legacies

Economic Prosperity?

Bill Clinton? Bill Clinton is responsible for 'free' trade agreements, the DLC and welfare deformation. Single mothers and their children aren't doing any better than the US manufacturing sector, not that anyone in either political party cares.

Clinton's legacy will be the destruction of the Democratic party, particularly after Bruce Reed and Alan Simpson do to the elderly what they did to low income women and children.

by colleen 2010-06-02 07:44PM | 0 recs
Earth to Colleen: the 90's were a GOOD period

Liberals like you are the reason George W. Bush became President. In the 2000 election, the only thing poor Al Gore had to do was to look at W in one of the debates, and ask him a simple question:

"Governor, just what is your problem with peace and prosperity?"

Gore never asked the question; like most liberals, he made things way too complicated, and insisted on imposing his own guilt and misery on the rest of us.....losing an election that should have been a cake walk. 

The fact is, the 90's were great: For openers, President Clinton created 22 million new jobs. NAFTA served as the catalyst for incredible economic growth, which roared throughout the Clinton years. You should read a few of Tom Friedman's books, and you'll undertand that free trade lifts all boats.

And I'm puzzled by your whining that single mothers and children were somehow penalized by the Clinton administration. After NAFTA and the Capital Gains Tax Cut, Welfare Reform was President Clinton's single greatest achievement. Child poverty was reduced by over a third; I don't know why you would have a problem with that. Unless it's the fact that most liberals would prefer to have poor people in a cycle of dependency, rather than working and contributing to society.

As President Clinton famously stated in 1995, "the era of big government is over." Get over it.


by BJJ Fighter 2010-06-03 02:40AM | 0 recs
Is anybody going to answer the damned question?

Like this debate you all are having even matters, because the freakin' answer is C) Sex and impeachment. 

Perception is everything, and these things seem to be what people will remember most, even if they're not the most important or even entirely accurate.

George W. Bush
A) Iraq

Bill Clinton
C) Sex and impeachment

George H.W. Bush
D) Other - (1) being remarkably unremarkable and (2) barfing on the Japanese Prime Minister.

Ronald Reagan
A) “Ending” the Cold War

by bpfish 2010-06-03 12:55PM | 1 recs


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