Commentary Magazine


The Clinton Presidency

To the Editor:

Joshua Muravchik was not the only one puzzled about how to vote in 1992 [“Lament of a Clinton Supporter,” August 1993]. Indeed, apart from the professionals in the two parties, virtually the only ones who could cast a ballot with some enthusiasm were those who voted for None of the Above (a.k.a. Ross Perot).

George Bush had been elected as a third term for Ronald Reagan, and he and James Baker proved to be a sad disappointment. Nevertheless, I voted for Bush in 1992 with no hesitation. One needed only to have noted the major contributors to the Clinton campaign to forecast its main thrust: the teachers unions, the trial lawyers, the professional blacks, the professional homosexuals, and so on. These debts would have to be paid, and the principal contours of a Democratic administration would thus be set. Moreover, Clinton himself and his wife were so manifestly small-town con men that only a naif would trust them as far as he could throw the Little Rock statehouse.

Somewhat belatedly, Mr. Muravchik has half-learned his lesson. “Half-learned” because toward the end of his article he remarks that “it is not too late” for Clinton to satisfy his hopes, which in the closing paragraph he renews.

The late Senator Henry Jackson still exerts an extraordinary influence. A dozen prominent Democrats, all intelligent and well-informed, still deny the reality of the Democratic party and tell us that they are “heartened” every time they can uncover a slight shift from the McGovernite path. In spite of every evidence to the contrary, they persist in their illusions, and one supposes that nothing will ever bring them over to the Republican party, which is where neoconservatives belong.

William Petersen
Carmel, California

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To the Editor:

Joshua Muravchik’s distress merits sympathy and respect; his surprise does not. Mr. Muravchik seems to have shared the views of former Mayor Edward I. Koch that Bill Clinton was a much-needed Democrat, one with views that would help to return his party to standards and ideals it had abandoned during its McGovernite period.

It is very difficult to believe that clearly perceptive and intelligent people like Mr. Muravchik could have accepted Clinton’s campaign declarations as sound political currency. Look at him: a person with a record of behavior involving disloyalty to many things. . . . Character really matters and talk is cheap. Character is a far more important basis for predicting a person’s behavior than that person’s mere statements. Nobody should be surprised by the discovery that this President’s promises, made when he needed to be elected, were broken after his election. . . .

Lawrence H. O’Neill
New York City

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To the Editor:

. . . It was President Kennedy who described the office of the presidency as a state of “controlled confusion.” Neither he nor any successor in office has been able to leave any salutary imprint on our society. To a large extent this is due to the inability of any President since Roosevelt to control Congress on its own anarchic rampage.

It is pointless to set up the office of the President as a position of power and authority and to find Mr. Clinton wanting. Neither his predecessor nor whatever nonentity succeeds him has been or will be able to do better or worse. The Constitution remains triumphant in that the President is merely one of the three arms of government and no amount of effort to cloak the President with imperial powers . . . will disguise the structural weakness of the position. Let us not cry about it; that is what the Founding Fathers wanted.

Elwood A. Rickless
Santa Fe, New Mexico

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To the Editor:

I was surprised to see Joshua Muravchik refer to Al Gore as a moderate. Given his Senate voting record and his radical environmental proposals, it seems to me that Gore belongs on the Left-of-Center, if not on the far-Left, of the political spectrum. That is to be expected of one reared as a privileged child in the Washington, D.C. culture, and one whose entire adult life has been spent as a career politician.

Despite this minor disagreement with Mr. Muravchik, I think his article is right on the money.

Doyle Matteson
Lilburn, Georgia

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To the Editor:

I wish to express my appreciation for the way Joshua Muravchik . . . exposes the alienation of the Clintons from the American ethos and their attempts to undermine it. I hope he will go on to show us how the mantle of traditional liberalism has now been passed on to the politically conservative. . . .

Edward P. Gottlieb
New York City

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Joshua Muravchik writes:

I thank Edward P. Gottlieb and Doyle Matteson for their compliments, although, contra Mr. Matteson, I stick with my characterization of Al Gore. In 1988 I wrote an op-ed article criticizing Gore for presenting himself as the hawkish alternative in the Democratic presidential primaries, although his record was not that of a true hawk. But by the same token, the very fact that he chose such a posture—so inimical to the Democratic trend of the past two decades—shows him to be a moderate.

The political world appears much more fluid to me than it does to William Petersen and Lawrence H. O’Neill. Until the Soviet Union collapsed, the Communist threat (or promise, to some) was the salient political fact of our time, the starting point for defining all political positions and alignments. The political contours of the post-Communist world are not yet clear to me. Except for his stellar leadership in the liberation of Kuwait, George Bush never displayed the imagination necessary to respond to our new circumstances; I hoped that Bill Clinton would do better. So far he hasn’t, but he will be President for three more years, so I am still hoping.

Whether or not Elwood A. Rickless is right about the presidency, some Presidents are better than others, and I prefer the better ones.

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