Monday, February 04, 2008

The Golden Age

A lot of Republicans talk about the return of a Clinton to the White House as the most disastrous thing that can befall this country. Others publicly express the fervent hope that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for President, because they see her as a potentially unifying force for the Republican party, whose members might set aside their differences and their varying claims of being the true Conservatives or legitimate heirs to the Reagan legacy and unite to prevent the hated wife of a hatred former President from becoming the next President.

What is their issue, anyway? Let's assume for a moment that this isn't simply so much bluster being directed against a Democratic candidate simply for being a Democratic candidate. Their hatred seems to be specifically directed at both Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Were the Clinton years really that bad? Were things worse then than they are today?

Well, in a word: no. In two words, Hell no. Unless you happen to be suckling at the teat of the Military-Industrial Complex - which, as I discovered during last year's job search, provides a hell of a lot of jobs locally in the manufacture of artillery, munitions, armor, and assorted materiel. So, actually, there are quite a few people who fall into that category and may have reason to fear an end to the perpetual state of war that is the legacy of George W. Bush and the promise of almost all of his party's potential nominees.

The economy was fantastically better back in Clinton's days. Gas prices were a fraction of what they are today, languishing below $1 a gallon for a longish while. We were not in a state of constant warfare, with National Guard troops mobilized and pulled away from the Nation they were supposed to be Guarding. You could even say we were experiencing an era of peace and prosperity, of hope and unlimited potential.

Peace does not mean the absence of war, nor does it mean the absence of attacks against us. Under Clinton, the United States participated in a NATO bombing campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And the United States and its forces were the targets of terrorist attacks: On February 26, 1993, a little more than a month after Bill Clinton had taken the oath of office for the first time, a bomb was detonated in the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring many others. On June 25, 1996, nineteen U.S. servicemen were killed in the Khobar Towers bombing. On August 7, 1998, hundreds were killed in coordinated, simultaneous bombings at two U.S. embassies in Africa. On October 12, 2000, the U.S.S. Cole was attacked, killing seventeen sailors. Then there was Somalia, and Waco, and Oklahoma City, and Columbine, and...

OK, so not everything was lemonade and ice cream on the "Peace" side of things. When it comes to "Prosperity"...well, naturally, things were not perfect there, either. A lot of people remember the dot-com bust (or "dot-com bubble"), but how many remember the telecom bubble and the biotech bubble? (Required reading for anyone planning to invest: Charles Mackay's classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.) And many people think that the decline of the airlines began with September 11, 2001, but in reality it began somewhat earlier.

But almost everyone was rich...on paper. More than that. The system was set up to be self-sustaining: 401(k) investments fed the stock market a few dollars at a time, and increasing stock values encouraged additional investment. As a friend and I discussed during a night out on the town in Philadelphia in 1997, this mechanism made the stock market seemingly crash-proof; not only would everyone have to pull out their investments to destabilize the market, but they would also have to go through the tedious paperwork of changing their 401(k) allocations. I believe we may have used the words "permanently high plateau"...

Still. The general attitude was one of optimism and hope. Things were looking up, especially for the middle class.

Especially for me.

Sometimes I wonder if my attitudes towards this time are colored by my own experiences - experiences which don't necessarily apply to the rest of the world.

Professionally, for instance. At the start of the Clinton Era I was transitioning from being an Operator in the CD Plating department of Specialty Records to being one of two SPC Coordinators for all of Pre-Production. By the end of those years I was deeply into being the DVD Asset Manager for Warner Advanced Media Operations (WAMO) at their Compression, Encoding, and Authoring center - one of the finest DVD Authoring Studios at that time. During those years CDs peaked, and DVDs were rapidly ascendant. And why not? With the economy doing so well, everyone could afford a DVD player.

Personally - well, it wasn't all great. Both my Grandmother and my Father had strokes. My dog Kitty died. The engine in my car seized up and I had to buy a new car. My Grandmother died. A few friends' marriages fell apart. But other friends got married, and things have worked out for them. New animals came into my life. And through a program of diet and exercise I lost a lot of weight, for a little while (1997 - 2001) at least. I traveled a lot, including several trips to Florida.

Music-wise - well, some people are going to tell you that the best music came out of the 1960's, or the 1970's, or even the 1980's. For me, the 1990's were the best years for music. Alternative and techno and dance were the soundtrack of my life, the stuff that played in my car and at the bars and clubs and concerts I went to. But Alternative music became mainstream, and eventually collapsed on itself. And I relinquished the bars and clubs and concerts to a younger generation.

It wasn't a perfect time. Clinton was far from perfect, and he will be remembered for his faults as much as anything. And he was beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyrrany of evil men - or at least a Congress hell-bent on removing him from office, at any cost. Which, ultimately, they failed to do.

Was it a Golden Age? It was for me. Was it for the rest of the nation? The rest of the world? I don't know. History will decide, but its decision will be based in part on the accounts we leave.

In the end I think the Clinton Era sowed the seeds of its own undoing. When Al Gore ran against George W. Bush in 2000, the record of success of his former running-mate should have easily propelled him into the White House for a thematically and philosophically continuous term. But the electorate had grown fat and happy; and, sated as they were, they began to wonder if maybe things could be even better if they tried something else, if they voted for the candidate who was promising tax cuts and tax rebates for all. And so a great many Undecideds went into the voting booth in November 2000 and brought Gore's margin of victory to within the limits of measurement. And then five political appointees decided to end that measurement and grant the victory to George W. Bush.

Was it a Golden Age? I think so. It was a damn sight better than what we've endured for the past seven years. What we will have to endure for another ten months and seventeen days.

And then, perhaps, a new Golden Age will be upon us.



supertiff said...

"the opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation."

sorry, but that song got stuck in my head as i was reading.

i was looking forward to reading this post, and you didn't disappoint.
thanks for taking the time to write it all down. we're writing our own histories now. isn't it wonderful?

Little Wing said...

Hi, I am here from Whimsy's blog, congratulations on your award!
Gotta love a dude that had a dog named kitty!
Nice blog!

Gort said...

Great post. Is this an endorsement of HRC?

Super G said...

Very nice.

I am of the mind that, like your take, the Clinton years were more rationale and better the world we live in today --- but not something perfect by a long shot. One thing is that Clinton had the good fortune of being at the tail end of a stock/investing bubble which was many years forming. Though I would say one of the best things Clinton ever did was listen well to Robert Reich. With his help and Clinton's grinding lock-up with the GOP managed to help bring us the last set of balance budgets we have had since the Bush (GOP) Tax Cuts annihilated fiscal conservatism.

The GOP fetishized the Clintons instead of letting Bill's giantic ego sink him. See how many people recoiled from Bill in SC when he was left unfettered. However, obsessing about the Clenis played well with the faithful and was part of the strategy of division the GOP played. It is was what Hillary's saw as the vast right wing conspiracy, though conspiracy implies coordination. Rather what happened was that the Roves, Delays, Limbaughs, and Coulters of the world profited in dollars and power by playing to the same base hatreds and prejudices. In the process the went from "Morning in America," a message about the greatness of America that can be experienced by all people, to a party best characterized by secrecy, unwillingness to compromise, constant war, endless fear of terror, religious intolerance, and fiscal irresponsibility.

This next election may see the GOP holding neither the White House, the Senate, of the House. That would be a remarkable reversal of fortune from a party that not long ago saw itself as being on the verge of a long time dynasty. But, it would, be just rewards for the road they followed.

I, for one, hope that we don't see Clinton in the White House again (I'm keeping my fingers crossed for either O'bama or McCain). A democracy is in decline when political power becomes shared within families and from generation to generation.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...