Here are two new and revealing articles about the still contested political and cultural ground of the 1990s.
First on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is a hash of condescension, hubris, and pitiful special pleading from Robert L. Bartley, a notorious babbler of reaction who until recently was the editor of the Journal's editorial page.
Bartley first came seriously to my attention when I read David Frum's Dead Right -- which is, by the way, a marvelous book. Frum said Bartley "probably ranks as the single most powerful man in American journalism since the death of Walter Lippmann."
Regrettably, I'm not sure I can disagree with that appraisal; and that's a sad commentary in itself.
In any case, Bartley rehashes the increasingly threadbare bill of particulars against Bill Clinton, calls the claim that the Starr/Ray Report ended up exonerating Bill Clinton a 'big lie,' and then ends up pretty much showing -- by the weakness of his argument -- that it's more like a 'big true.'
How can you say Clinton was exonerated when his Lt. Governor got convicted of something else unearthed by the investigation of the President?!?!?!
And he was mean to the special counsel!
And rule of law!
Needless to say, there's also the obligatory dig at Paul Krugman, which has now become pretty much a stand-by with most of your more media-savvy right-wing sad-sacks.
Through the Bartley looking glass, Clinton emerges as something closer to Robert Mugabe than Richard Nixon. Bartley's walk down memory lane illustrates the fun-house reality which exists in a certain part of the conservative world and the sorry pass intellectual Conservatism has come to in the post-Reagan, post-Cold War era. Much of the conservative war against the 42nd president was deeply cynical. But for many it was not. Clinton, to them, became a trampler of the rule of law, a cartoonish caricature of Richard Nixon, an embodiment of every reactionary set-piece American political culture has ever produced. This is the same part of the conservative mentality that sees the Washington Times as conservative in the same way the New York Times is liberal. Which of these two variants drives Bartley I'm not entirely sure. I suspect a mix of both.
Meanwhile there is this article in the new Business Week which provides a technical and historical but also quite clear examination of the economic history of the 1990s. This isn't a 'what Clinton accomplished/didn't accomplish' sort of exercise. Revealingly, many of the factors which played key roles in the economic history of the decade were world-historical, far beyond the power of a single politician or even American policy to control. Still, a reasoned observer will see key developments that were at the very least accentuated or augmented by considered policy decisions taken by the president.
Much of the upshot of the analysis is summed up in this passage.
But the real stunner is this: The biggest winners from the faster productivity growth of the 1990s were workers, not investors. In the end, workers reaped most of the gains from the added output generated by the New Economy productivity speedup.
I won't take your time with a tedious summary of the two pieces. But give them both a good read and it'll illuminate a good deal about our current politics. Perhaps also contrast the latter with Bartley's 1995 Seven Fat Years; And How to Do It Again (sadly out-of-print), which would make for much entertainment.
Meanwhile, in other news, there's still more evidence of what a well-oiled machine Tom Ridge has going over at the office of Homeland Security. Ridge's congressional liaison, Becky Halkias, has been given her walking papers or perhaps just saw the writing on the wall or as Ridge's press secretary Gordon Johndroe put it -- in the familiar Washington euphemism -- "left to pursue other interests."
And in yet other news which will be immediately familiar to readers of these pages, the long-awaited announcement of the appointment of Doug Paal to serve as Director of the American Institute in Taiwan has finally been made. What's striking is how far-sighted this appointment turned out to be. Now that Taiwan is embroiled in a burgeoning scandal involving secret government slush funds, covert foreign contributions to American think tanks, and questionable uses of non-profit organizations, it actually seems a rather appropriate place for Paal to go.