Clinton Nostalgia: It’s Very Real and Very Dumb

Nostalgia wasn't cool until Hillary realized that people like her husband more than they like her

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Hillary Clinton says that her “not-so-secret weapon” is her husband Bill and has asked the former president to campaign for her in New Hampshire after the New Year.

Bringing in Bill to rescue a flailing Hillary actually sounds like a pretty decent strategy. It appears that she’s trying to cash in on the curious but nonetheless real phenomenon of Clinton nostalgia—Bill Clinton nostalgia, that is. People genuinely like the former president even if they can’t name a single thing he accomplished while in office.

Even so, Bill’s rescue operation reflects poorly on Hillary. It’s as if she’s saying “Yes, I know I’m a dud as a candidate—but my husband’s pretty cool, isn’t he?” Oh, yeah. He practically invented cool. William Jefferson Clinton may not be a particularly good leader but he’s certainly a masterful politician. He’s got that cool vibe that Hillary doesn’t. The Clintons have long recognized this problem and have even reached out to their friend Steven Spielberg for help, asking him to refer Hillary to an acting coach so she could learn what Bill instinctively knows. Hillary grew weary of the lessons quickly.

While Hillary’s invocation of Clinton Nostalgia is understandable it is also out of character for a progressive Democrat. Lib-Dems don’t often appeal to nostalgia and they usually chalk it up to racism when Republicans do. The good old days never were, they say. Or at least they used to say that until Hillary Clinton realized that her husband is a lot more popular than she is. Now nostalgia’s okay.

It is worth noting however that Team Clinton relied on almost exactly the opposite strategy for winning hearts and minds the last time they occupied the White House. When Bill accepted his party’s nomination at the 1996 Democratic National Convention he spoke boldly of the future, leaning heavily on his campaign’s official slogan “Building a Bridge to the 21st Century.” In that speech, he used the word “future” ten times, the words “21st Century” twenty-two times, and the word “children” a whopping thirty-six times! As any do-gooder will tell you, the children are the future—making the two words practically interchangeable. The speech was classic dumb-downed politics, the use of repetition and glittering generalities to hammer home one simple, emotionally-charged message: Democrats are the future, Republicans are the past.

Speaking as one of those children Bill Clinton mentioned thirty-six times—I was fifteen years old at the time of the convention—I will say that we’ve arrived at the future he spoke of…and it sucks. It’s no wonder Hillary is placing her bets on nostalgia.

Remember back before everything sucked? Yeah, my husband was president then.

So just what went wrong in the meantime? A lot of things, I suppose, though if I had to choose just two I would name 9/11 and the 2008 fiscal crisis as the most substantial. Bill Clinton bears a large portion of the responsibility for both of those events which makes me wonder why so many people seem to eagerly await his comeback tour. He’s not solely responsible for either event, of course, but he does deserve the lion’s share of blame.

The 2008 fiscal crisis was roughly thirty years in the making, beginning with the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). Though the CRA wasn’t quite a monstrosity at birth, it did saddle banks with an “affirmative obligation” to the meet the credit needs of the communities in which they resided. Some people thought it was unfair that a bank should operate in a community yet rarely make loans to its residents. That might sound like a raw deal until one realizes that not all communities are fiscally equal and that some communities contain a certain threshold of people who can’t or won’t pay their bills.

It was the Clinton Administration, however, that made serious changes to the CRA’s interpretation and enforcement. Backed by a 1993 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston that detected racism in lending practices, the Clinton Administration tightened the screws on banks to get them to lend money more freely. The study has been widely criticized as myopic in scope, failing to consider economic disparities between races, but no matter, Clinton has his cudgel with which to beat the bankers. With the full might of the federal government behind them, regulators began demanding that banks make loans to people at high risk of defaulting. Banks sheepishly complied.

Liberals now call this “predatory lending;” as if banks actively sought out people with credit scores in the toilet and enticed them to take out loans that they would likely never repay. That’s how banks work, right?

As economist Stan Liebowitz wrote: “From the current handwringing, you’d think that the banks came up with the idea of looser underwriting standards on their own, with regulators just asleep on the job. In fact, it was the regulators who relaxed these standards–at the behest of community groups and ‘progressive’ political forces.”

Things got worse when wealthier borrowers began to demand the same terms for their loans as poor people got. It was rather difficult to tell a person with good credit that he couldn’t have the same terms as someone with bad credit. Fueled by easy money from the banks, often loaned at favorable interest rates and sometimes with no down payment necessary, builders got to work adorning the American landscape with new homes.

The economy was quickly overheating, slipping into a boom that could only be followed by a bust. Most people don’t see Bill Clinton’s fingerprints all over this mess though they should. If they did, would they still be singing his praises as the man who returned prosperity to America? I doubt it.

Then there’s 9/11. Just how many chances Clinton had to kill or capture bin Laden is often debated, though Clinton himself has admitted at least one. His admission came just hours before the first plane struck the World Trade Center, while Clinton was speaking in Australia. “I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have had to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill three hundred innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.”

It was a tough decision, I know, but if he had gone the other way he might have changed the course of history for the better. Clinton’s concern for (perhaps) three hundred Afghan civilians led to the slaughter of ten times that many Americans, not to mention the long, grinding war on terror that followed.

But there was likely another chance—or two? In 1995, Sudanese officials contacted the US government to discuss bin Laden’s possible deportation back to his native Saudi Arabia. “They [the Saudis] were afraid it was too much of a hot potato, and I understand where they were,” Clinton later said. He also mentioned that taking up Sudan on the offer directly was not an option: “We couldn’t indict him then because he hadn’t killed anybody in America. He hadn’t done anything to us.” Actually, bin Laden had been involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing though that was not known until 1996. Sudanese officials have also said that in 1996 they offered to hand over bin Laden to the United States directly but Clinton turned them down. Clinton has denied this. The 9/11 commission could find no evidence that any such offer was made—except for the not insignificant fact that Sudanese officials said that they made it, which is “evidence” in my book. I wonder what other evidence they were looking for? The Sudanese said they made the offer, the known perjurer Bill Clinton said they didn’t. Who are you going to believe?

There may have been other chances. Investigative journalist Richard Miniter wrote in his book “Losing bin Laden” that there were more than a dozen, including one opportunity to strike bin Laden with a missile after the USS Cole Bombing in October 2000. Collateral damage considerations precluded the strike. Madeleine Albright is quoted saying that “bombing Muslims wouldn’t be helpful at this time”. This incident may have been the same opportunity the Clinton was referring to in Australia on September 11, 2001, or it may have been a separate opportunity.

And yet people still miss this guy. He’s Mr. Cool, the Rhodes scholar who smoked a little weed in college and played his sax on MTV. He gave a soaring speech about the gleaming 21st Century—and bequeathed us the hellish reality we now inhabit. If Mr. Clinton fired up the crowds with his “bridge to the future,” Mrs. Clinton hopes to do the same with a slightly less inspiring slogan: a bridge to twenty years ago. As crazy as it sounds, it might be the best she can do.

Benny Huang is a lonely conservative in the very liberal Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. He strives to make the world a better place through his writing. He is a veteran.