One of the more fascinating things about American politics is that certain narratives are almost immediately assigned to their administrations. For example, Bill Clinton oversaw the tech boom as well as a booming economy. Between these things and his being a Democrat, there is a general narrative about Bill Clinton that he was a very successful and very liberal president.
As usual, though, such narratives don’t give us the whole picture. Clinton certainly had his fair share of accomplishments, but he also did more than a few things that set the country back. Don’t believe us? Keep reading to discover the most suspicious things about Bill Clinton’s presidency.
The affair with Monica Lewinsky
We simply had to start with the elephant in the room: Bill Clinton’s infamous affair with 21-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The entire affair nearly destroyed Clinton’s reputation: as Vox points out, Clinton had a storied history of allegations ranging from being sexually inappropriate to allegations of rape. Now that the entire world knew that he was willing to abuse his authority in order to bed someone decades his junior, it made many reconsider whether those earlier allegations were true or not.
On top of that, though, is the almost incalculable damage that Clinton did to the institution of the American presidency. He ended up lying about the affair under oath, and this kickstarted a very ugly impeachment trial. Even though he wasn’t removed as president, it’s fair to say that the reputation of Bill Clinton and America itself was never the same after this.
Keeping Osama bin Laden alive
It’s the kind of stuff science fiction authors often dream about: how different would the world be if the 9/11 attacks had never happened? This is something Bill Clinton likely wonders about as well…especially because he passed on the chance to kill Osama bin Laden years before the infamous attacks.
At the time, bin Laden was already a terrorist leader on the radar of organizations like the CIA. As the National Post reports, the CIA at one point had narrowed bin Laden’s location to Kandahar in Afghanistan. And they came up with a plan to place explosives under some crossroads and simply blow him up when he traveled over them.
Clinton vetoed the plan, mostly because he worried about the attack accidentally killing innocent people. But according to ABC News, Clinton once expressed regret at allowing Osama bin Laden to live. Creepily enough, he said that during a business meeting on 9/11 itself, only shortly before the attacks began!
Tough on crime laws
Despite being considered a liberal president, Bill Clinton knew very well how many votes he could secure by appearing to be a “tough-on-crime” president. Therefore, he helped push a number of anti-crime laws that have arguably made the nation a worse place.
The cornerstone of this legislation is the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. As part of this act, America ended up with longer sentences, more time in prison, less time off for good behavior, and so on. That may sound good on paper, but as Politico points out, the number of inmates skyrocketed 60 percent during Clinton’s time as president.
In addition to creating a larger taxpayer burden, one could arguably trace modern aggressive police techniques to Clinton encouraging police forces to be tougher on crime. And this act simultaneously drove liberal supporters away while failing to secure any significant right-wing support.
Making the housing bubble happen
By now, everyone remembers the 2008 economic collapse. It was due mostly to a housing market in which more and more people were unable to pay for their mortgages. Given that the bubble began to burst during the George W. Bush presidency, many thought it was his fault. However, it looks more like Bill Clinton helped to create the bubble back when he was still president.
Clinton’s goal was simple: to make it easier for those with little income to buy a home. Under his guidance, banks were suddenly able to get positive reputations for handing out loans to customers who they knew (or at least deeply suspected) could not pay them back. As CNBC reports, things got so bad that banks largely stopped asking for down payments or making stringent credit checks, setting up a bubble that everyone in the industry knew would soon bust.
While Bill Clinton is most directly tied to the 2008 economic collapse due to his role in the housing market, he made another decision that made things worse. And that decision was to modify the Glass-Steagall Act in a way that gave banks much more power and effectively deregulated them.
As the New York Times reports, the newly-deregulated banks were able to take greater and greater risks with consumers’ money, engaging in habits sometimes known as “casino banking.” And had the banks been under the restriction of firmer regulation, it’s possible the housing bubble could have been prevented or that the effects of it bursting could have been mitigated.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton made a number of promises. One of them was that he would enable gay men and women to serve in the armed forces if they so chose. Once he was elected, though, Clinton faced major pushback on this, and he ended up creating a compromise that made a few people happy.
The compromise was the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Basically, gay people could serve if they hid their orientation, and the military wasn’t allowed to ask about their orientation. As the New York Times reports, this compromise didn’t keep thousands of soldiers from getting kicked out after their sexual orientation was discovered.
Giving us a major trade deficit
The general reputation of Bill Clinton is that he was good for the economy of the country. While that is true in many ways, we shouldn’t forget the major trade deficit that he saddled the country with by creating the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The spirit of NAFTA is that it would help America import cheaper goods from countries such as Mexico and that this would help the average consumer. While that happened, it also took no time for manufacturing jobs to move to Mexico in order to save costs.
By 2013, U.C. Berkley estimated that our trade deficit with Mexico was a whopping $100 billion. And this remains a major stain on Clinton’s economic record and overall reputation as president.