The announcement that Hillary Clinton would ask her husband Bill for economic advice reveals stark contrast between their supporters and the Americans who agree with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders’ darker vision of the decade
Like the upcoming sequel to Hollywood’s 1996 blockbuster Independence Day, this summer Bill Clinton is hoping to revive the spirit of the 90s after two decades away from the White House.
Frailer, thinner and with a now whispery stage voice, the 42nd president of the United States has captured attention by revealing a deal with his wife Hillary to serve as an economic adviser should she defeat Donald Trump in November’s general election.
But just as the film’s writers updated their script to put a woman in the new Oval Office – they memorably blew up the original – much has moved on since the last time a Clinton was behind the Resolute desk. What worked in the 1990s is no guarantee of box office success this time.
Though his exact role in any future administration remains unclear and a cabinet post has been ruled out, the emergence of William Jefferson Clinton as a central cast member in his wife’s 2016 campaign is already prompting a major reinterpretation of past performances.
From trade liberalisation and welfare reform, to gay rights and the war on drugs, the once-vaunted legislative successes of the first Clinton decade are being re-litigated in a very different America.
Trump has also begun to re-examine old scandals. He has tried to use Bill’s womanising as an antidote to his own alleged misogyny, and threatening to dredge up everything from his affair with Monica Lewinsky to the Whitewater property deals in an effort to smear his opponent in attack adverts.
“Nobody in this country was was worse than Bill Clinton with women. He was a disaster,” Trump recently claimed at a rally in Oregon, after his own record was challenged by his opponent’s campaign.
At least the Clintons have had time to develop a thick skin. “You think the stuff they said about [Hillary] is bad? They accused me of murder,” Clinton responded on Friday, referring to the conspiracy theories that followed the suicide of White House aide Vince Foster.
For many Democrats, the “first dude” – as Hillary once joked he might have to be called if she wins – nonetheless remains an unparalleled electoral asset.
Unlike Tony Blair’s war-tarnished reputation, the centrist tenets of Third Way politics in the US emerged relatively unscathed from Clinton’s eight years in office between 1993 and 2001.
The reputation of this political “big dog” for both growing the economy and bringing Republicans and Democrats together, though more fondly remembered on the left than the right, is a particular attraction at a time of partisan rancour and economic insecurity.
“There’s been one time in 50 years when we all grew together, and that’s when I had the honour to serve. And I would like to see it happen again,” boasted president Clinton during a speech to supporters in Kentucky where he first revealed his offer to help his wife revitalise impoverished regions like Appalachia and the Rust Belt.
But while this attention to what former adviser James Carville once dubbed “the economy, stupid”, makes just as much electoral sense now as then, there is far less consensus that Clintonomics holds the necessary answers.
At least two phenomena can trace some roots in that insecurity: Trump’s capture of the Republican party and the remarkably persistent challenge of Bernie Sanders to Clinton’s Democratic nomination. Both rest on their shared critique of Clinton-era free trade deals, and both opponents blame the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) and the permanent normalisation of trade relations with China in October 2000, which they say began a hollowing of US manufacturing that accelerated under George W Bush and Barack Obama.
Sanders in particular has singled out Clinton’s reform of welfare entitlements for exacerbating US poverty rates and removing a vital safety net once the economy turned sour.
The collapse in middle class incomes since the banking crash of 2008 can also arguably be traced back to Clinton’s decision to remove many of the restraints on Wall Street.
Recently revealed documents show two separate attempts by bank-friendly advisers, in 1995 and 1997, to hurry Clinton into a repeal of the Glass Steagall Act, which prevented investment banks, insurers and retail banks from merging.
A Financial Services Modernization Act was passed by Congress in 1999, giving retroactive clearance to the 1998 merger of Citigroup and Travelers Group. The law also unleashed a wave of Wall Street consolidation that was later blamed for forcing taxpayers to spend billions bailing out the enlarged banks after the sub-prime mortgage crisis.
Even Bill Clinton’s own Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, has become a major critic of the administration’s legacy – and emerged as a powerful cheerleader for Sanders instead.
As Sanders supporters come under pressure to rally around Clinton, Reich acknowledged this week that she would be preferable to Trump, but with words of faint praise.
“Don’t demonize or denigrate Hillary Clinton,” he wrote . “She’ll be an excellent president for the system we now have, even though Bernie would be the best president for the system we need.”
On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton has also become a magnet for critics of the criminal justice system, who claim his 1994 crime bill, passed during the so-called ‘war on drugs’, was responsible for incarcerating a lost generation of African-American men.
“I don’t know how you would characterise the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack, sent them out onto the street to murder other African American children,” he angrily told Black Lives Matter protestors last month . “You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter.”
Though the language sounded as dated as the policy, Clinton supporters argue some can be excused by the changing times and attitudes. Both Clintons, for example, have also been criticised by gay rights campaigners for supporting the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, when public support for same sex marriage was far less common or vocal.
Ultimately, however, such issues reveal the limits of relying on 90s nostalgia to help propel the Clintons back into the White House. Like grunge music, electronic pagers and Tamagotchi, the world has moved on a long way.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2016
Trump’s next 100 days will dictate whether he can be re-elected or not — here’s why
According to CNN pollster-in-residence Harry Enten, Donald Trump's next 100 days -- which could include an impeachment trial in the Senate -- will hold the key to whether he will remain president in 2020.
As Eten explains in a column for CNN, "His [Trump's] approval rating has been consistently low during his first term. Yet his supporters could always point out that approval ratings before an election year have not historically been correlated with reelection success. But by mid-March of an election year, approval ratings, though, become more predictive. Presidents with low approval ratings in mid-March of an election year tend to lose, while those with strong approval ratings tend to win in blowouts and those with middling approval ratings usually win by small margins."
After Trump: No free pass for Republicans — they own this nightmare
With the impeachment inquiry leveling up this month as public hearings begin, and with an election that might actually be the end of Donald Trump now less than a year away, the campaign to let Trump's Republican allies — even the most villainous offenders — move on and pretend this never happened is already underway.
This article first appeared in Salon.
Sadly, the clearest articulation of the let-bygones-be-bygones mentality has come from a Democrat — unsurprisingly, former Vice President Joe Biden.Biden, who is still, somehow, the frontrunner in Democratic primary polling, spoke at a chi-chi fundraiser on Wednesday, and dropped this pearl of wisdom: "With Donald Trump out of the way, you’re going to see a number of my Republican colleagues have an epiphany."
As climate crisis-fueled fires rage, fears grow of an ‘uninhabitable’ California
As activist Bill McKibben put it, "We've simply got to slow down the climate crisis."
With wildfires raging across California on Wednesday—and with portions of the state living under an unprecedented "Extreme Red Flag Warning" issued by the National Weather Service due to the severe conditions—some climate experts are openly wondering if this kind of harrowing "new normal" brought on by the climate crisis could make vast regions of the country entirely uninhabitable.