By, Morgan Crabtree
American journalist and author, Michael Tomasky, wrote a book detailing the life of Bill Clinton, in an effort to repair the damaged legacy left behind after Clinton’s infamous affair with Monica Lewinsky.
“When you think of Clinton you think of one thing,” Tomasky said during his talk at Politics and Prose on Wednesday night. “And that is Monica Lewinsky.”
Writing a book on the legacy of Clinton was not something Tomasky was enthusiastic about, but he soon realized that the Lewinsky scandal overshadowed many great things the former president was able to accomplish during his two terms.
“When I was asked to do this book I was hesitant,” Tomasky said. “But then I realized if he was able to make that party [Republicans] that crazy, there must be something I’m missing.”
The audience broke out into laughter. Tomasky then began to discuss Clinton’s involvement in the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 1995. The act would have made it illegal for women to get an abortion that required a procedure which would kill the living fetus after it was extracted. Clinton was adamantly opposed to the bill because the procedure was necessary in cases where the pregnancy put a mother’s life at risk. He vetoed the bill after it was passed through both houses of Congress.
“Public opinion was strongly against Clinton, republicans were screaming murderer and a lot of Democrats were caving.” Tomasky explained. “But he stood firm to veto.”
Many of the positions that Clinton held were rejected not only by Republicans, but also Democrats. Tomasky said that Clinton perpetually followed his moral compass, despite the lack of support from his own party, which allowed for progressive ideals to thrive during his presidency.
“He didn’t get credit for a lot in the time that he served because he had this slick willy reputation that went all the way back to the governor’s mansion,” Tomasky said.
Tomasky said prior to the scandal, Clinton was a success by solely having the ability to take back the White House from the Republicans after the Reagan era. The Democrats had lost three elections in a row and someone needed to reshape the party.
“If the Democrats had nominated another Mondale, they probably would have lost again and then where would they be?” Tomasky said. “Clinton pretty much saved the party.”
Tomasky said that the younger generation, today, has little to no appreciation for any of the good that he accomplished. The author explained that this is mostly because they do not understand that although his progressive positions do not seem to fit the standards of today’s times, they surpassed the standard of the 1990s.
Tomasky explained the president’s involvement with helping to restore a fair leader in Haiti almost immediately after Clinton was elected. He continued to discuss the focus Clinton had on welfare reform, immigration matters and the Israeli agreement.
The author said that Clinton also faced a challenge that was fairly new to politics, the 24-hour media cycle.
“Polarization started during Clinton’s term in the 1990s,” Tomasky said. “It was a concept that no president had ever been confronted with.
Although news outlets were able to uncover scandals like Watergate, there was no public need to know everything about a president’s personal life to the extent that one can see today.
“You had this 24/7 media machine with a conservative media apparatus that came together.” Tomasky said. “ And in a lot of ways, Clinton did not know how to handle it.”
The author explained how news outlets accused the Clinton administration of removing the “w” from all of the keyboards before having to vacate the White House. They were also accused of trashing the Old Executive Office Building. The claims were later discredited, but these allegations were the start of the typical sphere of fake news one can witness in modern times.
Tomasky said that if the Republican Party did not cause the government to shutdown, then the Lewinsky scandal would have never occurred.
“If there had been no rabidly partisan Gingrich effort to shutdown the government, the two of them never would have met,” Tomasky said.
Tomasky said that there was a conspiracy group known as the “elves”, consisting of a group of lawyers attempting to prove alleged rumors of an affair involving President Clinton true.
Nonetheless, despite the bad press surrounding the Lewinsky scandal, Tomasky said that Clinton’s approval rating never fell below 60%. The audience seemed to be surprised by this number, and he explained most people do not know this about Clinton because history and news tend to leave that out.
Tomasky said that the legacy left behind by Bill Clinton was subjected to a vast amount of criticism when Hilary Clinton decided to run for president. Tomasky that the attacks were not particularly just from the right, but instead Clinton “took a hit from the left, from the sander’s impetus.”
“Bernie Sanders and the occupyish of the wing, the economic populist wing, the anti-banker wing, really excoriated him,” Tomasky said.
The record of Clinton that had been positive for the Democrats in the 1990s and even throughout the Bush years was denounced, mostly in an effort to shed a poor light on Sander’s competitor Hilary Clinton.
“His legacy may be down right now,” Tomasky said. “But I think there will come a time when it will come back up, and that time, depending on how things go in these next four years, might be sooner than we think.”