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Bill Clinton really is a sign of how far to the right American institutions have lurched--while pilloried as a "socialist," he was actually more conservative, from a policy standpoint, than Bush Sr., his Republican predecessor, and, looking at him generically, his governance would have been regarded by any neutral observer as mainstream conservative Republican right up until he came into office.

Back in 1996, I assembled a sort of journal of that year's presidential campaign, and, in it, I had written a good deal about the conservative record of the Clinton administration. This article comes from that project. It's mostly one long entry I wrote on the subject, with a few shorter ones relating to points it raises; I've included the latter as footnotes. The "conventional wisdom" I sought to skewer in this piece is still with us. I hope it helps set the record straight.


07/16/96 (Tues.) -- Last night, Nightline gave us another stupid psuedo-analysis of the Clinton presidency, this one of a brand of which I have grown particularly weary.

Essentially, the story goes like this: After running for office as a Democratic Leadership Council New Democrat--a conservative--Bill Clinton took a hard turn to the left once elected, which proved to be unpopular and paved the way for the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. Then, reading in the `94 elections disaster for himself if he didn't "mend his ways," Clinton switched back to being a conservative again.

As an examination of the Clinton administration, this doesn't even reach the level of shallow analysis. Nor was it ever intended to; it is no more than a political myth manufactured by those on the right to serve their own narrow ends. Like so much of what the right says, though, this has been adopted without question by much of the corporate press, and, transformed into "conventional wisdom," has been repeated hundreds of times by hundreds of different commentators since Clinton's election. Some examples:

--Time magazine's Michael Duffy, in the November 14, 1994 issue, summed up the Clinton administration thusly: "Elected as a New Democrat, he stumbled during his first two years in office largely because he proposed Big Government solutions, like his health care plan, to a populace that thought it had already rejected them."

--Howard Fineman, in the November 21, 1994 Newsweek cover story, referred to "the New Democrat centrist themes" which Clinton "ran on in 1992 (and mostly forgot about after he was elected)."

--Dan Goodgame, in Time that same week, wrote, regarding the Republican takeover of Congress: "Several centrist officials held out hope that Tuesday's defeat will push Clinton back to the New Democrat themes that got him elected. Even Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, predicted to Time that the defeat will be 'very good' for Clinton by liberating him from 'catering to the far left' of his party."

--Michael Kramer, in the December 24, 1994 issue of Time, wrote (under the title "Reinventing Bill Clinton"): "Clinton embraced the DLC's 'New Democrat' nostrums to win middle-class votes in 1992. Since then he has largely abandoned the council's centrist ideas."

--Right-wing columnist Mona Charen, in her July 13, 1995 column, wrote of Clinton: "Once in office..., for reasons that historians will pull their hair out trying to understand, the president moved sharply to the left."

--In his July 11, 1996 column, Roll Call's Morton Kondracke wrote "In 1993, the DLC's former chairman, Bill Clinton, largely abandoned the group's 'New Democrat' principles in order to make peace with a liberal Democratic Congress."

Nightline told the same story last night. It's opening segment featured ABC political director Hal Bruno saying "During the first couple of years of his administration, he went off in some liberal directions. Now, it's election time. Now it's time to scamper back to the middle." The American Enterprise Institute's Norman Ornstien put the Clinton presidency in exactly the same terms. Correspondent Michel McQueen showed Clinton preaching conservative themes on the campaign trail, "but once in Washington, it seemed to some that a different man with a different agenda had taken office."

Not only does the record fail to bear out this interpretation, it shows exactly the opposite; that Clinton is a conservative, ran as a conservative, and, in the words of Progressive editor Mathew Rothschild, "has governed as a Republican." Clinton's priorities in office have always been straightforward conservative Republicanism--"free trade," balanced budget austerity, trimming bureacracy, anti-crime-ism, etc. He uses conservative rhetoric to sell his program, appealing to the same ignorance, hatred, and prejudices, and has never hesitated to employ the pernicious myths about everything from crime to welfare that conservatives have worked so tirelessly to ingrain in the public.

In Nightline's defense, the interview segment of the program probably broke new ground for the show in that it featured not one but two liberals--the Progressive's Mathew Rothschild and Harper's Lewis Lapham--who tried to refute the program's ridiculous premise, but this isn't a very stong defense because also on hand--seemingly only to insure that no semblance of a reasoned discussion broke out--was longtime Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who did his level best to reinforce the myth, in the process wasting a good deal of the limited time available with a string of prepared party soundbites and forcing the liberal guests to spend all their time responding to his nonsense. The program didn't allow much time to go into the Clinton record, which I've recently spent some time compiling.

Throughout his stint in public service, Clinton has worked rather slavishly to implement, in government, the whims of Big Business, and this is especially true in the case of his presidency. As the New York Times put it, Clinton "has done more for the Fortune 500 than virtually any other president in this century."

Organized labor never liked Clinton, who presided, as Arkansas governor, over a "right to work" state. The unions only supported him halfheartedly in the 1992 presidential contest after their favored candidate, Iowa Sen. Tom Harken, dropped out and endorsed him. Their concerns, it turns out, were genuine. Once in office, Clinton bent over backwards to accomodate Big Business at the expense of labor time and time again.

In the area of foreign trade, Clinton's major initiatives have been just a continuation of the Reagan and Bush policies of supporting corporate interests abroad.

Clinton continued the Bush policy of granting Most Favored Nation trade status for China, despite its abysmal (and ever-worsening) human rights record. When piracy of copyrighted American products became widespread, however, Clinton didn't hesitate to threaten sanctions against this practice. Like the previous administration, Clinton apparently considers it perfectly acceptable for a government to round up, torture, and murder its citizens for the crime of disagreeing with it, or to use those same citizens as slave labor for American businesses, as long as it doesn't allow copies of the products of those same American businesses to circulate without paying royalties demanded by those businesses.

Over the cries of the left, particularly of labor, Clinton joined congressional conservatives to push the Reagan-planned and Bush-written North American Free Trade Agreement through congress. NAFTA turned America's trade surplus with Mexico into a massive trade deficit in only a year, contributed to driving down wages on both sides of the border, and is rapidly turning Mexico into a toxic wasteland from the pollution generated by U.S.-based firms doing business there. Just as its liberal critics said it would. Later, when the Mexican peso collapsed at the end of 1994, Clinton rode in with a fat wad of public money to bail out the bankers who had sank billions of dollars in unwise loans into Mexico.

During the final meeting of the 103rd Congress, Clinton again spurned the left by teaming up with the Republican congressional leadership to ensure the passage of the latest round of the job-destroying GATT world trade agreement, setting up the World Trade Organization.

Wherever you look, the story is much the same.

There was the health care reform fiasco, where Clinton recognized the existence of the problem and realized something had to be done about it. Unfortunately, those were the last things he did right. This is likely the issue most cited by conservatives of Clinton's "liberalism." For example, in the Afterword to the paperback version of his book "See, I Told You So," Rush Limbaugh says of the Clinton proposal "this plan contemplates the wholesale takeover of a major segment of our economy. The proposed Clinton health care plan... calls for the almost complete assumption of control by the government." On his radio program in June 1994, Limbaugh said: "The health care plan is the single biggest example of the leftward movement we've had in this country in 50 years. This plan is really what I would say is the first serious attempt at socializing a portion of the American economy and bringing it totally under government control." The truth, of course, is that Clinton never gave even a moment's consideration to the single-payer health-care program favored by progressives, polling at the time with overwhelming public support, and publicly endorsed by 100 members of congress before the Clinton plan was even created. Clinton opted instead for an industry-friendly "managed competition" plan, mirroring, at every major point, an earlier plan put forward by his predecessor, George Bush. It had originally been the product of a Republican congressional task force under then-Republican House leader Bob Michel.

During the campaign and throughout his presidency, Clinton has said ad nauseum he wants to "end welfare as we know it."[1] Priority-wise, "welfare" is a tiny fraction of 1% of the federal budget. It isn't even something on the radar-screens of most liberals. It is, however, something against which conservatives have been been savagely railing since about 30 seconds after public aid to the needy began. Those same conservatives have also made giving "more power" to state governments an oft-raised issue in their rhetoric. Throughout its entire reign, the Clinton administration has made a priority of issuing wavers from federal rules to states who sought to completely rework their welfare systems, usually through applying draconian cuts. This isn't mere tokenism or political opportunism, either; 43 of the 50 states have received such waivers. Some Republican governors, such as Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, have become virtual rock-stars in the party for gutting their states' welfare programs as a consequence of these wavers.

Clinton makes a priority of loudly despising government bureacracy, and, since his election, his administration has made a priority of shaving it back. As Clinton himself pointed out as examples in his July 16, 1995 radio address: "We've already reduced government positions by 150,000, cut hundreds of government programs, eliminated 16,000 pages of regulations. We've cut the Small Business Administration regulations by 50%, the Department of Education regulations by 40%, the time it takes to fill out the EPA regulations by 25%. We're changing the way we enforce the regulations. We want less hassle. We want more compliance and less citations and fines." The Vice President's "Reinventing Government" project, set up shortly after the administration came to power, is designed specifically to streamline government operations. The administration, as of 1995, had trimmed the federal payroll to its lowest level since 1967.

Clinton, in February, proudly signed the monstrosity that was the Telecommunications Act, which was conceived and written directly by the telecommunications industry and passed by their hired lackeys in the Republican congress. On its "lighter" side, this law knees consumers right in the groin over and over again. It makes it easier to renew broadcast licenses and allows them to be renewed less frequently (making it more difficult for the public to challenge them). It essentially eliminates regulation of the rates your local cable monopoly can charge--when this was done in the mid-1980s, cable companies increased their rates at three times the rate of inflation--and makes it harder for consumers to contest rates. Worst of all, while making those who control the means of communications less and less accountable to the public, the central aim of the bill is to allow increased centralization of that control. It allows a single entity to control both your local telephone monopoly and your local cable monopoly. It greatly expands the number of television stations broadcast conglomerates will be able to own, and eliminates any restriction on how many radio stations they can own. That's right--ANY restriction. One company could legally own every radio station in the entire country. The centralization of media in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations has been a key factor in the virtual elimination of progressive views from the "mainstream" press (as the left itself has pointed out for decades).

The liberals hoped Al Gore's presence in the administration would make it more environmentally friendly, but as Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair point out in the May 1996 issue of the Progressive, that has certainly not been the case. From diluting the Safe Drinking Water Act to allowing new logging of old growth forests, from destroying the U.S. ban on the importation of PCBs to allowing further commercial use of ozone depleting methyl bromide, Clinton's policies have been a boon for Big Business and a bust for the environment. During his presidency, he's scored points with the environmentalist movement principally by blocking far worse Republican efforts to eliminate all environmental regulation. Even in this he's not completely clean--he signed the "unfunded mandates" legislation that was written by corporate lobbyists and passed by the Republican-run congress.

Clinton, like his two predecessors has demagogued the "crime" issue incessantly and the administration's first "anti-crime" package in 1993 simply repackaged the old and bad right-wing ideas of previous administrations.[2] On August 12, 1993, the Associated Press noted:

"Actually, to a large extent the anti-crime measure is a warmed-over version of one submitted to congress by former President Bush but never enacted by Congress. And, though Clinton sought to take credit for the measure himself, Republicans were quick to point out the measure's lineage. It's a no-lose issue for both parties."

The Bush-Clinton crime bill, worthy of its authors, played to popular right-wing prejudices rather than any real problems.

The bill limited federal habeus corpus appeals by death-row inmates, eliminating one more method of preventing innocent people from being executed, while at the same time expanding the federal death penalty to cover dozens of new crimes. Whereas liberals have generally opposed the death penalty for years, Clinton has always been an avid fan, at one point returning to Arkansas during the 1992 campaign to see to the execution of a man so mentally defective that he saved part of his last meal "for later."

The bill, reflecting the growing police-state mentality, spent more money on America's major growth industry--prisons--and, at a time when the U.S. already imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation in the world, provides more money to put more police on the streets to lock up even more citizens.

Clinton fought for and received a national version of the "three-strikes-and-you're-out" mandatory sentencing law currently all the rage in state governments across the country. Instituted in several states in the early 1990s, "three-strikes" laws, in their ugliest forms, have landed people in prison for 25-years-to-life without possibility of parole for such unpardonable offenses against society as shoplifting a can of beer and stealing a piece of pizza. The New York Times reported that, in California, two years after the law went into effect, "twice as many defendants have been imprisoned under the law for marijuana possession as for murder, rape, and kidnapping combined." As Rush Limbaugh said of three-strikes, "it's definitely not liberal."

Portions of the 1991 Bush crime bill, originally left out of the Clinton version, resurfaced in 1994 in the Clinton counter-terrorism bill, including a provision allowing secret evidence at secret trials to deport aliens accused of terrorism. Civil liberties groups opposed such measures as vehemently under Bush as under Clinton.

The Clinton administration drastically increased the use of federal wiretapping and other forms of government surveillance of citizens. Federal wiretapping and electronic surveillance increased nearly 50% in his first year in office alone. Overall, the increase in the number of federal surviellance orders in 1993 was the largest annual increase in a decade, and the number of those orders that same year was the highest since a 1968 law authorized such actions. A provision of the Clinton counter-terrorism proposal expands federal wiretapping authority even further.

Clinton signed into law, as part of the telecommunications bill, the brazenly unconstitutional Telecommunications Decency Act of 1996. The act makes it a criminal offense to transfer "any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image or other communication" deemed to be "indecent" to minors over the internet. Since there is no more way of knowing what "indecent" means for the purposes of the law than there is of knowing how old the person on the other end of a computer is, the statute makes it a criminal offense to post anything that could be considered controversial anywhere anyone could have access to it.

As this record suggests, President Clinton has publicly shown a quite casual disregard for civil liberties. When police wanted to make random, warrantless sweeps of housing projects in Chicago in search of weapons and drugs, Clinton spoke out publicly in favor of such blatantly unconstitutional search-and-seizures. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in June 1995, that a high-school athlete could be randomly tested for drug use, even when there is no reason to suspect the athlete is using drugs, Clinton hailed the ruling as sending "exactly the right message."

Clinton has supported right-wing measures to make the government itself more dictatorial and less representative. For example, since the earliest days of the 1992 campaign, Clinton had thrown his support behind the presidential line-item veto, which both of his Republican predecessors had tried to have enacted. This absurd scheme destroys the balance of power in the federal government, greatly stacking it in the President's favor. When the Republicans took congress in 1994, they had pledged to support the line item veto, then, faced with the danger of such legislation when their party didn't control the White House, they delayed, delayed, delayed, and hoped the issue would just go away. Eventually, though, they did pass a line-item veto and Clinton signed it into law. The end-product was laughable--Republicans loaded up the bill with provisions preventing the veto from being used against corporate subsidies and made it become law only in January 1997 when they hope a new President will be in office. The veto was also passed as a mere piece of legislation--there was never any suggestion to try for an irrevocable constitutional amendment. In this form it is patently unconstitutional, and will not stand a judicial review even if Clinton is reelected.

Clinton, after promising a cabinet more representative of America, appointed a larger number of wealthy people to his cabinet than either of the two previous insufferably elitist administrations, many of them connected, as was he, to the conservative Democratic Leadership Council. Whereas Reagan's cabinet contained 62% millionaires, and Bush's 71%, Clinton initial cabinet contained 77% millionaires.

Clinton could have left a legacy of liberalism to the judiciary. Over eight out of every ten judges in the federal judiciary when Clinton entered the presidency had been appointed by Republican administrations (over half of them by Reagan and Bush) and had shown, to put it kindly, great hostility to civil liberties, civil rights, and any kind of progressive reform. But Clinton, instead of fighting for more liberal-oriented judges to address this imbalance, has appointed mushy moderates broadly supported by both Republicans and Democrats. Bob Dole, who will be Clinton's opponent in November, voted for all but three of his 180+ judicial appointees. As noted in The Progressive (May 1996), Clinton recently boasted that his judges "have taken fewer 'pro-defendant' stances than the Republican appointees." Not exactly a record to brag about.

As if this wasn't bad enough, Clinton has made a practice of abandoning his judicial nominees in the rare instances when they are criticized by congressional conservatives. For example, when nominee Samuel Paz was attacked by several police organizations and reactionary congressmen for his legal representation of victims of police brutality, Clinton rapidly withdrew his name from consideration on the federal bench. Nominee Judith McConnel was savaged by the right for "anti-religious bigotry" because, in a case several years earlier, she had awarded custody of a 16-year-old to the homosexual partner of his deceased father instead of the boy's mother, a Pentacostal Christian. It mattered little to the critics that the boy had been kidnapped by his mother earlier in the custody dispute and held for nearly two years (eventually having to be tracked down by the FBI), or that he himself requested that he be placed with his father's partner; faced with criticism, Clinton dropped McConnel like a hot rock.

This has been the case with most of Clinton's other appointees, as well. When they faced criticism from the right, he refuses to support them. He backed off his nomination of Morton Halperin to be Assistant Secreatry of Defense after Halperin faced criticism for opposing the Vietnam war. He dumped his nomination of Lani Guinier to the civil rights division of the Justice Department without even a hearing after congressional Republicans went to the press and grossly distorted her writings on proportional representation. Given a chance to replace Reaganaught Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve--one of the most important positions the President will fill--Clinton chose instead to re-nominate him for another term as America's chief banker.

Clinton's overtures to the left, though they do exist, are infrequent and token, sometimes amounting to no more than a line in a speech, and they have always been politically calculated to mollify progressives, usually after he has slapped them in the face with one of his policies. None of these overtures can be said to represent a bold move to the left; they have generally had overwhelming public support, and, even at that, Clinton has demonstrated his willingness to abandon them whenever challenged. Conservatives in the Republican party have found it necessary to amplify anything that emerges from the administration bearing even the faintest whif of liberalism to absurdly disproportionate levels. For example, to this day, religious right demagogues try to appeal to the hate vote by playing up the fact that Clinton suggested ending discrimination against homosexuals in the military--Clinton abandoned this almost as quickly as he suggested it, eventually adopting a policy virtually identical to that which already existed. Clinton's Labor Secretary Robert Reich once suggested that corporate welfare was a bad thing, and this is constantly given as an example of the President's "socialist" tendencies, even though the White House immediately rebuked Reich, said the administration wouldn't even try to cut corporate welfare, and, to date, hasn't. Then there was Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders' suggestion that decriminalization of drugs should be studied--an exciting moment for drug reformers in the U.S., indeed! It prompted a swift reprimand from the White House and an assurance that there would be no such study ever made. This actually prompted Republican Senators and Representatives to appear on nationwide television demanding that she resign her office, and is now used as evidence that Clinton is "soft on crime."


08/01/96 (Thurs.) -- Yesterday afternoon, Clinton continued his crusade to convince the public there really is no difference between himself and a genuine Republican and agreed to sign the horrid welfare "reform" bill currently making the rounds in Congress. The bill is dredged almost entirely from the Republicans "Contract With America," and contains, among it's many sordid features, a two-year limit in the amount of time one can recieve welfare coupled with a five-year limit over one's entire lifetime, a requirement that single mothers identify the fathers of their children to the government as a condition of receiving benefits, a deep cut in the food stamp budget, and a provision allowing a complete cutoff of aid to immigrants. A just-completed study of the bill by the Urban Institute showed that about 1.1 million new children will be thrown into poverty by it and that family income among those affected by it would drop about $1,000 a year. Asked, on the campaign trail, about Clinton's announcement that he is signing the the bill, Bob Dole beamed "He's signing the Dole bill."

When he addressed the issue on his radio program, Rush Limbaugh had this to say: "The President of the United States, with a 24-point lead in the presidential preference poll over Bob Dole, has done the most conservative thing a president in this country has done since Ronald Reagan." Limbaugh then describes in great detail how, in doing this, Clinton was bucking the entire American left. (Limbaugh completely undermined his own main point--that the popularity of conservative ideas combined with Bill Clinton's relentless self-interest resulted in his signing the bill--by stressing that the President then had an overwhelming lead in the election.)

09/23/95 (Sat.) -- As in every other, we'll probably hear a lot about "crime" this election season. For the most part, crime rates in every major category have either remained stable or dropped since the early 1970s, but conservatives have never allowed such messy details to get in the way of a good issue. All this time, as crime has been dropping, right-wing politicians and well-funded propogandists have devoted decades of their time and millions of their dollars to creating the perception of a rising crime wave, abetted and even precipitated by a weak-willed criminal justice system that "coddles" criminals. The politicians then exploit this perception by promising to "get tough," and any reasonable approach to crime, or even any rational discussion of the subject, is summarily dismissed as "soft on crime." To their eternal discredit, the media have been complicit in this campaign, refusing to challenge the blatantly false assertions of "tough on crime" politicians while bombarding the public with a never ending stream of crime stories that seem to confirm those assertions. This has had two major effects; the public pretty consistently votes for the politicians who promise to "get tough," and the criminal justice system is on the verge of total collapse under the yoke of the atrocious policies those politicians have imposed upon it.

One can catch a glimpse of the coming end of the system in last month's report by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. As the AP reported, "a record 5.1 million Americans were either behind bars or on probation or parole at the end of last year, as prisons and jails overflow and the use of supervision in the community rises."

President Clinton is one of those politicians, and one of the atrocious policies he imposed on the system was his 1994 crime bill. As a thumb in the eye of those simple souls who thought they were voting for "change" in 1992, Clinton didn't even bother to concoct his own crime legislation; he simply adopted George Bush's failed crime bill as his own. Bespeaking of it's origins, the bill was loaded up with all manner of reactionary measures that do nothing about any actual crime problems but that do play to the fears and prejudices about crime the right had worked long and hard to instill in the white upper-middle-class. It was designed to give a Republican president a premise to crow about how his administration was "tough on crime." Bush failed to get it through Congress, though, and reaped no political rewards from it. Clinton, on the other hand, got it through, and now, it seems, he is looking for his payoff. Last month, he devoted one of his radio adresses to discussing what he called his "tough, sweeping crime bill," which, he said, "puts government firmly on the side of the people who abide by the law, not the criminals who break it." Who can argue with that? Only "narrow interest groups" didn't want the bill to pass, "and you can be sure the criminals didn't either." Surely, dastardly criminals everywhere were shaking in their boots at the prospect!

As the reader can imagine from these comments, Clinton's homage to his own effectiveness as a crimefighter was a pretty typical example of how crime is now dealt with in the public discourse. The lowest point came when, to show how the bill has worked, Clinton provided an example of how, offering the obligatory anecdote wherein the most extreme example is presented as the norm. In this case, he told the story of Thomas Farmer, "a violent career criminal in Iowa" whose life of crime--including armed robberies and multiple murders--Clinton of course described in great detail. "He committed one violent crime after another, and each time was paroled long before his sentence was up." The public has come to believe this is an everyday occurences in the criminal justice system because whenever a crime is committed by a multiple violent offender, it recieves widespread saturation coverage in the corporate press.

In Clinton's spiel, not only is Farmer not grossly atypical--he is no less than "a textbook case of what's wrong with our criminal justice system":

"No wonder law-abiding Americans are fed up with a system that lets too many career criminals get out of jail free. If Thomas Farmer had been convicted in state court again, he might have been out on the street again in less than three years. But our three strikes and you're out law slammed that revolving door shut. Thomas Farmer has made a life of violent crime; now he will pay for the rest of his life behind bars where he belongs."

Without a liberal in the presidential race, this isn't the sort of information we'll be hearing about from our presidential candidates next year. In what sounded suspiciously like a campaign pledge, Clinton said "I'll keep doing everything in my power to ensure that those who commit crimes are caught, those who are caught are convicted, those who are convicted are punished, and those who have made a life of crime spend the rest of their lives behind bars."

From the AP: "Already bulging, state and federal prisons squeezed in 83,000 more inmates last year for the second-biggest increase ever and a record population of more than 1 million in such institutions."

Last year the Justice Department released a study of the federal prison population showing, in the words of AP writer Michael Sniffen: "Nonviolent, petty drug offenders account for more than one in five federal inmates, and it costs more than $326 million a year to keep them in prison." The study found that "21.5% of federal inmates have no violence on their records, no involvement in sophisticated criminal activity and no previous prison time." Each of these individuals are locked up at an annual cost of $20,000 a year.

08/24/96 (Sat.)
The new issue of the Progressive has a fantastic piece about Clinton's judicial nominees. Writer John Nichols sums it up this way: "Since coming to the White House in 1993, Bill Clinton has consistently failed to advance nominees for federal judgeships who carry even the faintest whiff of liberalism... So fawning has the President been in courting Republican approval that, as of mid-1996, 182 of 187 Clinton judicial nominees that had come to a Senate vote were approved without any Republican opposition." Nichols points out the work of Ronald Stidham, a political science professor at Appalachian State University who "has analyzed the ideological underpinnings of almost 28,000 federal court decisions made since 1968." Stidham's conclusion is that, in his words, "Clinton's picks are far more conservative than Jimmy Carter's... Clinton appointees are about as liberal as Gerald Ford's. In fact, the Clinton judges aren't all that much more liberal than Nixon's." On civil liberties issues, Nichols writes, "federal district-court appointees by Carter have issued liberal rulings 52 percent of the time, according to Stidham's research. Ford appointees have been in the liberal column 39 percent of the time, while Nixon's achieved a 37 percent liberal rating. The Clinton appointees ruled on the liberal side only 35 percent of the time, just two percentage points better than the appointees of Reagan and Bush." On labor and economic issues, "Clinton's appointees to court-of-appeals positions have issued liberal decisions at precisely the same rate--50 percent of the time--as have Ronald Reagan's picks." Earlier this year, Clinton bragged that his judges have made fewer pro-defendant rulings than those of Reagan or Bush.

This is important in relation to the campaign in two respects. First, Bob Dole, for whatever reason, is once again making an issue of Clinton's so-called liberal court appointments. Earlier this year, Dole shied away from these attacks when it was revealed that he had voted for all but three of the Clinton nominees, but in his speech to the Republican convention he pressed the matter once again in a most demagogic fashion: "For those who say that I should not make President Clinton's liberal judicial appointments an issue in this campaign, I have a simple response; I have heard your arguments. The motion is denied." Lots of applause. Whatever else one may be said about this development, his raising the subject again shows he is fully confident that the "liberal press," as he and his Republican cohorts say, will never call him on the facts (and, indeed, so far they haven't). Second, the matter of the court appointees is important because it bursts the bubble of a common liberal rationalization for voting for conservative Democrat Clinton; that, if a Republican wins, the horror of the 1980s, when a conscious effort was made to stack the federal courts with reactionary ideologues, will repeat. Clinton can't use the court as a selling point of his candidacy to frustrated liberals.

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