When Bill Clinton spoke at the Democratic National Convention, he took credit for balancing the budget. That Clinton basked in his achievement, of course, surprises no one. Nor is it surprising the media failed to remind people of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and his role in pulling this off.
Still, at one time, the media, without reservation, gave credit to Gingrich for making a balanced budget a priority — and for pushing Clinton toward the center to achieve it. Back then, even when writing negatively about Gingrich, the major media routinely credited Gingrich with pushing a recalcitrant President Clinton toward a balanced budget.
Let's go to the videotape:
In 1995, Time magazine named Newt Gingrich "Man of the Year": "Leaders make things possible. Exceptional leaders make them inevitable. Newt Gingrich belongs in the category of the exceptional. All year — ruthlessly, brilliantly, obnoxiously — he worked at hammering together inevitabilities: a balanced federal budget, for one. ... Today, because of Gingrich (emphasis added), the question is not whether a balanced-budget plan will come to pass but when.
"Gingrich has changed the center of gravity. From Franklin Roosevelt onward, Americans came to accept the federal government as the solution to problems, a vast parental presence. ... Newt Gingrich wants to reverse the physics, make American government truly centrifugal, with power flowing out of Washington, devolving to the states."
And what of Clinton's role?
Time continues: "Having organized an insurrectionist crew in the House, Gingrich seized the initiative from a temporarily passive president (emphasis added) and steered the country onto a heading that the speaker accurately proclaimed to be revolutionary."
In 1996, Newsweek's Evan Thomas wrote: "More than anything else, Gingrich wanted to dismantle the 'beauractic welfare state.' To do that, he understood, he had to attack Congress' addiction to deficit spending. When he assumed power in 1995, he consulted CEOs who had downsized their own companies; they advised him to stake out bold positions and force others to follow. ... Under Gingrich the House passed a budget that truly restrained the growth of federal spending."
In 1998, Time's Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy wrote: "If Clinton has always had a gift for turning weakness into opportunity, Gingrich has a gift for turning opportunity into rubble. Newt was the one who made unbalanced budgets a thing of the past, but it was Clinton who somehow got credit for it (emphasis added), rode to re-election (and) hauled his own party toward a more sensible center. ... Voters might have retired Clinton in 1996 for moving too far to the left (emphasis added) had Gingrich not come along and yanked the whole enterprise too far to the right."
Even the current Bill Clinton biography entry in The New York Times reads: "Mr. Clinton sought to remake a once-broken Democratic Party in a more centrist mold. ... Part of Mr. Clinton's centrism came out of necessity (emphasis added). After the attempt to reform the health care system, led by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, foundered, Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress in 1994, ending four decades of control of the House."
But collective amnesia apparently set in, and many in the media no longer give Gingrich the credit they once did.
About Clinton's speech at the Democratic convention, the Los Angeles Times, for example, wrote: "Clinton's endorsement was meant to signal a 'good economy seal of approval' for Obama, a promise that Obama's policies will bring back the peace and prosperity of the 1990s, when a booming economy created millions of jobs, stocks soared and a flood of tax revenues helped balance the federal budget for the first time in a generation. ... Clinton, who served from 1993 to 2001, came into office at the end of a recession (emphasis added) and is credited by some for helping the nation achieve a budget surplus. With millions still out of work and trillion-dollar deficits sending the national debt soaring, Obama is looking for Clinton to vouch for his approach.
"Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said that Clinton has 'enormous credibility' with voters — and not just Democrats — because of his handling of the economy and the national debt. He 'knows how to explain difficult economic ideas in a way that everyone can relate to, not just in a historical context, but in a way that really touches people,' she said. 'People trust him on economic issues, and he's an important person to discuss how we got where we are and what is the choice we need to make between two different directions.'"
The recession ended 22 months before Clinton took office. Gross domestic product growth the quarter before Clinton took over was a snappy 4.2 percent. And the lengthy Times article makes no mention of Gingrich or the Republican Congress of the '90s.
Bill Clinton's genius lies in abandoning liberal positions — whether HillaryCare or a multibillion dollar "stimulus plan" — while convincing his supporters he did no such thing. Dazzling. The man could talk a monkey out of his last peanut — and sell it back at list price.
Larry Elder is a best-selling author and radio talk-show host. To find out more about Larry Elder, or become an "Elderado," visit www.LarryElder.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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