Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Bill Clinton Propaganda Machine

Were it not for her occasional factual inaccuracies Alessandra Stanley would be widely hailed as one of the best television critics around. 

Still, Stanley is a highly respected and intelligent critic. Given her perch at the New York Times she is also very influential. Like her or not she writes exceptionally well. Even if she gets an occasional fact wrong, she often has interesting things to say.

I do not know her politics, but I suspect that she was not an avid supporter of the Bush administration.

Three days ago, in a review of the two-part Clinton documentary that was just shown on PBS, Stanley outdid herself… in the good sense of the word. Link here.

For the record, I have not seen the documentary.

Stanley found the film to be “fun to watch,” but she took it to task for presenting a grossly distorted view of Bill Clinton and his place in American history. She did not say it in quite this way, but she was criticizing the film for being liberal propaganda.

By emphasizing the Lewinsky affair the film, Stanley said, failed to consider the role that Bill Clinton and his administration played in two great American crises: the 9/11 terrorist attack and the financial crisis of 2008.

In Stanley's opinion, the documentary whitewashed Clinton’s role in creating the conditions that led to those crises.

We all know, because we have been told ad nauseam, that the Bush administration bears fundamental responsibility for the 9/11 terror attacks and for the financial crisis of 2008.

Remember the 9/11 Commission. It was established to investigate the root causes of the attack on the World Trade Center. Democratic members seemed to understand how to make good use of the committee. Republican members did not.

Democrats were allowed to achieve their goal: to ensure that the public mind associated 9/11 with Bush and not with the Clinton administration.

Similarly, public discussion of the financial crisis tends to put the onus on the Bush administration. Most people believe that George Bush was responsible for the crisis. They see Bill Clinton as something of a national hero.

The real story of Bill Clinton, Stanley was suggesting, is how he managed so effectively to escape responsibility, not for Monica Lewinsky, but for his policy failures.

Apparently the PBS documentary presented Clinton’s story as one of sin and redemption. It pretended to expose Clinton’s faults, but by limiting them to sex, it missed the larger picture.

Stanley explained: “The film breathlessly chronicles every misstep and triumphant comeback of Mr. Clinton’s picaresque career in order to rue the damage his lifelong recklessness did to his reputation and his legacy. (Though actually, despite all that happened between 1992 and 2001, the former president is doing just fine.)”

Having gotten warmed up, Stanley moved on to raise the most salient issues about the Clinton presidency:

Yet two of the major cataclysms shadowing our times, the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2008 credit collapse, have roots that reach back to the Clinton administration.

The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which turned out to be a dress rehearsal for Sept. 11, isn’t included in the narrative. The rise of Osama Bin Laden and the failed missile strikes against Al Qaeda training camps in 1998 are noted in passing and presented almost as a pesky foreign policy crisis that briefly distracted Mr. Clinton from the more enduring Monica Lewinsky scandal.

And there is no mention whatsoever of the repeal of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, one of several fateful steps that the Clinton administration — in concert with Republicans — took in the name of deregulation. Some policies, like making home mortgages more accessible, helped fuel the economy, but they also heedlessly left Wall Street and other financial institutions free of adult supervision. With the help of the Bush administration that followed, those actions opened the way to derivatives trading that led to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and a domino line of multibillion-dollar bailouts to prevent the implosion of the world’s financial system.

Of course, Stanley saw that the Bush administration bears some responsibility, but still, she made clear that Bill Clinton set the stage and laid the foundation for those “cataclysms.”

Clinton is not the only one who escapes responsibility. Think about the role that Robert Rubin played in the financial crisis, as a leading figure in the Clinton administration and a top executive at Citigroup.

Stanley rightly took offense at the way Rubin was portrayed in the documentary.

Put it this way: Robert E. Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, is one of many Clinton administration alumni interviewed on camera, and while the PBS crew spoke to Mr. Rubin in 2010, he wasn’t asked about Glass-Steagall or any of the other decisions that he helped design and that after the 2008 credit debacle look so shortsighted. Mr. Rubin went on to become a top official at Citigroup and earned more than $100 million over 10 years — until Citigroup also teetered on the edge of self-destruction and had to be rescued with a $45 billion bailout.

Instead, Mr. Rubin is asked about the administration’s 1993 budget proposal to cut spending and raise taxes. “Twenty-two million new jobs were created,” Mr. Rubin says proudly. “Productivity went up. Incomes rose at all levels. And, for the first time in 30 years, we had a federal surplus.”

Just think, you read it in the New York Times. Of course, it didn’t make the op-ed page or the editorial page, but still….

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