by Dave Kopel
Orange County Register. Dec. 19, 1993. En Español. More by Kopel on American political history of the late 20th century.
As President Clinton completes his first year in office, analysts cannot avoid recognizing the vast amount of new legislation that was enacted this year under presidential leadership. Indeed, the US hasn't seen so much legislative accomplishment since, well, since President Bush's first year in office. While Democratic and Republican partisans tend to magnify the difference between the Bush and Clinton administrations, it becoming clearer than ever that we're in the middle of what may one day be known as "The Bush-Clinton Years."
Certainly the Bush and Clinton foreign policies are essentially similar. In Russian affairs, an interest in the status quo persuaded both presidents to back the incumbent Russian autocrat (first Gorbachev, then Yeltsin), against more democratic Russian critics. In the Third World, Bush and Clinton presided over an American invasion of Somalia, and neither man could articulate a plausible reason why the US was involved. Even Haitian refugees, an object of great sympathy during the Clinton campaign, are being shipped back to Haiti just as fast in the second half of the Bush-Clinton administration as they were in the first half.
The domestic policies of the Bush-Clinton years also show great continuity. President Bush signed the largest tax increase in American history, but his record survived only three years, until President Clinton garnered an even larger tax increase. And both Bush and Clinton won their election by falsely promising the American people no new taxes (in Bush's case), or a tax cut for the middle class (in Clinton's case).
New regulations are streaming off the federal printing presses as fast as bureaucrats can write them. This heavy pace of rule-making under Clinton simply continues a trend begun under the Bush administration, which, during all but that last year of Bush's tenure, reversed the Reagan trend of de-regulation.
Federal criminal justice policy likewise continues the same. Despite some cautionary words for Attorney General Reno, nothing has changed regarding the devotion of most of the federal crime-fighting effort to drug control. All of the Bush administration mandatory minimums for first-time drug offenders remain in place, and are being vigorously enforced by the Clinton administration.
Gun control attracts more rhetoric from Clinton, but it was George Bush, after all, who single-handedly gave the gun control lobby its greatest public relations coup ever, with the ban on the import of politically incorrect semi-automatic firearms. And it was under the Bush administration when the Centers for Disease Control began using federal take dollars to begin agitating for gun control as a "public health" issue.
Regarding education, President Clinton continues the Bush policy of imposing curriculum fads such as "Outcome Based Education" on local school districts. And while candidates Bush and Clinton stumped enthusiastically for tough welfare reform, the Bush-Clinton administration has showed no interest in actually implementing reform.
The stylistic similarities of Bush-Clinton are also striking. In both administrations, there is a preoccupation with "spin" to the exclusion of content. With both presidents, there is good cause to wonder what it is that motivated the drive for the presidency in the first place, other than a quest for position. There is no sense of ideological mission as there was with Ronald Reagan or (in a different way) with Jimmy Carter.
Both Presidents Bush and Clinton claimed to have voting addresses in the American South (Texas for Bush, Arkansas for Clinton). But the hearts and minds of both men had situated themselves solidly inside the Beltway, long before either man announced his candidacy. Unlike Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, the candidates did not run "against" Washington; and in the Presidential primaries, both men received essential support from the inside the beltway crowd, defeating candidates (such as Pat Robertson and Paul Tsongas) who were viewed as uncontrollable and uncompromising by inside Washington.
Of course there are some clear differences between the Clinton and Bush policies, such as abortion. But even here, there are notable similarities: both George Bush and Bill Clinton abandoned moderate policies on the abortion question, and took up absolutist positions to satisfy interest groups within their own national party.
As much as the two halves of Bush-Clinton sniped at each other during the 1992 campaign, it was clear to many voters that both candidates supported more taxes, more spending, more deficits. more regulation, and more growth of the federal government -- all under the supervision of a spin-controlled, philosophically rootless administration. The similarities between Bush and Clinton perhaps explain what a candidate with as many weaknesses as Ross Perot gained 19% of the vote; many people felt that the Bush-Clinton "choice" was a meaningless as the choice between Crest and Colgate.