Clinton Achievements Called Dubious, at Best

By Cheryl K. Chumley | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

( - With the remainder of the Clinton Administration being measured by some in hours and the desire for a "Clinton Legacy" to be firmly established, a White House summation of the past eight years credits President Bill Clinton with wide-spread accomplishments in such areas as the economy, education, and crime.

But the summary is bulging with misleading claims and misconceptions, according to a wide variety of policy analysts.

"The main thing to emphasize is so much of this progress had already been launched before Clinton became president," said Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth, an organization comprised of members who favor former President Ronald Reagan's vision of limited government.

Moore, addressing nearly a dozen economic expansion advances claimed by Clinton, said the current administration could take credit for only two fiscal policy successes.

"His trade policy ... promoting free trade, has been very effective," Moore said, pointing to NAFTA and GATT as examples. "Also, his monetary policy. He reappointed Alan Greenspan twice to the federal reserve board ... and [gave] Greenspan the authority to do what he did."

Insofar as the administration laying claim to the "longest economic expansion in American history," the creation of "more than 22 million new jobs," and the "lowest unemployment rate in 30 years," as outlined on the White House Internet site, Clinton's level of involvement is over-exaggerated, said a scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

"The economy had turned around before [former President George] Bush left office," said James DeLong, a senior fellow in the project on technology and innovation at the free-enterprise think-tank. "But it was only after the Republicans took office in '94 that the stock market took off."

In fact, much of the economic growth experienced in the last few years was due to Reagan policies, implemented with a view toward the future, Moore said, or to the mettle of congressional Republicans who engaged in prolonged battles with Clinton to gain the approval of various measures.

"The balanced budget ... was quite a success," he said, "and [also] the welfare reform bill, though Clinton vetoed it twice before he passed it. The capital gains tax cut of 1997 was a success, too, though he vetoed that twice, also."

Perhaps Clinton's greatest contribution to the perceived booming economy seen the past few years was adopting a hands-off approach, according to DeLong, and allowing such experts as his former Department of Treasury secretaries Robert Rubin and Lloyd Bentsen the authority to implement their strategies.

"Clinton's original [economic policy] proposal would have inhibited the recovery" that began under Bush, he said. "But Clinton's people sort of kept him from doing those things that would have destroyed the economy."

The current administration has also taken credit for overseeing the "lowest federal income tax burden in 35 years" - while ignoring statistics that show Americans now shoulder the largest overall tax burden in years - and pushing through Congress the biggest tax increase in American history.

"That one sounds awfully funny to me," said DeLong, in reference to the latter claim. "People look at family income more than per capita income, so you can play all sorts of games with that."

But the economy is just one area covered in the White House release of Clinton's accomplishments.

In the field of education, the White House gives Clinton credit for raising "education standards," "increasing school choice," doubling "education and training investment," connecting "95 percent of schools to the Internet," and creating the "largest expansion of college opportunity since the G.I. Bill."

Those statements are misleading characterizations of achievements, said Michelle Easton, president of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute and the former president of the Virginia Board of Education, except for those who favor consistent increased tax dollar expenditures or "investments" on the school system.

"It sounds like they're just claiming credit for all sorts of absurd things," she said, explaining how many of those successes could be attributed to state and local policies, rather than federal.

"The federal government has nothing to do with [standards]," Easton said. "They might sling a little money ... but for the Clinton Administration to claim credit for standards is just a total joke."

As in the case with the economic analysts, Easton said Clinton's greatest accomplishments in the educational arena were seen during the times he adopted a hands-off attitude, so that state officials could then exert their influences upon local systems to demand increased standards.

She also said both the computer and college opportunity expansions were not convincing successes.

"It's not a big issue for me, but for a lot of conservatives, to force families whose children don't go to college to subsidize others, is wrong," said Easton, explaining the controversy with Clinton's college financial aid increases. "Also, in my mind, I would not be buying computers in schools where students can't read, yet ... it's a matter of priority."

Morgan O. Reynolds, director of the criminal justice department for the National Center for Policy Analysis could not be reached for comment, but his essay posted on the organization's Internet site raised questions with Clinton's reported achievements on the topic of crime.

Clinton's "comprehensive anti-crime strategy of tough penalties" and insistence for "more police" and "smart prevention" has culminated with a record that boasts a decline in overall crime for the past eight years, "the longest continuous drop on record," the White House reported.

Analysts speaking to the issue in the past have said local and state enforcement techniques have generated the greater decreases in crime, as in New York, when "get tough" policies allowed police to arrest citizens for such infractions as spitting on the sidewalk. Criticized by many, including civil rights activists, the measures were also viewed as the base reasons behind New York City's lowered crime rates.

Reynolds did not address the importance of state and local strategies in his essay on crime, but instead debated a point not taken under consideration in the White House's claim of success.

While he agreed the country has seen a decrease in many types of crimes these past few years - since the 1980's, he said, because "as prisons filled, crime fell" - statistics indicating the numbers of juvenile offenders have continued to increase throughout the years of the Clinton administration.