"Which is worse? The wolf who cries before eating the lamb or the wolf who does not."— Leo Tolstoy

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Opportunity Lost: Clinton . American Experience | PBS

Clinton . American Experience . WGBH | PBS

I just watched PBS' "American Experience" documentary on the Clinton presidency. I can see why the Clintons were reportedly upset about it. While it is a very fair account of Clinton's presidency, the second half  of the documentary can only be described as depressing.

I think the film puts to rest the claim that Clinton's impeachment was simply over "sex," as it details in perfect context the circumstances under which he suborned perjury and lied under oath. While the Senate didn't convict him following his impeachment by the House of Representatives, he was held in contempt  by a United States District Court Judge, disbarred from the United States Supreme Court bar and disciplined by the  State of Arkansas bar for this conduct. A president is not only the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, but he also oversees the Department of Justice. The FBI's motto - "the Rule of Law Not Men" - applies first and foremost to the President.

The one thing that the documentary failed to adequately cover is the impact that the Clinton impeachment has had on America's political discourse. It caused an absolute sea change in American politics and Congress has been in virtual gridlock ever since. I worked in Congress for a semester during college and saw how the Democratic and the Republican members worked together under the stewardship of Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neil.  It has never been the same since the impeachment trial. The scandal also ushered in the age of cable television news and the 24 hour news cycle which has a created a public suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder. TV news - with a few exceptions - has become a cacophony  of people yelling over other and no one listening.

The unmistakable conclusion of the documentary was that Clinton's second term - given his enormous talents as a politician - was a wasted opportunity of epic proportions. Harold Ickes anger and disappointment in President Clinton is almost palpable as he is being interviewed. The last person to speak in the documentary is journalist Joe Klein who made a feeble argument that it was not a lost opportunity and then said, almost as an after thought, "and wasn't it fun to watch."

No, Joe, it wasn't fun to watch. It was interesting to watch the same way a car crash at the race track is interesting to watch. By the end, it was an excruciating exercise in political cannibalism that made me cringe. It also turned too many young people into cynical slaves to faction who view the political process as a paranoid "Spy v. Spy" world where disagreements are never resolved and where the Nation's problems are never solved.

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