Bill Clinton Meets Lefty Bloggers

Former President Bill Clinton met with a group of prominent lefty bloggers in his Harlem office yesterday. Jeralyn Merritt has an account of the meeting, down to the lunch menu.

Early commenters are having a field day with this:

Criminal defense lawyers take note: He’s far better on our issues than we thought while he was President, from mandatory minimums, to drug courts to restoring the right to vote to former offenders. I’m totally impressed.

Several spoilsports observe that his actions as president matter substantially more than what he’s telling bloggers now. True that.

It’s not inconceivable that Clinton’s views have simply changed over time. After all, it’s been nearly six years since he was president and he’s had time to reflect without the distraction of having to run the country (or, at least the executive branch). Indeed, my own views on some of those issues have gotten more libertarian/pragmatic, although I can’t pinpoint an exact timeline.

Second, he thought those things while in office but didn’t try to enact them into public policy for reasons cynical, political, or practical. Politicians have all manner of policy preferences that they don’t articulate because they’re unpopular, unfeasible, or trivial. There’s not much point in floating a controversial issue, spending capital that could be invested in one where you can do some good, if you have little chance of getting your way.

Given the old Vulcan proverb, “Only Nixon can go to China,” the latter is especially likely for a Democratic president attempting to govern as centrist. Had Clinton tried to reform our drug laws through some form of decriminalization, he’d have been tagged as “soft on crime.” And he’d have reignited the “but I didn’t inhale” controversy.

My guess is that rollback on the War on Drugs or rethinking of our sentencing laws will come from a Republican with strong crime fighting credentials. A President Giuliani, for example, could lead that effort and at least get a respectful hearing from the other side. A President (Bill or Hillary) Clinton? Not so much.

Conversely, a President (George HW/W) Bush could not have signed the Welfare Reform bill into law. No matter that Newt Gingrich and a Republican Congress forced it on him after he’d vetoed a very similar version, a President Clinton had the presumption that he cared about poor people necessary to “end welfare as we know it.”

Liberals are angry at Clinton for enacting so little of their agenda, just as conservatives are angry at Bush. But politics is the art of the possible. Rantings of the critics aside, presidents are not dictators who can govern by fiat. There are plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons to criticize Clinton and Bush; that they were insufficiently ideological is not among them.

UPDATE: Yet Another John notes that I omitted an obvious third possibility: Clinton’s a lying SOB. That crossed my mind, to be sure. He’s certainly not above lying and/or telling an audience what he thinks they want to hear to charm them. I’m actually inclined to believe him in this case, though, because these views comport with my sense of Clinton’s ideology as a liberal pragmatist.

Spelling error corrected.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    A President Guiliani, for example, could lead that effort and at least get a respectful hearing from the other side.

    Who’s the last president to be elected whose name was widely and frequently misspelled?

    Hey, it’s a factor.

  2. James Joyner says:

    A good point. I’ve looked it up numerous times and still frequently misspell it, never remembering whether it’s “iu” or “ui.” He definitely wouldn’t want to run as a write-in!

  3. PSoTD says:

    Probably Eisenhower.

  4. McGehee says:

    Conversely, a President (George HW/W) Bush could not have signed the Welfare Reform bill into law.

    I think that’s stretching just a tad. More accurate to say, “No President Bush could have signed the Welfare Reform bill without getting his chops thoroughly busted by the Washington press corps for typical Republican heartlessness.”

    Maybe neither would have signed it in hopes of avoiding bad press, but if Bush 41 got the bill after, say, reneging on “no new taxes,” the pressure from the base to sign welfare reform might have been hard to resist.

  5. James Joyner says:

    McG: Mostly, I mean the Democrats and their interest groups would have rallied to kill it with a Republican president. Dems get more slack on the social issues, like the Republicans do on crime and foreign policy.

  6. Anderson says:

    Probably Eisenhower.

    I was thinking Roosevelt, and remarking how “FDR” became his nickname for multiple reasons: distinction from Teddy, fits in headlines better … and saves people from having to spell “Roosevelt”?

    With Eisenhower, there’s “Ike,” just as Giuliani is known as “Rudy.” Doubt that non-tabloids would use either in a headline, though.

  7. So on the one hand we are to think that a man who pleaded no-contest to perjury would be telling the truth now even if that contradicts what was done before.

    I agree with all your assessment, but I think you could have at least mentioned the possibility that a man impeached (though not convicted) for perjury might just be lying and telling the lefty bloggers what he thinks they want to here.

  8. Cernig says:

    Makes you wonder what Bush will be telling the GOP’s cadre of “conference-call” bloggers in 6 years time.

    Regards, C

  9. Ray says:

    Who’s the last president to be elected whose name was widely and frequently misspelled?

    I don’t know about the latest, but here’s some I’m sure people had trouble (or fun) with: