AP's Cynical '2-for-1' Hill-Bill Story Revises Political and Economic History

May 19th, 2016 12:18 PM

Three offensive elements pervaded the Associated Press's Monday coverage of Hillary Clinton's statement that she will put her husband "in charge of revitalizing the economy."

The first was how AP reporters Lisa Lerer and Catherin Lucey decided to resurrect the infamous "2-for-1 offer" then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton campaigned on in 1992 — an especially weak move, given its real-world results during the first two years of his presidency. The second was the reporters' implicit assumption that political beliefs are infinitely fungible if the old ones are getting in the way of a leftist's march towards victory. Finally, the AP pair engaged in blatant historical revisionism in glorifying the economy of the 1990s.

Concerning the "2-for-1 offer," Lerer and Lucey thought it was so cool to be able to write about that again that they stole a label from former Alaska Governor and 2008 GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (bolds are mine throughout this post):

Hillary Clinton and the 2-for-1 Presidency

The notion of a 2-for-1 Clinton presidency is back.

Recalling sunnier days of growth, low unemployment and budget surpluses under her husband, Hillary Clinton is telling Americans that Bill Clinton will be "in charge of revitalizing the economy" if she wins the White House.

... The situation is highly unusual: Not only would Clinton be the first president to have a "First Dude," she'd also be the first to have a former president in the East Wing.

Now, facing a two-front fight against Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, she's stressing that Bill Clinton would be an asset in her administration, particularly with the kind of Southern white voters who once backed him but now are drawn to Trump.

Yours truly hates to break it to you, Lisa and Catherine, but the vast majority of "Southern white voters" abandoned any loyalty they once had to Bill Clinton two decades ago. Hillary can affect her Southern accent and Bill can do his good-old-boy act until the cows come home, and that won't change.

As to "First Dude," that's a direct ripoff (without attribution) of Palin, who was referring to husband Todd with that label nine years ago.

What we should remember about the "2-for-1" offer itself is how poorly it worked out over two decades ago. After he was elected, President Bill Clinton put Hillary in charge of creating government-run health care. Her byzantine, secretive effort failed miserably. A 1993 Heritage Foundation evaluation of the bill President Clinton sent to Congress explains why:

Emerging from the complex language of this huge bill is a massive top-down, bureaucratic command-and-control system that would meticulously govern virtually every aspect of the delivery and the financing of health care services for the American people. As The Economist of London observes, "Not since Franklin Roosevelt's War Production Board has it been suggested that so large a part of the American economy should suddenly be brought under government control."

Nothing resulting from Mrs. Clinton's efforts even got to the point of a congressional committee vote.

The AP's expressed eagerness for another "2-for-1" presidency is hard to square with the last one's disastrous (from the left's perspective) results.

Now let's look at the AP reporters' painfully obvious cynicism:

... as the party has shifted to the left during the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton repeatedly found herself forced to repudiate key pieces of her husband's legacy during her primary campaign. She's distanced herself from the North American Free Trade Agreement, the federal law that defined marriage as between one man and one woman, and the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that banned gays and lesbians from military service. Hillary Clinton has also faced criticism for backing the 1994 crime bill, which led to tougher sentencing for drug offenses.

Nobody has "forced" Mrs. Clinton to do anything. During her husband's presidency, we never heard a word from her in opposition to NAFTA, the Defense of Marriage Act, "don't ask, don't tell," or the 1994 crime bill. In 2004, she stridently backed “the fundamental bedrock principle that ... (marriage is) between a man and a woman."

But apparently at the Associated Press (and in most of the rest of the establishment press), talk of "fundamental bedrock principles" is ultimately nothing but meaningless political posturing. If you're a Democrat or a leftist, you can be "forced" out of those positions by changing circumstances, particularly the need to win a political campaign, without adverse consequences or media criticism.

Finally, there's the AP pair's take on the 1990s economy:

... Bill Clinton reigned over a strong economy, especially in the final years of his presidency, yet his economic legacy is mixed.

The late 1990s were the last period to see sustained income gains for the typical American household. Middle-income wages have stagnated since then.

But his refusal to step up regulation of exotic financial instruments known as derivatives was blamed in large measure for the collapse of the financial sector years later. The tech bubble of his time burst. And his agenda was driven by support for free trade deals, including one that gave China better access to the U.S. market, that are held responsible by elements of both parties for driving jobs out of the country.

... Late in Clinton's presidency, unemployment dropped to 3.9 percent, its lowest level since 1970. It's 5 percent now — and he set a record in monthly job growth in the post-World War II era. Growth averaged 3.8 percent, better than the record under Ronald Reagan and a far cry from the 0.5 percent of the last quarter or the 1.4 percent of the quarter before. But Clinton also came to office when a recession was ending; Barack Obama stepped into a worsening one that would be unrivaled since the Depression.

Addressing the bolded items above:

  • And as I explained in an earlier post, the GOP-led Congresses of the 1990s get the lion's share of the credit for the prosperity seen during the last half of that decade. One element I did not mention in that post, also a GOP-led effort which improved the economy, was the 1996 welfare reform effort.
  • Middle-income wages and earnings haven't "stagnated" since the turn of the century. They've declined, but that decline didn't become sustained until the past seven years. As seen here, inflation-adjusted median household income reported by the Census Bureau declined in the early 2000s, but returned to within 1 percent of its 1999 peak of $57,843 in 2007 ($57,357). During the next five years, it fell by over 8 percent (to $52,605 in 2012). As of 2014, at $53,657, remained 6.5 percent below where it was in 2007. Barack Obama's talk-down-the-economy 2008 campaign and his presidential administration's economic policies are to blame.
  • The AP pair had nothing to say about how Democrat-driven housing policies and government-sponsored home-loan enterprises contributed to the financial sector collapse and led to the most recent recession. They also didn't cite lax regulation as a heavy contributor to the tech bubble Bill Clinton passed on to his successor, George W. Bush.
  • Ronald Reagan inherited the Jimmy Carter recession, very high unemployment, and double-digit inflation. Once Reagan's supply-side tax-cut policies took meaningful effect in 1983, the economy saw average annual growth of 4.6 percent during the next seven years. Memo to Lerer and Lucey: 4.6 percent is higher than 3.8 percent. Clinton, though he whined about the "worst economy in the past 50 years" during his 1992 presidential campaign, did not inherit a recession. The economy that year grew by 3.6 percent, and he had nothing to do with it.

All in all, wire service reporters Lerer and Lucey did an all too typical miserable job. One can't help but sympathize with historians decades from now who will have to sift through and ultimately reject garbage such as this from AP as they seek the truth.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.