Thursday, May 25, 2006

# Posted 11:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLINTON PRAISES LINCOLN: Commencement addresses in lower Manhattan are all the rage these days. On Tuesday, Bill Clinton gave one at Cooper Union (Hat tip: TMV), in which he spoke about Abraham Lincoln's historic address at Cooper Union in 1860:
By today's standards, Lincoln's address was highly unusual. It was long, about 3,200 words. He did an exhaustive amount of research into the questions of what the 39 signers of the constitution believed about the power of the federal government to limit slavery. He wrote every word himself. And he made a highly reasoned argument for his position based on the facts he found. The speech offered a minimum of rhetorical flourish and political potshots.
So did follow the example set by the Great Empancipator? Judge for yourself:
I came here in 1993, to make my case for my new economic plan, a dramatic reversal of the "trickle down" theory of the previous 12 years which had quadrupled the national debt, increased poverty, concentrated extreme wealth in few hands, and left middle class wages stagnant.
Which is a pretty fair summary of the US economy in the 1980s, at least as remembered by The Nation.
I made the case for a controversial "invest and grow plan" that was fiscally conservative but socially progressive, raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, reducing them for lower income working families, cutting less essential government spending and investing more in education and new technologies to fuel economic growth.

My Cooper Union debut must not have been too persuasive - the plan passed by only one vote in the House and in the Senate, with vice President Gore breaking the tie: Still, the Cooper Union forum gave me a chance to voice a plan that ultimately produced [emphasis added] the largest economic expansion and largest job growth in peace time history, with three consecutive budget surpluses for the first time in 70 years, and one hundred times more people moving out of poverty than in the previous twelve years.
So what "ultimately produced" the boom of the 1990s? The free market? Innovative entrepreneurs? New technology? Low inflation inherited from the Federal Reserve's bold policy in the 1980s? No. It was the Clinton plan!

Actually, all things considered, Clinton's speech was pretty moderate. He even said something nice about John McCain. Of course, a cynic might say that praising McCain is a tactic designed to hurt McCain in the GOP primaries and improve Hillary's chances of becoming President...

UPDATE: The text of Lincoln's address is here. Would you say that Clinton's characterization of it was accurate?
(11) opinions -- Add your opinion

It's probably not a bad thing to be a bit cynical if you are talking about Bill.
I'm hardly a Clinton fan, but if the economy had tanked, I'm sure he would have been blamed. What's the old saying about victory having a thousand fathers and defeat being an orphan . . .
Well, given how often I'm hearing Republicans claiming now that Bush's tax cuts are responsible for the current expansion, it's at least a useful corrective. And remember how many Republicans at the time were claiming that those upper-bracket tax increases would cause the economy to tank. There was one I remember (from Ohio I think, but can't place the name) who said that if the tax increases "worked", he would become a Democrat. (He didn't, of course.)

I've come to believe that marginal tax rates by themselves, especially when there is very little correlation of spending levels to tax levels, has very little to do one way or another with the performance of the economy.
Clinton inherited the post Cold War/internet boom. Unfortunately on the two major issues of the day he was absent from duty. Reforming the welfare state (he had the Republican Congress to do it with), and at the very least doing something about the spreading jihadism around the world. A decent President would have done one of the two and a great President would have done both. Unfortunately for the rest of us he was neither, at least he had a good time, though.
Military expenditure in Clinton years came from 5-6% in begin to 3% in the end of Presidency . In 80's reached 8% of GDP for a brief period. That's a lot of money.
Ah, yes, the Clinton/Lincoln nexus.

Should Clinton's appearance at Cooper Union be seen merely as the logical (spiritual?) continuation of what began in the Lincoln Bedroom?

Might one now expect a Clintonian foreign policy assessment at Gettysburg?
I wouldn't say Clinton inherited a Internet or technology boom. But I would say that boom was inevitably going to happen during the 90s. The boom depended on fast computers with enough memory to power inexpensive, easy to use systems becoming cheap. Since transistor density has increased at a predictable exponential rate, doubling approximately every 18 months (Moore's law) since the invention of the integrated chip decades ago, and since performance and memory capacity grow with increased transistor density, and price goes down, we were eventually going to reach a point where the components for an advanced PC became cheap enough for the mass market. And that point happened during the 90s. But not only PCs, but every electronic gadget benefits from lower cost chips. That could have only happened in the 90s.
My rule-of-thumb is that anyone using the term "trickle-down economics" is presumed a bonehead until proven otherwise.
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