Bill Clinton vs. George W. Bush

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Defenders of George W. Bush sometimes argue that Bill Clinton set a new (lower) standard for presidential behavior. While this is at best a "he did it first" argument, and more likely just changing the subject, it is worth setting the record straight on the matter in order to minimize the amount of time spent being sidetracked.



anonymous user said:

Perhaps this could be so true Bill Clinton hadnt had much time in office and in this case it was the reason why he had lower the standard for presidential behavior.

I'm sorry, that statement doesn't make any sense... and seems to be presuming that Clinton did in fact set a lower standard, which is not at all clear to me. --Woozle 22:03, 12 November 2010 (UTC)


At most, the standard Clinton lowered was that of marital behavior of a president while in office -- which is at most a minor public concern.

Related conclusions:

  • If a married public figure is having an affair, that should be largely a matter between himself, his spouse, and the person with whom he is having the affair -- as long as his conduct in that affair does not directly interfere with his professional duties.
    • In the case of a politician, an affair might be a matter of some public discussion when the figure is up for re-election -- but not for punitive action while he is in office.
    • If others choose to make use of an affair to cause hindrance to someone's professional duties, then it is they that are interfering with those duties -- not the affair itself.
    • One exception to this personal-life-off-limits rule is if such criticism is hypocritical, e.g. a politician having an affair is criticizing others for their own marital infidelity. Newt Gingrich, one of the main forces behind the efforts against Clinton, was multiply guilty of this.
  • Although Clinton's performance in office is certainly open to criticism on a number of points, its quality overall was more than adequate and in many ways exemplary.
  • Clinton's supposed lowering of presidential marital behavior standards is as nothing when compared to the lowering of standards of honesty, integrity, and concern for their country's welfare displayed by the Republicans in their efforts to take Clinton down at any cost.
  • Clinton's execution of his presidential duties was far superior to that of his successor -- but this is largely ignored by those who criticize Clinton.

Specific Points

This page is in need of updating.

Most of these figures are from ~2007, long before the economic crisis hit. The crisis obviously made Bush's figures much worse, and numbers at the end of his 2nd term should be included – but to be as fair as possible, figures from before the crisis should probably be included in a separate column, since the degree to which Bush is responsible for the collapse is a matter of some disagreement.

Also, at least one source is needed for all of these numbers.
Bill Clinton George W. Bush
doubled the Border Patrol early in his first term severely cut Border Patrol funds1
Subject of lying his personal life significant matters of state
Severity of lying charged with perjury2 (lying under oath) aforesaid lies were merely official statements and not under oath
charged with obstruction of justice2 informally accused of attempted destruction of Democracy
Economy "It's The Economy, Stupid"
Average annual GDP growth 3.6% 2.6%
Non-farm employment added 22.7 million jobs added 3 million jobs
(worst record of any US president in 70 years)
Unemployment 7.3% -> 4.2% 4.2% -> 6.5%3
Real median household income grew by $5,825 fell by $1,273
poverty rate fell 3.5% (6.4 million fewer people) rose 1.3% (5.4 million more people)
S&P 500 + 308% (435.49 -> 1342.54) - 2.1% (1342.54 -> 1314.78 as of 9/22/06)
NASDAQ + 395% (700.77 -> 2770.38) - 20% (2770.38 -> 2218.93 as of 9/22/06).
Federal Spending as % of GDP 22.1% (fiscal 1992) to 18.4% in 20004 back up to 20.8% (fiscal 2006)
total executive branch employment
does not include classified numbers for CIA, DIA, NSA, & other intelligence agencies; does not include outsourced jobs
down by almost 450,000 (2.225 million -> 1.778 million) up by almost 100,000 (to 1.872 million).
Federal Debt ? up almost $3 trillion (2006)
Federal Budget
  • started with deficit of $290 billion
  • ended with surplus of $236 billion (fiscal 2000)
  • deficits over $300 billion, consistently
  • highest deficit in history: $423 billion
Public Debt as % of GDP went down 16.4% went up 4.4%

Note 1

"savagely cut funds [to the Border Patrol, and continued] cutting till the border tsunami began bothering even his most loyal redstate supporters"[1], leading to the 2006 immigration crisis

Note 2

These charges were made by Republican-led congress but acquitted by the Democrat-led Senate, a decision which many (especially but not exclusively Republicans) disagreed with vehemently.

Note 3

Presumably post-crisis; source needed.

Note 4

anonymous user said:

All spending cuts after 1996 election are when Republicans reclaimed majority of the house and senate. During this time they created the "Contract with America". During Clinton's last 4 years they strong armed him into cutting taxes, government spending, and reducing the deficit. None of which happened under his first 4 years when Democrats had full power. Clinton's inflated numbers also coincide with the dot com boom which collapsed in 99/2000, leaving president Bush with a full blown recession to take over for. Bush and his policies remained strong through that recession, 9/11, and through to 2006 when Democrats took over the house. Until that time Bush also had record high approval ratings and his policies kept the economy from a full blown collapse. Democrats strong arming Bush forced into law the housing bill and financial bills that caused the market crash of the financial and home sections. Democrats also penned the TARP bill that Bush signed into law before leaving office, giving democrats and soon a newly elected democrat president full power to spend 1 trillion dollars of chineese money as it sees fit.

I have not yet had time to evaluate this paragraph; it may or may not be substantially true. My previous experience with pro-Bush and anti-Clinton arguments leads me to be suspicious of them (they tend to be full of distortions if not outright untruths), but a relatively coherent position such as this does deserve examination. Its main problem is a lack of sources to help determine its accuracy. (Also, the idea that the GOP actually accomplished any serious budget-cutting runs against my current understanding.) (Update: also, the dot-com boom collapsed in mid-2001, for what it's worth.) --Woozle 23:44, 8 November 2010 (UTC)

anonymous user said:

Just a side note - if you're going to use Federal Debt - then actually have Debt in both columns rather than deficit in one (which is not debt) and debt in the other. It's a politically well-played common misconception.

I finally found my original source and corrected the particular data you were concerned about -- although the row marked "Public Debt as % of GDP" remains correct, and pretty much tells the story by itself. This graph, which shows the figures as percent of GDP (for which I have not been able to find official numbers), shows the situation in more detail. Some more numbers are here. --Woozle 02:45, 9 December 2010 (UTC)

Bumper Stickers

"No children died / when Clinton lied." – seen 2006-09-22


"Republicans used to observe derisively that Clinton had a difficult relationship with the truth. Bush has a difficult relationship with the truth, too. It's just a different – and perhaps more grave – kind of difficulty." – William Saletan

David Brin said on 2007-03-25 (with minor editing):

The top ostrich tactic is to claim that Clinton was only marginally not quite as bad [as Bush], but made of the same substance.

Wrong. He was utterly and diametrically opposite to these guys in almost every way.

While a sinner and somewhat slick/slimy, he stayed with a wife and child his entire adult life. Since Reagan, the GOP has done an utter reverse and become the party of divorce, utterly forgiving [their] marriage-monsters simply because they are on the right side, and ignoring the hypocrisy that nearly ALL of Clinton's pursuers had no right to cast stones at him, or even to stare upward in awe at his marriage.

This hypocrisy is vastly outweighed by the far worse hypocrisy toward malfeasance in office. Dig it. EVERY weapon of disclosure was aimed at the Clintons.

Congressional investigations raged, special prosecutors stomped about like Godzilla, spending BILLIONS.

FBI agents were diverted from important anti-terror duties DURING THE SIX MONTHS BEFORE 9/11 with the sole goal of finding a smoking Clintonian gun that could lead to indictments. (An act of treason, frankly.)

The GSA and all Inspectors General were ordered to leave no stone unturned.

Now add to that the fact that Clinton et al DECREASED SECRECY IN GOVERNMENT to a larger degree than any before it. Ever. Diametrically opposite to the skyrocketing secrecy of these monsters.

Add it all together and the result? Absolutely ZERO INDICTMENTS OF ANY CLINTONIAN FOR MALFEASANCE IN OFFICE OF ANY KIND, WHATSOEVER. Twelve years of culture war and radio screeches and howls about "slick willy" and "the most corrupt" administration...

...and it turned out to be – by any objective measure – by far the most open and honest administration in the entire history of the entire human race. Proved (ironically) by the relentless scrutiny of its opposition.

Disprove this. Put up or shut up. I am sick of this example of the Big Lie.

The Big Truth is that Clinton was an honest and excellent administrator whose appointees treated the civil servants and officers with respect and got good work out of them, trying to make government lean and effective in service of the people of the United States.

This is proved and diametrically opposite to absolutely everything about the monsters who replaced them.

So no. I will not stop mentioning Clinton. It is perfectly relevant to demand that ostriches ponder "what if Clinton had done this?" Because if Clinton had – if he had done a SCINTILLA of the monstrous things that are leaking out of the tight wall of collusion and secrecy and stonewalling – then the ostrich would have screeched bloody murder.

This is hypocrisy, cowardice.

And if some new thing happens – say to the US Navy – without ostriches waking up to pull their heads out of the sand and turning their eyes to treason in their midst, then I say that they will be traitors, too.

in Contrary Brin

Response from the original provocateur:

"RadicalModerate" wrote:

It's not that I think Clintonco was just as bad as Bushco. Rather, Clintonco would have been as bad as Bushco given a similar set of circumstances. There are three major differences:

  1. The 90's were truly a "vacation from history." The economy literally ran itself and sizeable foreign policy blunders had no consequences until Clinton was out of office. Bushco has certainly not had that luxury.
  2. Divided government is accountable government. Clinton benefitted hugely from having the GOP nipping at his heels. In other words, he was forced to have the most open government in history by his political enemies. Bushco got to run open-loop for 6 years because his own party wouldn't investigate him. While I'm sure I will indulge in much eye-rolling over the next 2 years, the fact that the relationship between Congress and the Executive is once again adversarial will vastly improve Bushco and the Congress.
  3. I know I'm sounding like a broken record here, but the single mistake of invading Iraq the wrong way has warped all subsequent foreign policy. I'd like to think that Clinton would have been wise enough to avoid this decision but frankly I don't know. The man certainly had his own "wag the dog" propensities when backed up against the wall.
Woozle responds:
  • Point #1 I am skeptical of. So the whole Balkan thing isn't part of history now? Oh, wait, you mean it isn't part of history because we didn't screw up terribly, leaving a distinct absence of huge wounds in the national psyche which will take decades to heal, so nobody really remembers it, so it doesn't count? I doubt that's the only example of "history" in progress during the 1990s. (Clinton also made some of what I would consider mistakes, e.g. signing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act into law; I don't hear you mentioning that, but I'd have to say that was history too.)
  • Point #2: Oh come on! Clinton, from the very start, was all about Town Meetings and listening to ordinary citizens to find out what they wanted to see the government doing, and talking extensively about what he was doing and why, and opening the process so everyone could see the proof. He didn't have to start the most massive declassification in history, and it certainly wasn't at the GOP's insistence that he did so. (WTF?). Bush has been completely the opposite, sheltering himself from all but his closest advisors. If Clinton been Bush Jr. in disguise, he would have spent his first 2 unopposed years in office (before the neocons took over) classifying and hiding everything the way Bush has done, and he would have responded to the first sign of threat by clamping down even further.
  • Point #3: "single mistake"?? Iraq is a series of mistakes a mile long, and even now Bush wants to add another surge of them. He also made plenty of other mistakes, some of them quite possibly deliberate.

David Brin said on 2007-03-15:

[Clinton's perjury] is far worse than relentless firehose tsunamis of relentlessly shameful lying about matters of PUBLIC POLICY and LIFE and DEATH?

Bush and Cheney and Powell lie to the entire world and to the American people, in order to get us to waste a trillion dollars, ten thousand of our own lives, half a million foreign lives, destroy our alliances, our readiness, our world trust...


Sorry, wrong. They WERE perpetrated under oath. An oath to defend the Constitution of the United States.

in Contrary Brin

Brin goes on to point out that this argument is pure sophistry in any case, as it is equivalent to saying that FDR is a worse war criminal than Hitler because FDR signed orders creating Japanese internment camps during WWII, while Hitler never actually signed the orders creating Auschwitz. (Is there a name for this logical fallacy?)


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  • 2007-12-13 "dave" comments: "This lays it out pretty well. No "fuzzy math"...W's favorite kind."