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Novak Bill Press is co-host of CNN's Crossfire. He is providing exclusive analysis to CNN

Bill Press: Clinton walks off the stage

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It's hard to believe Elvis is actually going to walk off the stage. But he will, this weekend. And, in terms of accomplishment, he's going to be a hard act to follow.

It's almost fitting that one of Clinton's last acts was to make a deal with Independent Counsel Robert Ray. Indeed, if you ask most Americans what they remember most of Bill Clinton, they will get red-faced, wag their finger and declare: "I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

Well, that certainly was a memorable, and shameful, moment. But his adolescent romp with Monica Lewinsky -- and the absurd Congressional witchhunt it spurred -- does not sum up the Clinton presidency.

History is kinder to former presidents than contemporary political reporters. President Eisenhower, for example, is no longer seen as a jovial bumbler, but as a pioneer in civil rights. President Reagan, no longer the world-record napper, but the man who ended the Cold War.

And history will be equally kind to Bill Clinton. He will be remembered, not as the man -- and hardly the first president -- who broke his marriage vows, but as the president who kept his office vows to the American people. And then some.

Clinton will be credited, most of all, for delivering a strong economy on the heels of the Bush recession. If nothing else, he was smart enough to keep Alan Greenspan at the Fed, place Robert Rubin at Treasury, and stay out of their way. The result: the longest period of economic expansion in American history.

We've come so far, it's hard to remember how far back we started. In 1993, unemployment hovered at a dangerous 7.3 percent; today, it's a record low 4 percent. The Dow-Jones was stuck in the 2000's; even with today's slowdown, it's soaring in the mid-10,000's.

Wall Street didn't act alone. Its market confidence was inspired by rare fiscal discipline in Washington. Reagan and Bush promised to cut the federal deficit, but did not. Clinton promised, and did. He not only cut the deficit, he eliminated it - and replaced it with a record $455 billion surplus.

Clinton's other great contribution to the economy was pioneering leadership in global trade. NAFTA, GATT and other trade agreements, which Clinton negotiated over the objections of Democratic union leaders, solidified the United States as the #1 global economic power and helped create 22 million new jobs.

On the domestic front, Clinton stole a feather from the Republicans' cap. Once again, Reagan and Bush talked about welfare reform; Clinton delivered it. Welfare is now a temporary refuge, not a lifetime sinecure. Since 1996, when Clinton signed the welfare reform legislation, caseloads have been cut in half. Millions of former welfare recipients now hold fulltime jobs. Under Clinton, the overall crime rate has also declined for 8 consecutive years.

In one other area has Clinton governed like a Republican, at least an old-time Republican. Acting by executive order, he has designated more than 5.6 million acres as national monuments, thereby placing more land under federal protection than any president since Theodore Roosevelt.

But it's not just prosperity and progress at home that mark the Clinton presidency, it's also peace around the world. He brought Catholics and Protestants together to stop the killing in Northern Ireland. He used American military power and peacekeeping troops to stop the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo. He hammered Saddam Hussein out of mischief. And, even if he didn't achieve a peace agreement in the Middle East, he brought the parties closer than ever before and left a roadmap to peace for the next administration to follow.

Topping it all off were Clinton's unique personal skills. He's the best communicator and campaigner we've seen. He's one of the smartest presidents ever. He's a fighter and a survivor. Given his problems in Monicagate, many a lesser man would have thrown in the towel. But Clinton plowed on and not only survived, but emerged stronger than ever.

This is not meant as an early Valentine to Bill Clinton. Nor to suggest that Clinton's mug be added to Mt. Rushmore. Indeed, his administration may be remembered less for "what was accomplished" than for "what might have been".

It is simply to state the facts. Clinton has been a very effective president. He can leave office proudly, having led the United States into the 21st. Century. His legacy is a robust economy, a better life and greater opportunities for all Americans and peace in the world.

Not bad.

Compared to Clinton's accomplishments, Monica Lewinsky is nothing but an asterisk.


Saturday, January 20, 2001



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