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Kristof on Clinton and Bush

Last week, Nicholas Kristof wrote a column for the New York Times that expressed far better than could I how I feel about Presidents Bush and Clinton:

In the 2000 campaign, I covered Mr. Bush a bit, so this week I dug out tapes of his speeches. On those tapes, he claims that he will leave the great bulk of the surplus intact: "My plan is to take a portion of the projected surplus, a little over $1 trillion of the $4 trillion surplus, and give it to the people who pay the bills."

The reality is that under Mr. Bush, surpluses have completely vanished. Granted, he had help from a bad economy. But spending has increased more rapidly than under any president since Lyndon Johnson, and Mr. Bush refuses to pay for it. I've seen that story before -- in Argentina.

Now the I.M.F. has warned that the U.S. budget and trade deficits are a threat to the global economy.

A new study from the Brookings Institution, "Restoring Fiscal Sanity," estimates that by 2014 the average family's income will be $1,800 lower because of slower economic growth caused by these budget deficits. A family with a 30-year $250,000 mortgage will be paying $2,000 more per year in interest costs alone.

All in all, as I look at the economy, I miss President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Clinton had egregious personal failings, and I deplored what I felt was his dishonesty. But as a steward of the economy, he combined fiscal conservatism with a willingness to stand against protectionism. No leader today, Democrat or Republican, is so forthright about the economy, and it's sad to see Democrats retreating from free trade.

Compared with Mr. Bush, John Kerry and most other Democratic presidential candidates are paragons of responsibility -- but only compared with Mr. Bush. The reality is that promises by Democrats like Mr. Kerry to start new health care programs, keep some of the tax cuts and restore black ink are nonsense. But it's less nonsense to say 2 + 2 = 5 (Mr. Kerry) than to say 2 + 2 = 22 (Mr. Bush).

Mr. Clinton lied about sex, and he was sleazy in other respects as well, but he was willing to tell America the unpleasant truth about trade and about budgets. I wish Mr. Bush and his Democratic challengers would be half as honest with the American public as Mr. Clinton was.

When Clinton was president, I was upset with his seemingly spineless foreign policy, as well as with what I perceived as his sleaziness. I failed, though, to appreciate at the time just how great a job he was doing on economic issues. I still think his foreign policy was spineless, but to his credit, he had the Israelis and Palestinians closer to peace than anyone before or since, and "America" wasn't a dirty word in most of the world. And as for sleaziness, Clinton and his retinue were sleazy on a minor scale, like local actors performing dinner theater in, well, Arkansas. The Bush Administration has featured sleaziness on a vast scale, which just goes to show, if you're going to commit a crime, commit a big one.

Like Kristof, I, too, miss President Bill Clinton. And the fact that I say that now shows how incredibly upset I am with President Bush -- a man to whom I gave the benefit of the doubt both after he took office and after 9/11. I will not do so again.

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