You were the first to speak to me and to my generation. You were young and vibrant, so full of energy and promise. But not all was right with the world. America was on the decline – riots were erupting, unemployment rising and deficits mounting. The American Dream was, for too many hardworking, tax-paying, law-abiding people, just that – a dream.
You gave hope to people like me, who still wanted to believe in a place called America. The old guard industrialists and cold warriors said it couldn’t be done. Self-righteous conservatives vowed not to let it be done. We weren’t fooled and you became Mr. President.
I watched the passing of the torch at your inauguration and followed as you and your team of bright young minds came into office. You were undisciplined, ambitious, frenetic and comprehensive; at the same time you were unfocused and dedicated. I admired you, Sir, because you sincerely attempted to institute new ideas while valuing the past and knowing that change comes slowly. You understood the process.
You paid the price early. But we stuck by you and things began to change. The economy began to grow, unemployment fell and inflation stabilized. Consumer confidence improved, real wages and household income increased, productivity soared and the stock market took off. America wasn’t just getting wealthier, it was becoming better. For the first time since the last bastion of liberalism – the 1960s – crime began to fall for seven straight years. So too did the divorce rate, the abortion rate, teenage pregnancy and the high school dropout rate. Homeownership increased, as did national test scores, college applications and graduations.
Smaller, faster and more flexible firms were born both in the Silicon Valley and all over the country, where long ago, industrial factories and warehouses had been abandoned in favor of cheaper labor across the Rio Grande. Free trade and consumer choice have expanded, yet so have the nature and value of work. Government entitlements, welfare rolls and dependency on the state have declined.
You got it Mr. President; you understood the significance of the change that was taking place and you embraced it. Yet you stood there, pointed a finger at me and said that you did not have sexual relations with that woman. The self-righteous conservatives once again set out to destroy you. They labeled you the antichrist, even though many of their own sins became public and brought them down. They hate you, Sir, because they could never beat you. And that is why we love you.
We are not in the midst of a moral crisis in this country. We are not in need of a unifier to come to our rescue and heal the divisions of race, class, gender, sexuality, geography or generation. You openly sought to reach out to those historically and systematically excluded, both within your administration and throughout America.
The real record of the last eight years is the rapid economic and technological change that occurred within a stable political and social structure. Even though you did not create it, you presided over it, brilliantly associated yourself with it, helped legitimize it and thus sustained it for the longest period of expansion in recorded history.
After this most recent election, we could not replace you. As your successor debated the merits of ballot chads and denied voters their right to be counted, you went to the country of a former enemy, Vietnam, to honor the past and forge a new beginning. Nobody else but you could have, or would have, stayed as committed to the Middle East peace process, especially during the most recent outbreak of violence. You remain a tireless advocate for both the new economy and the rule of global law, signing and negotiating international treaties and agreements on trade, the environment, human rights and nuclear disarmament. Yet the eight-year ride is now coming to an end.
It is not your successor that “W”orries me; it is simply that we will no longer have the honor of being led by such a charismatic, energetic and intelligent advocate for peace and prosperity. You are a man with a healthy appreciation for change and continuity and for the millions and millions of nameless, faceless Americans whose lives have become more meaningful over the past eight years and who once again believe in a place called America.
And so I say thank you, Bill Clinton. We will miss you.
Chris Hubbard is a senior history and global studies major, as well as a member of A.S. Leg Council.