Journey back to Hope
Recently I had to fly to Little Rock, Ark., for business and also paid a visit to the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library. It was a bright, sunny, warm day in Little Rock as I drove down President Clinton Street and parked. My first impression was that it was a very modern architectural design: in the form of a bridge, representing a bridge to the future.
As I entered the library, there sat one of the limousines from the presidential fleet that Clinton used. I paid my $7 and entered this monument to the history of a man who ran this country for eight years. As I wandered through the exhibits, I was overwhelmed not by the number of exhibits but what they represented. I read many letters to the president from a wide diverse section of humanity and noted that many of them were signed “Love...” That’s how people felt about Clinton. I personally met the man a couple of times, and I was struck by his smile and warmness.
We forget actually what Bill Clinton did accomplish while president because of the impeachment episode, Whitewater, and other distractions from his job that Clinton went through—all organized and ran by the Republican Party and the far right.
We forget about things like the Camp David peace accords; six million jobs created in just the first two years of his presidency; the lowest combination of inflation and unemployment in 25 years; a $600 billion deficit reduction in three years, the first time since Harry Truman that the deficit went down three years in a row.
He pushed for and signed: the Brady Law, mandating a five-day waiting period in purchasing a handgun so that background checks could be done; the assault weapons ban, which has now been allowed to expire by the Bush club; and the Family Medical Leave Act, affecting 42 million families.
He reduced the size of government to the levels of the Kennedy administration; created the direct student loan program; proposed and signed many environmental laws that would positively affect the quality of our air and water; negotiated the retargeting of American and Russian missiles away from each other’s cities; signed tax cuts for 15 million working families while increasing the tax on the rich; and created the AmeriCorps program to give youth a chance to serve their communities while earning money for college.
He reduced the poverty rate from 15.1% to 12.7%, the lowest rate since 1979; cut the unemployment rate for black Americans in half during his terms; achieved the highest homeowner rate ever—66.8%; and cut the unemployment rate for Hispanics and women, again in half.
I felt a sense of pride at what he and America had accomplished during his presidency and was moved to tears at one exhibit: There in a corner of one wall were the issues of the gay community acknowledged along with a framed picture of Matthew Shepard. This, more than anything, brought back a flood of memories for me, as I was in Washington for all of the president’s years as a government official. It brought back the hope that we all felt, the potential for what we could achieve in so many different fields of endeavor. Bill Clinton cared about people, plain ordinary people of all shades, economic status, and life status. We felt nothing was impossible under an Administration that was willing to try new things—to work for the betterment of all Americans and discriminate against none. Clinton issued an executive order banning the practice of denying security clearances to gay people in government. This issue directly affected me, as I was up for security clearances and no longer had to worry about the ordeal of losing a job I sought because an extended background investigation revealed that I was gay.
Not everything was perfect. Both the president and members of his Administration made mistakes in different areas. But you could trust Clinton to do what he thought was in the best interest of the American people, not just his friends or big business. Much criticism was heaped on Vice President Gore for being “wooden” in demeanor. Well, I met Vice President Gore on several occasions at functions, and while his personal style might have been off-putting to some, what came through to me was a keen intellect joined with enthusiasm for the future’s possibilities.
Our country was at relative peace, with the exceptions of the destruction of Afghanistan’s terrorist camps and other military responses that dealt with terrorist incidents. We had a surplus in the Treasury, and the basic rights of all Americans were not being whittled away little by little. The hope I felt there in the library… Can you imagine what he could have accomplished without the conservative attack machine diverting so much of his attention away from the presidency for eight long years?
On my way out, the guard asked me, “Father, did you enjoy your visit?” My only answer was, “I miss the hope that was the Clinton presidency.” The guard shook his head in agreement. I walked to my car with a sadness that weighed upon my soul for what was America and what has become of America. How could things have changed so far, so fast, in only five years? How had all those accomplishments simply vanished under Bush? More important: Where is the next Bill Clinton coming from to save us from another Bush-type presidency?