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It's the legacy, stupid: Scandals sully the Slick Willy era

As the year winds down, the curtains are closing on an era for the members of the Class of 2000. Surely, most of my classmates will look back at the last four years with nostalgia.

At the same time, America will share a similar process, as eight years of the Clinton presidency dissolve into primaries and conventions and, ultimately, an inauguration. Unlike a Princeton graduation ceremony, I'll wager few tears will be shed during this transformation.

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After eight years, it's time for us to ask ourselves, what phrases and images, if any, will remind us of our 42nd president? Impeachment. Monica Lewinsky. The Starr Report. Paula Jones. Waco, Texas. Fundraising with Chinese nationals. Stolen military secrets. Whitewater. Kathleen Willey. Webb Hubbell. Stolen FBI files. Lincoln bedroom slumber parties. Somalia. Juanita Broadrick. Bombed aspirin factories in Sudan. Pardoned FALN terrorists. The illusive definition of the word "is." Not inhaling. Cohiba cigars.

The list isn't pretty. At best, the Clinton era will be remembered as a time of prosperity, when issues of policy played second fiddle to scandal and corruption. What is the legacy of Bill Clinton? Friends of Clinton will try to remind us that, "It's the economy, stupid." History will see through that and highlight that this was a time of an 18-year boom beginning in 1982.

Some will credit the tax cuts of Ronald Reagan that stimulated private investment; others, the temperance of Alan Greenspan. Many more will thank the genius and productivity of the many entrepreneurs who drove the greatest period of wealth creation in the history of mankind. Partisans may credit Bill Clinton, but anyone with a historical perspective will recognize that he was only a bystander.

Aside from the scandals, Clinton will be remembered best for his policy failures: his attempt to nationalize the healthcare industry which was mercifully derailed; his large tax increase that even he admitted was a mistake in front of a wealthy Texas audience. He'll be remembered as the president of the philosophical flipflop: first, trying to enact the largest expansion of government since Medicare only to later declare that "the era of big government is over." He will be remembered by liberals as the president who ended welfare; by conservatives, as the man who promised to fix social security and instead waged a campaign of misinformation designed to punt the problem to the next administration. To the rest of the world, he'll be the man who used foreign policy as a diversion to distract a nation from his personal scandals, firing missiles or avoiding confrontation as opinion polls dictated.

Perhaps you believe I am being unduly harsh: credit President Clinton for remaining committed to free trade throughout his presidency — until, that is, the Seattle WTO conference where he embarrassed the country by kowtowing to anti-free trade rioters. My harshness has a basis: I am someone who grew up to believe that the presidency meant something — that America was a great country and that its leader should represent its ideals and uphold its honor.

Instead, Clinton saw the presidency as a life-long quest, not to achieve a vision of America, but as a personal accomplishment and a chance to indulge in the spoils of the victor: to seduce women as young as his daughter and invite Hollywood friends to jump up and down on the Lincoln bed. He behaved like a vandal in the White House.

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When spring arrives, and graduation nears, I will share the sentimental thoughts of most of my classmates. Yet, I cannot say that I'm sad that time is passing. It's time for the era of Clinton to be over. Dan Lips is a politics major from Weston, Conn.. He can be reached at danlips@princeton.edu.

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