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Academic Amnesia on the 1990s

In even-numbered years, political science professors are frequently called upon by the media to offer their thoughts on national elections, although they may not be as well-versed as they should be on history, of even the more recent variety. “It’s funny—Obama’s detractors see him as too liberal, trying to do too much and taking the country in the wrong direction, and they probably thought the same about Clinton when he was president,” University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett [1] told Julie Mason [2] of The Washington Examiner.

First, it should be noted that on ratemyprofessor.com, not one of Professor Jewett’s anonymous reviewers accuses him of a left-wing bias and not all of the reviews are favorable. Nevertheless, a bit of historical perspective may be in order.

For openers, in the two-year slice of time between President Clinton’s first inaugural and the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, the former Arkansas governor did attempt to institute national health care and lift the military’s ban on homosexuals in the service. Even more noteworthy, he failed to get a Democratic Congress to approve these policies.

Only after the GOP took control of both houses of the national legislature did the president declare, “The era of big government is over” in his 1996 state of the union address. Nonetheless, he continued to take an approach to national security that might charitably be described as quirky.

One who got the Clinton treatment up close and personal was Retired Lt. Col. Robert “Buzz” Patterson. In an exclusive interview [3] with Accuracy in Media’s Roger Aronoff [4], Lt. Col. Patterson reminisced about his service with Clinton as senior military aide from 1996 to 1998.

“During that period he was the man responsible for the President’s Emergency Satchel, also known as the ‘Nuclear Football,’” Aronoff writes. “It is the black bag with the nation’s nuclear capability that is supposed to be with the president at all times.”

“I happened to be the first person on President Bill Clinton’s schedule the morning that the Monica Lewinsky scandal hit the press and became international news,” Lt. Col. Patterson told Aronoff.  “ It also corresponded with the time that I asked President Clinton to produce the codes so I could swap the codes out with new codes—we did that from time to time—and President Clinton confessed that he had, in fact, lost the codes.”

“What really alarmed me was not so much that he had lost the codes—which was pretty troubling in and of itself—but that he couldn’t recall how long the codes had been missing.  I pressed him on that issue, and he said that it could have been weeks, if not months, that he had lost the codes or misplaced them—without the ability, as our commander-in-chief, to retaliate with nuclear weapons.  What struck me—again, another sign that the man was just derelict in his duties—was that he couldn’t recall how long it had been.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia [5].

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org [6]