NYT profiles Bill Clinton in the Age of Obama. He admits deregulation went too far.





So far, the former president has avoided causing trouble for the new one. Before Hillary Clinton was picked for secretary of state, some Obama advisers were wary of bringing a freelancing Bill Clinton inside the tent. But to their surprise, Clinton has done nothing to complicate Obama’s life so far. As of early May, Clinton had never been mentioned during the daily White House senior staff meetings as an issue to be dealt with, according to two officials who attend. By contrast, one of them said, Jimmy Carter had come up twice already.

“He left the country in a stronger position, and I think he’s pretty much at peace with what he accomplished,” Mack McLarty, a Clinton friend since kindergarten and his first White House chief of staff, told me. “That doesn’t mean that from time to time, President Clinton wouldn’t like to be engaged and be in the action. That’s an understandable human feeling. But it’s not burning him up or eating him up.”...

if Clinton has a powerful memory for slights, he also has a remarkable capacity for reconciliation. He is likelier to find peace with people who hate him the most than with friends who betray him. He focuses his considerable charms on seducing the person in the room he finds most resistant. Among those he has been friendly with lately is Christopher Ruddy, a conservative journalist who was a chief proponent of cover-up theories involving the Clintons during the 1990s. In his book, “The Strange Death of Vincent Foster,” Ruddy rejected official findings that Foster, a deputy White House counsel, killed himself in a Virginia park and suggested the possibility of “a cover-up conducted by people who have, with the help of the press, placed themselves above the law.” Ruddy also advanced the notion that Ron Brown, the Clinton commerce secretary who died in an airplane crash in Croatia in 1996, was actually shot in the head.

Ruddy today is the founder and chief executive of Newsmax, a conservative news-magazine. He told me he came around on Clinton after Ed Koch, the former New York mayor, introduced them. That led to lunches and more contacts, and now Ruddy says he was wrong about Clinton. “I do consider Bill Clinton a friend, and I think he would consider me a friend,” Ruddy said. “And to think of all the wars we went through in the ’90s, it seems almost surreal.”

With the passage of time, Ruddy said he came to believe that Clinton was much less liberal than his enemies thought. After all, Clinton overhauled welfare, tamed the deficit and promoted free trade. While still a proud “Reagan conservative,” Ruddy said he now thinks the attacks on Clinton in the 1990s went too far. “Did we like and enjoy all the salacious reporting and all the stuff going on in the ’90s?” he asked. “I guess we thought, This is just politics. But looking back at my role, I was probably over the top. And if I knew then what I know today, I wouldn’t have pursued some of that stuff as aggressively as I did. I did an honest reporter’s job. But I have a different take on it now.”

Ruddy also attributes his change of heart to Clinton’s foundation, which has impressed him and other onetime foes. Richard Mellon Scaife, the billionaire publisher who financed Ruddy’s investigations and other anti-Clinton activities, is now a contributor to the foundation. So is Rupert Murdoch, the News Corporation chairman whose Fox News was a regular thorn in Clinton’s side. Clinton over the years has also made peace with other former adversaries, like Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich. The elder George Bush told me he now considers Clinton “a real friend.” When I asked what changed his view, he wrote in an e-mail message: “I didn’t know him personally back then. I knew him, but not up close and personal. Now I do.”...

When the subject [of the economy] came up during our conversation in Chappaqua, Clinton calmly dissected the case against him and acknowledged that in at least some particulars his critics have a point. In almost clinical form, as if back at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, he broke down the case against him into three allegations: first, that he used the Community Reinvestment Act to force small banks into making loans to low-income depositors who were too risky. Second, that he signed the deregulatory Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, repealing part of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act that prohibited commercial banks from engaging in the investment business. And third, that he failed to regulate the complex financial instruments known as derivatives.

The first complaint Clinton rejects as “just a totally off-the-wall crazy argument” made by the “right wing,” noting that community banks have not had major problems. The second he gives some credence to, although he blames Bush for, in his view, neutering the Securities and Exchange Commission. “Letting banks take investment positions I don’t think had much to do with this meltdown,” he said. “And the more diversified institutions in general were better able to handle what happened. And again, if I had known that the S.E.C. would have taken a rain check, would I have done it? Probably not. But I wouldn’t have done anything. In other words, I would have tried to reverse everything if I had known we were going to have eight years where we would not have an S.E.C. for most of the time.”

Clinton argued that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act set up a framework for overseeing the industry. “So I don’t think that’s such a good criticism,” he said. “I think, actually, if you want to make a criticism on that, it would be an indirect one — you could say that the signing of that legislation sped up what was happening anyway and maybe led some of these institutions to be bigger than they otherwise would have been and the very bigness of some of these groups caused some of this problem because the bigger something is and the newer it is, the harder it is to manage. And I do think there were some serious management problems which might not have occurred.”

Then there are the derivatives. There, Clinton pleads guilty.



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