Is He Right?
Who gets credit for the successes of the 1990s? If you listen to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) on the campaign trail, she says it's Bill Clinton. Campaigning with her husband in Iowa earlier this month, she bragged about the millions of jobs created during his presidency, saying "that bridge to the 21st century that Bill said he was going to build -- it had taken shape. We were ready to walk across it." Just last night, there was Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) at the CNN debate touting his own role "writing" the crime bill that, he said, helped spur a dramatic drop in urban crime rates. Rudy Giuliani tells a different story. The former Republican mayor of New York, who ran the city from 1994 to 2001, is launching a series of radio spots in Iowa and New Hampshire touting dramatic reductions in crime, millions of people off the welfare rolls and a budget surplus during his tenure. Hear the spots here.
All the things that Giuliani says happened during his tenure are true. But there's a debate about who should get the credit. While crime went down dramatically in cities across America during Bill Clinton's presidency, New York accounted for a huge part of that decrease. At the same time, New York wasn't the only city to produce a budget surplus during those economic boom times; cities and states around the country were flush with money during the 1990s as the economy grew. Did Clinton's economic agenda make it easier for Giuliani to pull the city out of debt?
Some experts argue that neither the ex-president nor the ex-mayor deserve much credit. On the drop in crime, alternate explanations have ranged from the controversial "Freakonomics" theory that legalized abortion in the 1970s had an impact on the 1990s crime rate to a new idea, promoted by economist Rick Nevin, that much of the touted crime reduction occurred because of a significant drop in lead poisoning years earlier. According to Nevin, the amount of lead in gasoline dropped dramatically in the late 1970s, and the children who grew up in that time did not commit crimes as they came of age in the 1990s. Economists also continue to debate the origin of the economic boom in the 1990s, which fueled budget surpluses and decreases in the welfare rolls: Did it stem from Clinton's economic policies? Was it a natural upturn after an economic slump in the early 1990s that helped doom President George H.W. Bush's re-election prospects?
-- Perry Bacon Jr.
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