St. Martin’s Press · 2000 · 426 pages · $26.95
Reviewed by George C. Leef
The battle over the history of the Clinton presidency is on and the early reports from the battlefield indicate that the fight is going in favor of those who prefer truth to spin. The jaw-dropping last-minute pardons seem to have at least temporarily thrown the Clinton mouthpieces on the defensive while books like James Bovard’s “Feeling Your Pain” sweep the field.
For years, Jim Bovard has been one of the most dependable scourges of big government writing about the political scene. His 1994 book, Lost Rights, was a compendium of the liberties Americans have had taken away by government. Bovard has a tremendous talent for digging into the details of government actions that waste our money and deprive us of our freedom, so it was inevitable that he would be quick out of the gate with a book on the Clinton administration, which, as he demonstrates, hardly did anything except waste our money and deprive us of our freedom. He writes that “From concocting new prerogatives to confiscate private property, to championing FBI agents’ right to shoot innocent Americans, to bankrolling the militarization of local police forces, the Clinton administration stretched the power of government on all fronts.”
Precisely. While Clinton capitalized on his ability to mesmerize voters with sappy lines like “I feel your pain”—hence the title—he and his lieutenants presided over eight years of almost unchecked growth in federal power and abuse of power that had previously existed. Millions of Americans felt the pain of Clinton policies as he went careering around the country in pursuit of his holy grail of electoral success. Bovard counts the ways.
Here’s a good example of Bovard in action. The AmeriCorps program was one of those innumerable lofty-sounding inventions of the Clintonites that serves as camouflage for waste and skullduggery.
Among its activities is to send its “volunteers” (who soak up lots of tax money) into schools to talk about child abuse. The yardstick by which the “effectiveness” of that activity is measured is reported incidents of child abuse, and in 1999 the AmeriCorps director aimed at a 25 percent increase in reports of child abuse. Parents or guardians so accused face a stacked deck because, Bovard points out, the government pays the court costs for the accuser.
It is well known that false accusations of abuse have been numerous, and some have had tragic results. So Bovard called the director to ask if there were any safeguards against false accusations. He was told that there weren’t, but that the “sophisticated” justice system could deal with any that might be made. Bovard pressed on: “I asked how many of the charges of child abuse that resulted from AmeriCorps activism were ‘sustained’—i.e., how many of the parents were found guilty. Ms. [Cynthia] Rogers replied: ‘We would not even address that’ and stated that she had no information on the results of the charges. This practically implies that increasing the number of child accusations is in the public interest, regardless of whether the charges are valid.”
The IRS takes it on the chin too. Although Congress has passed legislation designed to protect taxpayers from abuse by the IRS, that did nothing to stop it; neither did Bill Clinton, who was quite happy with an agency that would maximize government receipts, individual rights be damned. The cases Bovard reports are truly sickening—vindictive IRS personnel who like to shoot first and cover up their misdeeds with threats and bluster afterward. Besides cases of hapless citizens who had their lives ruined by the IRS, the author supplies the details for the often-heard claim that Clinton had the IRS harass his political enemies.
A recurrent theme during the Clinton years was the administration’s refusal to take “no” for an answer, whether from Congress or the courts, and “Feeling Your Pain” gives many examples of such “we’re above the law” behavior. Consider, for example, the “Know Your Customer” (KYC) regulations that were proposed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1998. Those regulations would have turned banks into unpaid government snoops and they elicited a tremendous outpouring of opposition. The proposed regulations were eventually withdrawn, but that did not mean that the Clintonites had given up. In 1999 the FDIC issued a “Manual of Examination Policies” that told financial institutions that it was “imperative” that they adopt the KYC procedures. With that and other episodes, Bovard has identified one of the hallmarks of the Clinton era—contempt for the rule of law.
But maybe you’d rather simply forget about Bill Clinton. Why read this book? The answer is that although Clinton is gone that doesn’t necessarily mean his governmental detritus has vanished. I recommend reading “Feeling Your Pain” and keeping it around as a way of checking on George W. Bush and future presidents. If, for example, we still have quotas for child-abuse allegations and the IRS still treats citizens like prisoners in the Gulag, you’ll know that the Clinton influence lives on.