A Fabulous Failure: The Clinton Presidency and the Transformation of American Capitalism

How the Clinton administration betrayed its progressive principles and capitulated to the right


Published (US):
Sep 12, 2023
Published (UK):
Nov 7, 2023
6.13 x 9.25 in.
12 b/w illus.
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When Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, he ended twelve years of Republican rule and seemed poised to enact a progressive transformation of the US economy, touching everything from health care to trade to labor relations. Yet by the time he left office, the nation’s economic and social policies had instead lurched dramatically rightward, exacerbating the inequalities so troubling in our own time. This book reveals why Clinton’s expansive agenda was a fabulous failure, and why its demise still haunts us today.

Nelson Lichtenstein and Judith Stein show how the administration’s progressive reformers—people like Robert Reich, Ira Magaziner, Laura Tyson, and Joseph Stiglitz—were stymied by a new world of global capitalism that heightened Wall Street influence, undermined domestic manufacturing, and eviscerated the labor movement. Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Al Gore proved champions of this financialized world. Meanwhile, Clinton divided his own party when he relied on Republican votes to overhaul welfare, liberalize trade, and deregulate the banking and telecommunications industries. Even the economic boom Clinton ushered in—which tamed unemployment and sent the stock market soaring in what Alan Blinder and Janet Yellen termed a “fabulous decade”—ended with a series of exploding asset bubbles that his neoliberal economic advisors neither foresaw nor prevented.

A Fabulous Failure is a study of ideas in action, some powerfully persuasive, others illusionary and self-defeating. It explains why and how the Clinton presidency’s progressive statecraft floundered in a world where the labor movement was weak, civil rights forces quiescent, and corporate America ever more powerful.

Bill Clinton’s failure