Sunday, January 08, 2006

How Important Is The Clinton Impeachment to Understanding Recent American History

This question is asked in this CNN article. Since it's been nearly a decade since this happened, it's starting to appear in US history textbooks. But despite the media obsession on the topic, I cannot come up with a plausible argument that this is very important for understanding recent American history nor do I believe that historians in the future will talk about it much. In my recent US survey course, I bring it all up to the present. I believe that it's the duty of historians to do this; some would disagree rather strenuously with me, but that debate is for another post. When I talk about the 1990s, I focus on 2 themes that are both far more important than the Clinton impeachment. One is the Republican Revolution surrounding the 1994 elections. Naturally, the treatment Clinton received relates to this; however, today's Republicans have caused far greater changes to American life than the Clinton impeachment and it is these I talk about. The second major theme is America in the post-Cold War world and to talk about this I focus on NAFTA and free trade issues as well as US cultural imperialism--all of this then leads into 9/11 and more recent events.

Given the immense importance of these two themes, I have a really hard time then discussing the Clinton impeachment in any way except to contrast it with Watergate and say that unlike Clinton, Nixon really did commit many high crimes and misdemenors.