Frankly, I think Lockhart’s full of it. Sure, if Clinton died tomorrow there would be some rude conservatives — as there were rude liberals in the wake of Reagan’s death. But assuming Clinton dies at a ripe old age, I sincerely doubt many conservatives will make much of a fuss.
Here’s Clinton’s basic problem in this regard: it wasn’t a very special presidency. As political history there’s some interesting stuff, sure. Also he’ll probably loom very large in the history of the Democratic Party because of the changes he represented. But as American history, the Clinton tale will not be remembered as a particularly great one because he wasn’t a great or even near-great president. It’s difficult enough for the average person today to list three things he did that were significant. And the one thing most people would mention — the economy — will doubtlessly recede as we get further away. History has a tendency to recognize macro economic trends at the expense of presidential micro decisions. Quick: Did Eisenhower do a good job on the economy? Most people have no idea.
Clinton to his credit continued American support for free trade and he coasted with the Reaganite push for Welfare Reform. His most memorable policy proposal, Hillarycare, will be remembered for its failure not its success. On foreign policy, he did some good things and some bad, but now that the foreseeable future will be dominated by America’s role in the war on terror, he will largely be the guy who kept things going “while America slept.”
I think Clinton was a terrible president for how he conducted himself as President up to and including criminal behavior. Not just the Lewinsky stuff, but all of it. He was the tackiest President since at least the dawn of the television age. But on policy, Clinton wasn’t that terrible for a Democrat. But “not terrible for a Democrat” also means “not particularly significant” for historians. As for his tackiness, historians have a tendency to play down that stuff too, alas.