Published on Tuesday, October 4, 2005 by the Progressive
by Ruth Conniff
You have to admit there are times when Bill Clinton looks awfully good in retrospect. Just the I.Q. drop-off in the White House is enough to make you catch your breath. Even the most hardened leftwing critic of Clinton-era triangulation and incrementalism can be forgiven for a few moments of nostalgia for peace, prosperity, and a President so knowledgeable about history, geography, and current events he could discuss the specific neighborhoods of East Jerusalem during peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Today we have war, record deficits, and a President who, in the wake of his own Administration's lethal bungling of hurricane rescue operations, pledged to observe closely so he could learn more about the relationship of state and local government in Texas--where he was governor just before assuming his current office.
But here comes the cure for hazy Clinton nostalgia that periodically afflicts everyone who loathes George W. Bush. It's name is Hillary, aka Clinton II.
In the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Matt Bai writes a political analysis of Hillary-style triangulation that takes us back to the heyday of neoliberal triumph. Here it is all over again: the appeals to values and the ritual swipes at corrupt liberal culture (remember Sister Souljah?), the "brilliant" strategy of wish-fulfillment for feminists, labor, and the Democrats' other traditional allies, coupled with conservative, pro-business politics and an active courtship of the Right (remember welfare reform? The execution of Ricky Ray Rector?).
The whole story is bad deja vu. Even the way Bai writes his magazine piece--using broad brushstrokes to paint that gang of aging hippies who run the "interest groups" in Washington as the enemies of progress, and "most Americans" as the kind of simple, values-loving, black-and-white, right-and-wrong, rock-and-roll folks those passť hippies just don't get.
There is a name for Bai's kind of reasoning--based on generalizations and a breathless spinning of a theory that seems only here and there tacked down to facts: It's called sophistry. That Hillary Clinton is a "new" new Democrat, who can save us from the "old" Democrats and their stale, class-based politics is so patently silly you might giggle--if it didn't appear that the Democrats may, in fact, hitch their star to this twice-defeated strategy.
We are not living in the age of Bill Clinton anymore. Bai, it must be noted, points this out. He talks a lot about the activist blogosphere as the next wave of politics. But that's not the half of it. The world is going up in flames--Iraq burning, New Orleans drowning, the rollback of government services, the permanent huge tax cuts for the rich. . . . America is being transformed, on our watch, into the cowboy capitalist frontier the Right has long dreamed about. "Right and wrong" and "moral values" are indeed appropriate to the current moment. But not in the empty, stylistic gestures the Clintons have both managed to perfect.
Having a Presidential candidate who (once again) tries to look like a family-loving, God fearing, middle-America-getting conservative is not so much objectionable. It is just beside the point. High moral dudgeon about violence in films, from a candidate who makes a point of supporting the war in Iraq and calling for a larger troop commitment there, is just plain hokum. A real moral-values candidate would be unafraid of criticizing this Administration for its immoral deeds: enriching its friends while it cuts services for the rest of the country, leaving the poor to die in New Orleans, lying its way into a quagmire in Iraq. Instead, we are staring at warmed-over Clintonism--criticizing the left for not tut-tutting enough over women who have abortions, criticizing Hollywood (there's a novel political idea!) for producing violent entertainment, and holding hands with the Right on all the issues that really count.
Let's hope Bai is correct that Hillary may have miscalculated the strength of the 20 something blogger brigade. Someone who remembers the fiasco campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry needs to wake us up before we have this nightmare all over again.
Ruth Conniff covers national politics for The Progressive and is a voice of The Progressive on many TV and radio programs.
© 2005 The Progressive