Hillary Clinton Is The Madonna of American Politics
The second casualty of Election 2008 will be the regressive right movement that has done so much damage to the United States and the world these last decades. The Republicans lost another bi-election this week in a district that should have been a cakewalk for them. That makes three of late, including the former seats of Speaker Dennis Hastert and Trent Lott. (The latter race was in Mississippi, y'all, and even featured use of the entire Republican playbook of liberal- and race-baiting -- prominently featuring Obama and Reverend Wright, of course -- to no avail. Did I mention it was in Mississippi?)
Hurricane Bush has done a 180, and is circling back on Washington with an angry vengeance, building up a furious force as it nears land, hunting for anything and everything that moves and has an 'R' following its name. The GOP and their regressive agenda will be the second casualty of Election 2008, and it's going to be a blowout the likes of which we've not seen since 1932.
But, even before that happens, the first casualty will be the enablers par excellence of that regressive movement all these years, the Clinton Family. Indeed, they're already finished, and all that remains is for them to further humiliate and ostracize themselves by refusing to let go, a project they seem only too willing to pursue to their own destruction.
I like 2008.
People like me get a lot of grief from other folks for being supposed Clinton-bashers. But, then, some of us also got a lot of grief (sometimes from a few of the same people) for being Bush-bashers in 2001 and 2002. I would submit that the reason is the same in both cases. We refused to buy into the mythology of the post-9/11 presidency, or of the wonderfully empathetic one which preceded it, and we were right not to. We just got there a little earlier than other folks. By 2007, just about everybody had figured out what a disaster George W. Bush was. Now they're finally starting to grok the Clintons as well.
Some people also accuse those of us who despise Hillary of being biased, or worse, against a female candidate, and Mrs. Clinton (the former Ms. Rodham, mind you -- some feminist she) has more than once hinted at playing that convenient card. Talk about hiding behind a skirt. I resent that presumption, especially as a feminist (though I never particularly liked that appellation, for the same reason that I wouldn't want to be labeled a 'blackist' because of my support of racial equality), and as a progressive who is anxious to broaden the ranks of those participating in American politics well beyond the class of straight, white, rich males who've been mucking it up for over two centuries now. For the record, I loathe Hill, but I also loathe Bill at least as much. Thatcher disgusted me, but no more or less than Reagan. I admire Eleanor Roosevelt deeply, rather much like I feel toward what's-his-name?, that guy she was married to. In short, when it comes to politics, I don't really care what you're packin' in your undies, but rather what you stand for and how willing you are to fight for it.
Watching Hillary in action lately, I am reminded of nothing so much as her husband's disorientation during his White House years, when everything came a cropper. You could see that Billbo assumed all along that he, like his hero JFK, would be getting laid two and three times a day during his presidency, without anyone knowing. That just seemed like one of the built-in perks of the job! You know, Air Force One, Secret Service, tons of babes. Like that. He seemed completely unprepared for the concept that neither the Republicans (themselves even more promiscuous) nor the media would wink and nod and keep his dalliances secret, as they'd done for every other American president.
Similarly, Hillary now seems startled to have played by all the traditional rules of presidential politics, only to be denied that to which she most surely is entitled. She's like Prince Charles. Or maybe Gordon Brown. It's so freakin' unfair. She played the hyperpower nationalist card, voting for a war that she knew was a total lie, because you had to do that to become president. Who gives a shit if a million Iraqis are dead? Who even cares if 4,000 Americans are in the same state and countless lives in this country have been shattered? Of course (and unlike where the Iraqis are concerned), you do have to pretend to care about these fallen soldiers. But let's not lose sight of our priorities here, people. They gave their lives selflessly for a higher cause -- namely, so that Hillary Clinton (or John Kerry or John Edwards) could experience the personal joyride of the presidency.
Since then, Hillary The Inevitable has pandered to voters in every way imaginable, quaffing beers and knocking on doors, faking tears and pretending to care about the poor. Oh, and don't forget the gas tax relief plan. You know, the one that demonstrates how much more in touch with the common people she is than her opponent.
And then, of course, there's race. We expect it when Karl Rove or Lee Atwater or their candidate marionettes play the race card in American politics, though there seems to be decreasing tolerance for that kind of disgusting garbage, especially where newly mobilized young voters are concerned. When a Democrat does it, or even a Potemkin Democrat like the Clintons or GOP-Joe Lieberman, it's shocking to see. But the Clintons have in fact been doing it all year now, in a desperate attempt to salvage the fast-disappearing presidency to which only they have legitimate claim.
In a recent interview, Hillary made reference to an AP survey and noted that it "found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me." "There's a pattern emerging here", she added.
Let's leave aside for the moment (but more on this below) why you would ever want to brag about having locked up the uneducated racist vote in this country. That's something to be proud of? That's your argument for why everyone should break all the rules and give you the nomination?
But, even apart from that idiocy, it must be noted that these are the most outrageous and shameful remarks from the most outrageous and shameful campaign. They show, at last, for even the most naive, what the Clintons are truly all about. But, what they really reveal, above all, is her frustration at having done all the things you're supposed to do in order to fool stupid little people into electing you president. All the tedious meet-and-greets, all the endless handshakes, all the bogus smiles until you feel like your jaw is about to freeze forever in that position (and maybe it wouldn't be so bad if it did), all the whoring for contributions from people you can't stand, and all the lying. Okay, well, maybe the lying isn't so tough. But you get the picture.
So there's poor Hillary this week, still trying to make the case for a lost cause. She might as well be trying to convince Catholic women not to use birth control. The old magic just isn't working anymore, and she seems like nothing so much as a women who has stumbled into a parallel universe, where all the rules have changed. What she was really saying when she made those remarks this week was, "Look, I sucked up to stupid low-rent voters, the kind of people you'll never see me within a thousand yards of other than when I have to go through this horrible prostrating ritual every four or six years. I gave them the war they love, the flag waving that makes them feel good about themselves, and the ubiquitous tax breaks so we can all pretend I'm a friend of the middle class. I even stooped so low as to feed them the racist rhetoric that allows them to momentarily forget their place in the social hierarchy. I did everything you're supposed to do, okay? Now give me my goddamned presidency!"
What I never understood is why anybody ever saw this pair (and now Chelsea, as well) in any other light. When you think of the principles and people they've thrown overboard in a relentless pursuit of their self-interest, it's astonishing that anybody ever considers them in any other way. Think about it for a second. Let's just leave aside all the damage done for the time being, and ask ourselves what they did right with eight years of the presidency. I personally tend to doubt the capacity presidents have to influence the economy -- though they are nevertheless always judged on that basis by voters -- and I think this is especially true in Clinton's case, where he happened to be in the right place when the dot-com gusher went off. But, okay, let's give Wild Bill a little bit of credit anyhow for presiding over a solid economy that even helped the middle class a bit for once. What else is on the list, after that? Seriously, I can't think of anything. Advances in healthcare? Civil rights? Foreign policy successes? Great Supreme Court appointments? Environmental leadership? Moral leadership (and, no, I'm not talking about jive GOP sexual morality, which Vito Fosella proved yet again this week is simply a euphemism for complete hypocrisy)? Eight years wasted. Eight years, and there's no there there.
Except sell-outs and failures. You wanna understand the Clinton presidency? What is perhaps its greatest crime is also a walking metaphor for the whole enchilada of that administration. Remember how after the Holocaust everyone said "Never again!"? Turns out that that 'again' came in Rwanda while Bodacious Bill was in the White House. This one's classic Clinton. While 800,000 people were getting hacked to death with machetes, he refused to come to their rescue. That would be bad enough, but it gets worse. He also made sure that the UN couldn't come to their rescue either, presumably to protect his presidency from a potential Somalia-style quagmire if those forces had to be bailed out. That too would be worse, but still it gets worse yet. He had the sheer gall to go to Rwanda afterwards, and apologize for 'not doing enough'. As if that was what happened. As if he had tried, but got waylaid by some other urgent problems elsewhere, like maybe failing to protect gays from discrimination, or doing Wall Street's business by jamming through trade agreements that undercut workers and trash the environment.
If you understand this, you understand everything about these people. I spoke at a conference on the Clinton presidency once, where sundry notables, pundits and former administration types were all a-agitating and a-cogitating, trying to figure out the mystery of Clinton's ideology, given that when he was president he had tacked right, feinted left, then tacked right again, for eight years or more. As I noted then, it's simple if you stop looking for real ideological commitments to ideas and policies, as those commitments are traditionally understood. Rather, the ideology of the Clintons is the Clintons. Once you get that, it all makes sense.
Then you can understand why a Democratic president would throw welfare moms and their dependant children under the bus in order to win an election he already had in his pocket. Then you get why he would toss gay rights aside by signing the Defense of Marriage Act, or come up with the weasly Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell policy, in order to placate conservative voters. Then you see why he sat on Kyoto and the International Criminal Court treaties, sweeping them under the carpet until Bush could come along and annihilate them permanently. Then you know how Clinton could sell-out working class and middle class Americans by jamming through WTO and NAFTA, saying he'd come back later to fix the labor and environmental crimes in those treaties (still waitin', Bill -- any time now would be fine). Then you get why, in order to get himself reelected in 1996, he ran against his own party's members of Congress, including many who had walked the plank for him on tax hikes, gun control and Hillary's abortion of a healthcare plan. We could go on and on. Half a million dead in Iraq through failed sanctions, including on food and medicine -- hundreds of thousands of them children. Ruby Ridge and Waco. Myriad appointees tossed overboard the minute right-wing lunatics characterized them as remotely controversial. And more and more and more.
Get it? All benefits to the Clintons. All expenses externalized, including to loyal allies and the soldiers of their little army. All of which leaves me with just one question: Why in the world is anyone even remotely surprised that they are now absolutely willing to wreck the party, wreck its chances in November, wreck Obama, wreck the country by giving us a third Bush term under McCain, and use tactics as sick as racism to pursue their incredibly selfish goals? Man, I would have been shocked if they hadn't. I'll tell you one thing. In actuality, this ain't nothin'. If it wasn't for their (now rather stale) desire to preserve some (bogus) legacy, but especially for their desire to keep alive a possible run four or eight years from now, you'd actually be seeing a lot worse than even this garbage. This is the Alpha Family of the Me Generation, on irradiated steroids, my friends, and they don't take prisoners. You'd have to go hang with the junta in Myanmar to find folks more willing to sacrifice others in order to serve their own interests. Or, of course, you could save the airfare and just join your local Republican Club.
Given this combination of failures, sell-outs and nonexistent successes, how do we account for the degree to which the Clintons have been lionized by otherwise relatively sane Democratic voters? This may be the saddest part of all, but it is reflective of how deep go the roots of the American political tragedy of our time. Just one glance at the gossip rags in the supermarket checkout lines and their headlines (celebrities, sex, weight loss, celebrities, sex, weight loss) gives you a pretty quick reading of the intellectual state of the electorate. Why do we vote for dynastic idiots to lead the world's only superpower for eight years, based on the criterion of who would be most fun to have a beer with? Because we're seriously stupid, and we're functional illiterates when it comes to reading politics. For the same reason, people love (or, for the right, hate) Bill Clinton on the basis of his personality, without any clue as to what he really did in office. And his wife is one step removed from even that.
We're a society that can no longer distinguish between substance and celebrity - indeed, there may no longer actually be a difference remaining anymore -- and Hillary Clinton is the perfect candidate for our era. She is to American politics what Madonna has been to rock-and-roll.
Remember when rock mattered? I was reminded this week of how far we've come by this photo showing a beaming Dmitri Medvedev hanging with the jaded members of Deep Purple, the latter doing yet another private gig for yet another member of the überclass. Look at these people. Look at the suits, all happy on themselves. "Da! Deepski Purplenik! Da, Dudeski Dudovenich, we rock roll now!" You know Dmitri, don't you? He used to be the head of Gazprom, like the biggest energy conglomerate anywhere, and nowadays pretty much the whole of Russia's government, or at least the part that matters. Now he's the new president of the country, picked by the old president of the country, who once was a nice KGB lad, until he was picked by the preceding president of the country to rule, including by assassination when necessary. Okay, fine, that's politics on the big stage. And, sure, Deep Purple was never exactly pushing any serious boundaries back in the day, unless you consider proto-grunge stonerism a political statement.
And, yeah, I know that there was Wayne Newton well before there was John Lennon. And that the same folks in Jefferson Airplane who gave us "Volunteers" were not many years later selling glossy pop-rock to stadium-size crowds in their new corporate guise as Jefferson Starship. Trust me, my expectations aren't that high here.
But it's still disappointing to look at rock-and-roll and see what is, and what it once was. And I blame Madonna for this. Of course, she's hardly the only culprit. But no one, in my mind, so personifies the corporatization, the trivialization and the faux controversialization of the genre, and no one brought so much of this to bear on a vulnerable medium as early as she did. Madonna's malefic skill was to turn rock music in to a profit-making center by substituting fake controversy for real political and social content. "Ooooooohhh, look, there she is pretending to kiss a woman!!" "Oooooooohhh, now she's fooling with religious iconography!!" Oh, and by the way, there she is also selling millions of disks. And selling out an art form that once meant something.
And so it is with the politics of our time. We're so far from getting the right answers that we've long ago stopped even asking the right questions. Plastic Hillary is the complete personification of that sad state, though of course, her emoticon husband Bill was the master of all time. But it's absolutely the same with either of them. They wouldn't know a principle if it fell on their house like meteor full of molten heavy metals. They will be whatever you want them to be, whatever you need them to be, as long as they can get what they need -- which is power and, especially, psychological validation, via your vote. Do you need her to be tough? Fine, she'll vote for the war. Do you need her to be wise and prudent? Fine, then she'll turn around and oppose your freakin' war. Should we beat up on the poor by killing welfare, or the gays with the Defense of Marriage Act, or the blacks when they vote for Obama? Just what is it you need, ladies and gentlemen? An irresponsible gas tax holiday? No problem! Want fries with that? Can do! She's a fighter!
I truly hope this is the last column I ever write about the Clintons, though I doubt it, knowing them. They're just not going away. And yes, as a matter of fact, that is grossly irresponsible of them, now that you ask, because, no, she doesn't have a prayer at winning the nomination, and, yes, she is tearing down the presumptive nominee and therefore assisting the forces of darkness at obtaining another four years of destructive power. For some reason, with the Clintons, we suspend all the normal rules of the political sandbox, and give them all kinds of free passes. But imagine if someone else were doing this? Imagine if Obama was hanging in there when he could no longer win, trash talking her and effectively dragging down Clinton? Perhaps reminding voters about how she can't seem to attract black voters, a vital Democratic Party constituency? The hue and cry from the Clinton camp would be deafening, and he would be ostracized from the party.
We also suspend our common sense when it comes to these people, for some reason. Why is Hillary doing this? What greater cause is she serving by staying in this race? She talks all the time about fighting for healthcare and ending the war and all the other things that are important to do for all those fine little people out there. But there's hardly a nickel's worth of difference between her positions and Obama's. Which means, since he'd be pushing essentially the same policy agenda she would, she's really only fighting for herself and her need to be president. And, worse, the truth is that by doing this, she is actually quite literally fighting against those very principles, because she is helping to hand the election to the GOP, which has rather different ideas altogether.
Yeah, I really hope this is the last column I ever have to write on the Clintons, because I'm sick of them, and I'm angry about the damage they've done and continue to do to American politics, especially by eviscerating our progressive national agenda as well as the former electoral vehicle (before Bill crashed it) of what little progressivism there actually is in America, namely, the Democratic Party. I blame them, above all, for turning the party of FDR into Republican Lite, just as I blame Madonna, above all, for trivializing rock-and-roll. The Clintons are truly DINOs (Democrats In Name Only), and they are truly political dinosaurs as well -- so 1990s in every way. Sorry to break the news to you, kids: The era of small politics is over.
I take pleasure in their comeuppance not because I'm mean-spirited, but because they are so amoral. I'm delighted that their dream has been denied, their name ruined, and their bank account deflated, because it's about time we had some modicum of justice in this country for those who would lie to us, use us, and abuse us, in order to further their own personal agenda.
All of that is playing right now at a theater near you, and I couldn't be happier. One disaster of American politics down, one more to go.
I like 2008.
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (mailto:email@example.com), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.