I'm planning to post this series, plus the full list of a dozen slicedBread suggestions, at http://www.davidbrin.com/politics.html
Tell you what, in order to show balance, I think I may re-register as a... Republican.
You doubt me? Just wait.
The Political Battle over Modernity
Part V: WAS CLINTON DIFFERENT? THE EXCEPTION TO THE RULE.
What can we expect in the next few political seasons?
Some things are more certain than sunrise. For starters, standard leftist mantras will dominate the primaries, while candidates vie for support from the passionately committed...
... followed by a frantic, post-convention scurry as candidates earnestly burnish their "moderate" credentials for the November face-off.
Alas, for the poor benighted Democrats, this dance will prove (as always) ineffective. The rightwing-controlled press will recall every vaguely lefty statement that each candidate ever made. Any subsequent explanations or equivocations will be labeled "wishy-washy" or indecisive, a character flaw that is routinely portrayed in the press as more heinous than dogmatic obstinacy.
Meanwhile, there are already dark warnings from the left, that any drive for the center will be punished by the Democratic Party’s home-grown ideologues.
As happened to every Democratic candidate, other than the agile Bill Clinton, this quickstep of relentless explanation, clarification, and re-explanation will dominate campaign news. Too-left. Too-moderate. Too wishy-washy in between. These are the Scylla, Charybdis and Styx of every modern Democratic candidacy. And by dancing to this tune, the candidate inevitably wastes both time and resources, then winds up dashed against all three shoals, at the same time.
So, how did Bill Clinton escape this trap?
* First, he relentlessly avoided excluding people and groups, unless it was clearly necessary. He even found things to praise in Newt Gingrich’s "Contract With America!" (This is a hint to something the Democrats really ought to try next.)
These Clintonian behaviors weren’t just a matter of tactics, but of personality. In taking this approach, Clinton resembled the inclusive tendencies of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. Moreover, conservatives were right to fear this. It was why the true believers had to be diverted from debates over policy to issues of "character."
* Second, Clinton never bought into the silly and insipid notion of a clearcut "left-right political axis." And when fanatics of left or right tried relentlessly to apply such labels, he simply shrugged it off.
* Third, Clinton only got into real trouble when he lied.
This final item would seem to be a tautology! After all, the self-hypnotic mantra of the far right is that Clinton always lied. And yet, the irony is that he won almost every battle that he ever fought, and most of them weren’t even close. The ONLY fight that was truly a squeaker happened to be the only time anybody was able to prove that he lied.
Now, there are two possible paths you can take from there. One is to say that he wasn’t caught in any other lies because he was so "slick." Too slick to be caught even by the entire apparatus of the GOP, after they had all of the filing cabinets and all the papers of the Executive Branch in their hands, for five long years, along with all of the resources of the Justice Department and the FBI. Right.
The other, far simpler explanation -- but one that neocons cannot conceive, or even parse -- is that, contrary to the mantra, Bill Clinton simply did not lie very much. Despite the howls of derision that this second hypothesis will reflexively provoke on the right, which view is supported by actual evidence?
A detailed rebuttal can come elsewhere. But three irrefutable facts are utterly inconsistent with the standard mantra.
. (a) Under Clinton the government’s use of secrecy went down to its lowest level since WWII (in contrast to overwhelming Bush-Cheney increases in secrecy, to levels never seen even during the Cold War).
. (b) During almost the whole span of the Clinton Administration, it was subjected to relentless supervision and scrutiny by subpoena-equipped staffers from Republican-controlled Congressional committees -- something that has not happened, even remotely, under the present regime.
. (c) We were promised that Slick Willy and his guys would all go to jail, just as soon as "honest Republicans" got those Executive Branch filing cabinets to pore through. "Any day now..." we were assured during the first six months of 2001. By autumn, people were starting to wonder. Now, five years later, after untold millions in resources spent looking for smoking guns, the total number of Clinton era officials indicted for abuse of their actual powers in office is... still… zero.
These facts are not ambiguous or politically biased. They are simply, blatantly, outrageously plain facts. They put severe test to standard articles of neoconservative faith posited by the right and inflicted upon Americans for thirteen years.
* Finally, Clinton was unashamed of reaching out to particular subsets of conservatism, taking advantage of inherent schisms, splitting the right-wing coalition and luring away support from the other side.
Alas, these efforts were nearly always of short duration. Clinton’s own notion of a Big Tent was always tactical, never strategic, a character flaw that historians may someday deem far worse than sexual pecadillos. As soon as the next political battle came along, the same obdurate "liberal-conservative" party lines re-asserted themselves.
Because classic liberals and conservatives wanted it that way.
Hence, even if the Democrats come up with another political genius like Clinton, and even supposing that he wins the Presidency, that will be no panacea for a revitalized liberalism, or even revitalized moderation. Not if the same self-defeating habits continue to prevail at all lower levels.
Unless something is done about the deeper problem… that of a deliberately induced "Culture War"… the grand strategy of neoconservatism will continue to achieve brilliant success, out of all proportion to the merit of their policies or agenda.
...next, detailed examples of liberal suicide....
Return to Part 1: Ideas for Rescuing Modernity