Monday, April 30, 2007

Mysteries

There are three great mysteries of recent political history in the United States. One is how, from the 2000 election on, the bad guys got the color “red.” How could red baiting, not to mention the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, be so easily forgotten even in what Gore Vidal calls the United States of Amnesia? A second mystery is why today’s Reds venerate Ronald Reagan. His presidency did a lot for the monied interests, but almost nothing for the useful fools who vote Republican. This leads to the greatest mystery of all: why the Reds hate the Clintons so much.

The phenomenon is puzzling because, at a policy level, there is not much difference between Reaganism and Clintonism. The aim of both is to dismantle what remains of New Deal, Fair Deal and Great Society reforms; and to project American dominance economically and militarily at a global level. Both work to insure that more or less the same economic elites are able to enrich themselves with as little encumbrance as possible. Why, then, love one and hate the other?

The answer that has become conventional wisdom is that the Clintons are socially liberal, while Reagan was not. But the facts are more complicated. It is true that Bill Clinton cultivated constituencies that stand to gain from social liberalism – women, people of color, homosexuals, the welfare-dependent and working poor. But he did little to help and much to harm them all. Why the Clintons are liked, if not exactly loved, by so many of the people he harmed would be yet a fourth mystery, were the answer not so obvious. In part it’s because, having been pressed down for so long, they are glad when anyone in power talks nice to them; in part it’s because Bill Clinton is nothing if not, well, Slick. It is also true that Reagan cultivated voters who are phobic towards these constituencies. But with one significant exception, he did hardly more to harm the objects of their phobias or even to set them back than Clinton did to help them. The one exception was his malign neglect of AIDS. Would a 1980s Clintonite have done better? Maybe. But this difference hardly explains the ferocity of anti-Clinton and pro-Reagan feeling among the Reds.

Perhaps it comes down to nothing more than the fact that in our world, as in the world Yeats long ago described, the best lack conviction, while the worst are full of “passionate intensity.” That would explain why the Reds supported impeachment for a little white lie about a couple of trysts, while the Blues won’t budge for the highest of high crimes and misdemeanors. [Note: I’ve long maintained that but for the lovely and zaftig Monica, Clinton would have tried, as Bush later did, to privatize social security. As a Democrat, he might even have been able to pull it off. Thus, unwittingly, she did more good for the country than a thousand Hillarys. Genuinely progressive Democrats should establish Monica Lewinsky Clubs all over the United States!]

But differences in passion and conviction are not the whole story. The gullibility of the Reds is almost limitless. Even the least unreasonable among them believed in Bush enough to vote for him years after it became clear to all but the willfully blind that he is a buffoon leading a band of incompetents. Some still believe in Bush. Then there’s a hard core that’s even worse – what they believe runs the gamut from A (angels) to Z (the imminent return of Christ to Zion)! Even so, in one key respect the whole sorry lot of them is wiser than Blue proponents of a Clintonite Restoration. They know how to sniff out a certain kind of phony – not the Hollywood kind evidently, but the kind they know from experience, the kind who “feels the pain” of his (and now her) marks.

2 comments:

stevehicken said...
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stevehicken said...

Thanks for putting that into words, Andrew. I've always thought of Clintonism as Reaganism with a human face.