Clintonism in its classical form is a version of late twentieth-century (corporate) neo-liberalism, developed mainly by boomers who, having aged prosperously, still identify culturally and socially, but not politically, with attenuated versions of late-60s and early-70s radicalism. Clintonism gives political expression to the kinder, gentler or at least more enlightened elements of the “power elite” on Wall Street and elsewhere, while “feeling the pain” of their victims. Clintonites favor free trade and fiscal conservatism. When it comes to defending the interests they serve, they are not shy about projecting military power – provided it is done competently and that not too many Americans get hurt. Clintonites are adept at coopting “moderate” African-American, Latino, feminist, environmentalist and labor leaders. Clintonism is also a lightening rod for “the great right wing conspiracy” – not so much for its policies but because it reeks of the slickness and inauthenticity of the family for which it is named. For more than six years, Clintonites were shameless aiders and abettors of the Cheney/Bush government – a loyal opposition indeed! But circumstances change. Thus, in recent months, Clintonism seems to have morphed into a new stage. I propose that we call this strain of post-classical Clintonism – Pelosiism. The name is arbitrary; other Democratic Party leaders are at least as culpable as Nancy Pelosi. But she is the most prominent exemplar of the tendency.
Pelosiism was in the making even before the 2006 elections, but it only came to full fruition in the votes held at the end of last week to fund Bush’s wars and his occupation regimes through the summer. The conventional wisdom is that Bush called the Democrats’ bluff and won. On that understanding, the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, became a subject of derision over the weekend. But it was clear from the beginning that the leadership would cave in; indeed, caving in was the whole point! The reasons why have little to do with what conventional wisdom and the Democrats themselves call “political reality.” The political reality is that Bush’s back is against the wall. Even the military is now so much against him that it’s beginning to look like he won’t get the war he wants so badly against Iran. The public generally, and Democratic voters in particular, want the Bush wars to end now. This is why all of the Democratic contenders for President who are in the Senate, with one exception (the irksome Joe Biden) voted against funding the war. Even Hillary Clinton did! The Democrats’ caved because they are Pelosiists.
Pelosiism is a version of classical Clintonism, made necessary by the realization that the public will no longer tolerate Joe Lieberman style collaboration with the Cheney/Bush government. Thus a Pelosiite will insist in no uncertain terms that he or she is with the people on the war. But then that Pelosiite will be sure to vote for the war or, if that is politically impossible, to assure that the vote will go Bush’s way. [It should go without saying, though unfortunately it does not, that in our Constitutional system for a legislator to vote to fund a war is to vote for that war.] Pelosiism combines basic Clintonite commitments – to corporate neo-liberalism, to developing and deploying so much military power that rivals will see that “there is no alternative” to doing what our power elites want, to Eisenhower era fiscal conservatism – with nominal support for positions that voters who have grown weary of Clintonism support.
Who are the Pelosiites? All the Democratic war and occupation funders in the House and Senate are likely candidates. Not one among them is officially “for” the war. But you can’t exactly tell who the Pelosiites are from last Friday’s votes: after all, Nancy Pelosi herself voted against the funding bill, just as Hillary Clinton did. Pascal famously remarked that “too much light blinds us” – in other words, that anything pushed to the extreme and beyond can take on the appearance and even the character of its opposite. Were there not more obvious explanations involving opportunism alone, Pelosi’s and Clinton’s votes might count as instances of the phenomenon Pascal identified. But, for the most part, the vote is a good enough indicator. In the House, more than ninety Democrats voted either to give Bush all he wanted or didn’t vote at all. Every one of them is a self-reported war opponent. Their rationalization is just that, while they’re against the war, they’re “for” the troops. This is not credible -- they didn’t get as far as they have by being stupid (that only works for Republicans!), and you’d have to be stupid to think, as many Republicans sincerely do, that prolonging the war supports the troops. The only explanation is that they are Clintonites first and foremost, and that they are prepared to insult the intelligence of their constituents if need be, in order to keep a fundamentally Clintonite policy on course. This is the essence of Pelosiism.
Pelosi herself apart, it is fair to conjecture that most, indeed nearly all, Pelosiites in the House of Representatives can be found among those who voted to fund Bush’s wars; and therefore that most of the other Democrats in Congress genuinely do oppose Pelosiism -- contemporary Clintonism -- to some degree. Here follows a list of the clear Pelosiites. Note that most of the House leadership (Hoyer, Emanuel, etc.) are on the list, as is John Murtha who, after a brief flirtation with courage, seems to have reverted back to his old war-mongering, Bush collaborating ways:
Altmire, Andrews, Baca, Baird, Barrow, Bean, Berkley, Berry, Bishop (GA), Boren, Boswell, Boucher, Boyd (FL), Boyda (KS), Butterfield, Cardoza, Carney, Chandler, Clyburn, Cooper, Costa, Cramer, Cuellar, Davis (CA), Davis, Lincoln, Dicks, Dingell, Donnelly, Edwards, Ellsworth, Emanuel, Etheridge, Giffords, Gillibrand, Gonzalez, Gordon, Green, Gene, Herseth Sandlin, Hill, Hinojosa, Holden, Hoyer, Kagen, Kanjorski, Kildee, Kind, Lampson, Larsen (WA), Levin, Lipinski, Mahoney (FL), Marshall, Matheson, McIntyre, Meek (FL), Melancon, Mitchell, Mollohan, Moore (KS), Murtha, Ortiz, Peterson (MN), Pomeroy, Rahall, Reyes, Rodriguez, Ross, Ruppersberger, Salazar, Schwartz, Scott (GA), Sestak, Shuler, Skelton, Snyder, Space, Spratt, Stupak, Tanner, Taylor, Thompson (MS), Udall (CO), Visclosky, Walz (MN), Wasserman Schultz, Wilson (OH)
Then there are the Democrats who decided to sit the vote out: Berman, DeGette, Engel, Jones (OH), Lewis (GA), and Oberstar. That John Lewis’s name should appear in this context is particularly sad.
On the other hand, 142 Congressional Democrats did find it in themselves, if not to end the war directly, then at least not to let Bush do whatever he wants. They should be thanked, but it is the anti-war movement that should be praised. It forced all but a handful of them who, like Dennis Kucinich, would have done so anyway, to vote the right way.
In the Senate, only 10 Democrats voted against the war, and one of them was Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama and Chris Dodd alsovoted correctly; perhaps their motives are a bit less opportunistic. Those more unequivocally deserving praise are: Boxer, Feingold, Kennedy, Kerry, Leahy, Whitehouse and Wyden. They were joined by Bernie Sanders and by two Republicans: Burr and Enzi. In deference to Clinton’s position, her fellow New York Senator, Chuck Schumer, along with four Republicans, didn’t vote at all. That must have been easy for Schumer and hard for the others. It is becoming the norm that, in the courage department, there are more than a few Republicans who rival even the best that the POP has to offer.