Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Two drafts ended several decades ago; in both cases, it seemed like a good idea at the time. In retrospect, there is reason to regret the changes.

There was, first of all, the military draft. Nixon’s move to an all “volunteer” army – in other words, to economic conscription only – was shrewd. It was so shrewd that even today, with the military’s manpower needs stretched past the limit, neither the military brass nor the Pentagon’s neo-con “intellectuals” call for reinstating outright conscription. They know that, with non-volunteers under their command, they’d have mutinies on their hands that would dwarf those of the Vietnam era. If we had a real draft today, the Bush wars would never have started or would have ended long ago or, failing that, the country would by now be in such turmoil that even Democrats would hasten to end them, with the full support of our “economic elites.”

With the rise of the primary system, political drafts at state and national party conventions ended in the early 70s too. Primaries were Progressive Era contrivances, but for many decades, they were held only in a few jurisdictions. The institutionalization of binding primaries in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and in overseas territories seemed a genuinely democratizing advance: the voters themselves, not party leaders in “smoke filled rooms” would choose the candidates. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Nowadays, neither the people nor good-hearted or at least responsive (and often corrupt) politicians rule; the folks with the money, the candidates’ paymasters, call the shots.

Thus the well-funded Hillary juggernaut proceeds on course. Perhaps, as Walter Shapiro writes in the Oct. 16 edition of salon.com, early front runners (like Howard Dean or Ed Muskie) tend to peak too soon – often, though not necessarily, by making some “gaffe” -- confounding the pundits by tanking before the are able to collect the nomination that had seemed inevitably theirs. I certainly hope Hillary tanks, just as I hope that John Edwards wins the nomination and, more important, that he turns out not to be a Clintonite. But this is all wishful thinking. Edwards is looking increasingly unlikely to win and he probably is a Clintonite under the skin anyway. Above all, Hillary is unlikely to make a gaffe; she’s too good at seeming to be in charge. Perhaps it could have happened had there been more nastiness in the past several months. [It was to that end that I proposed establishing Monica Lewinsky Democratic Clubs in every city, town and hamlet.] By now it’s probably too late and, in any case, the new Hillary is not easily provoked. She may lose the Iowa caucuses, but don’t count on her to shriek.

If political drafts were still possible, how much more hopeful the future might seem! Hardly anybody actually wants Hillary to be the candidate; it’s just that she seems inevitable. But, since he won the Nobel Prize, there are lots of Democrats who want Al Gore to be the nominee. If an open convention were held today, he’d probably come out the winner – even if, especially if, he wouldn’t run for the nomination (but, of course, also wouldn’t refuse it). Needless to say, the Al Gore of 2000 would be no improvement over the Hillary Clinton of 2007. Given the choice, even I would probably prefer her, if for no other reason (there really is none!) than that she is a her. But today’s Al Gore is or at least seems to be a different man – no longer the corporate whore of old, but an environmental crusader. Whether or not he has changed as much as it seems, many Democrats believe he has. That might be enough to do what Barack Obama and John Edwards have so far been unable to do – to blow Clinton, though perhaps not Clintonism, out of the water. But, of course, Gore won’t be drafted. To win the nomination, he’d have to run in the primaries, and that he won’t do. But maybe, just maybe, the thought that he might will arouse sufficient number of Democratic voters from their Clintonite slumbers; maybe that thought will provide the spark necessary for the Democratic “base” to deselect the front runner while there is still time. No doubt, this is wishful thinking too. But wouldn’t it be wonderfully ironic if even just the thought of that arch-Clintonite of old should play a role in dispatching the Clintons from the scene and, along with them, perhaps also the political tendency that bears their name.

No comments: