Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Next Stage

Despite a handsome loss in North Carolina and only a faint “victory” in Indiana, it seems, as of the morning after, that the Clintons will fight on – further increasing the likelihood of “a third Bush term,” as some leading Democrats now describe a John McCain presidency. Perhaps the leadership of the party will find the courage to force the Clintons to cease and desist. It is unlikely, however. Hell hath no fury like a Clinton whose sense of entitlement is offended, and the Democrats are not the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, for nothing.

Nevertheless, after last night, it is almost certain that the Clintons will be defeated -- eventually. But their defeat will not be, as Churchill might have said, the end of the matter or even the beginning of the end; it will only be the end of the beginning. The next, far more difficult, stage will be to defeat Clintonism within the Democratic Party. That will not be easy with Barack Obama, a Clintonite, as the nominee. As last night’s victory speech in North Carolina, essentially a call for “unity,” made plain, Obama is already looking ahead to November – already inching rightward, as if he weren’t already ensconced far to the right of his various constituencies. By November, he will surely still be the lesser evil, and it will be crucial that he defeat John McCain. But an Obama presidency will only make the struggle against Clintonism more subtle – and more urgent.

More than ever, we will have to fight against a foreign policy that uses American military and economic power in the service of a “vision” not all that different from the neo-conservatives; a foreign policy organized around the principle of American dominance, that shows scant respect for the rule of law. We will have to struggle to free domestic policy from the thrall of the interests that finance our politics. Bill Clinton was a more competent imperialist than George W. Bush (though probably less competent than Bush’s Poppy); at least he took care to enlist the support of economic and political elites abroad, and to keep Americans from getting killed by the people he sent them to bomb. Bill Clinton was as abject a tool as his successor of corporate interests and Wall Street. But because, as a Democrat, he had to gesture towards the interests of the constituencies who vote Democratic, he was a bit less brutal than either of the Bushes in the ways he pursued the deregulation of everything (the so-called “Reagan Revolution”) and the (Reaganite) assault on the affirmative state. He was also less of a theocrat, and more socially liberal, than any modern day Republican, except perhaps Ron Paul. Hillary Clinton would no doubt follow in the family tradition. Were she somehow to gain the nomination, we would have a full Clinton Restoration to look forward to or rather to dread.

That danger now seems to have passed, but Barack Obama, so far, shows little sign of being much different. To be sure, he is likely to bring fewer old Clinton hands back into the government. That’s all to the good. And since what he does best is “inspire” the young and clueless, he just might unleash forces that would transcend Clintonite horizons. In this respect, his presidency could resemble that of someone whose politics was even worse than Bill’s Clinton’s, JFK. But this is wishful thinking, grasping at straws. Obama is not good news; it’s just that Hillary is worse.

This is why, after the Clintons are defeated, the next stage of the struggle must begin: to defeat the “ism” that, for long as the memory of the nineties remains fresh, and for as long as Bush/Cheney collaborators control the Democratic Party, it is convenient to name after that dreadful family.

1 comment:

Gordon Barnes said...

It is at least possible, though perhaps unlikely, that Obama is smart enough to play all this centrist crap in order to get elected, but then be willing to move to the left, at least a little bit, once he is elected. He has certainly shown signs of having views that are to the left of the American pseudo-Center. For example, he continues to say, forthrightly, that "if he were starting from scratch," he would propose a Single Payer health care system. That suggests that, underneath the Centrist rhetoric, there are at least a few ideas that are a bit more to the left, and a bit less Clintonite. Will he act on any of those tendencies? Unfortunately, probably not in domestic policy. He doesn't seem to have the will for it (or not as strong a will as his will to get elected). However, when it comes to foreign policy, I am more hopeful. There, I think that his Clintonite rhetoric, which is a bit more tempered, is strictly for political purposes. At least, I think that is possible. I think that in the area of foreign policy, it is more rational to hope that he will depart more significantly from Clintonism. Given the alternatives, I hope we'll get a chance to find out.

As for fighting Clintonism in the near future, the cynical side of me continues to wonder if maybe things have to get a lot worse before they will get any better. People just don't pay much attention, or get anywhere close to getting it right, until their own personal interests are threatened in an obvious, undeniable way. I suspect that is why someone like Obama is even in the running this time around at all (the war and the economy), and as you rightly argue, that isn't much of a move from where we've been already.