Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bad and Badder

Hegel famously remarked that all great political movements develop left and right wings. [I am referring, of course, to the philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, not Obama’s traveling companion and potential running mate Chuck (R, Nebraska). The latter spells his name differently and never thinks dialectically.] Hegel’s observation pertains to mediocre political movements as well. Clintonism – that peculiarly Democratic version of imperialist and neo-liberal politics – is an example.

The institutional home of orthodox Clintonism is still the Democratic Leadership Council with its affiliated “think tank,” the (misleadingly named) Progressive Policy Institute. The center is holding, but not very well – thanks mainly to disgust with the Bush government. It has dawned on many voters that there are many affinities between orthodox Clintonism and Bush’s policies, notwithstanding the Bush government’s incompetence and its dull-headed unilateralism. Voters are coming to realize that differences on cultural and social questions don’t matter as much as they seemed to a decade ago, and that on the traditional axes of political life, there is just not enough difference. There is also the fact that, during the primaries, Hillary Clinton, the standard bearer of orthodox Clintonism, was obliged to veer slightly to the left. Moreover, centrist Clintonism is bound to take an Obamaistic turn. No one quite knows what that portends – beyond “change” and “hope” and other vacuous aspirations. The principle of plus ├ža change governs, of course; but, even so, new people are likely to implement more than merely cosmetic changes. With respect to “national security” policy, some inkling of what we can expect is offered in the current New York Review by Samantha Power,a likely Obama functionary. If she is right, under Obama’s leadership, Clintonism is likely to morph into a kind of neo-Trumanism – a more imaginative imperialism, based on professional military power and (multilateral) institution building. It is significant that, in recent years, Harry Truman, architect of the Cold War and founder of the national security state -- the only Commander in Chief ever to have dropped nuclear weapons on human populations -- has been venerated by centrist Clintonites with as much zeal as Republicans (and many Democrats too) venerate the right-wing actor and anti-New Deal militant Ronald Reagan.

I have called left Clintonism “Pelosiism,” and analyzed its mischievousness in countless entries. Pelosiites talk left and act – Clintonite. They are enablers. There are perhaps a dozen genuine progressives in the Progressive Caucus; the rest are out and out Pelosiites. Thanks to the 2006 elections, when the Democrats snookered anti-war voters into thinking that a vote for a Democrat was an anti-war vote, the ranks of the Pelosiites have swelled somewhat – not so much because many real or phony progressives were elected (the Pelosiite leadership saw to it that only a very few ran), but because many centrist Clintonites, seeing which way the wind is blowing, have edged every so slightly out of the center and into the Pelosiite fold.

Then, overlapping with the DLC, there are the Blue Dog Democrats, the Clintonite right. In his most recent entry at salon.com, Glenn Greenwald makes a convincing case for booting as many of them as possible out of office. His arguments are persuasive. The one thing all Clintonites have in common is opportunism; they “triangulate” at every opportunity. Pelosiites and orthodox Clintonites (including Obama and his advisors) are friendly to imperialism and militarism and pro-corporate by nature. But the Blue Dog Democrats drag them even further to the right. The chances of forcing the coming Obama administration to steer a better course would be enhanced if the influence of the Blue Dogs within the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, were diminished. But even if Obama can’t be changed for the better, rank-and-file Democrats in the House and Senate will legislate and investigate better (less badly), the fewer right-wing Clintonites there are.

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