Feb 20, 2008

February 18, 2008: Gorilla in the Room, Grasping at Straws, Waging War on Hope

Last Sunday, while speaking in Steubenville, Ohio, former President Bill Clinton criticized Hillary’s rival for the Democratic Nomination saying that Barack was na├»ve to assume that we could put aside all the food-fights of the last generation. He said that “if you believe that we can sit down with the Republicans and come to agreements with them and all will be pleasant and rosy…well…I’ve got some land I’d like to sell you”.

Bill is, of course, the 800 pound gorilla in the room; a former President who’s ego is nearly as large as the shadow he casts over his wife’s campaign. It has not been a good year for the Clinton’s, they had thought that the campaign would have been wrapped up by now, they had planned to have nailed down the nomination by Super Tuesday, February 5, and had made no plans and had built no ground organization in the states that followed. With Obama surging and passing her in the delegate count, and gaining growing support among Catholics, union households and middle class whites, the Clintons are left grasping at straws.

The problem as Joe Scarborough, the former Republican Congressman from Florida and now host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”, is that the Clintons have lost the initiative. In 1992 when Bill ran his first campaign he presented himself as the “Agent of Change”. The problem, as the historical record shows, is that for the middle class the 8 years of the Clinton administration brought no change—it brought only further erosion of standing. This has left Hillary’s campaign to stress experience. But again, the problem presents itself: what, from the middle-class point of view, was accomplished during those 8 long years? The middle class remembers NAFTA, the wholesale loss of the old industrial jobs, stagnant or declining wages, and the loss of worker’s benefits. It remembers boarded up Main Streets, and whole industries leaving the country. The problem is that no matter how hard Hillary tries to fire up the party, too many remember that the 90’s were a celebration to which they were uninvited.

Bill Clinton is the Darth Vader of American politics. As head of the “Democratic Leadership Council”, a group he formed to take control the Democratic Party, he transformed the Democracy from a party that represented the working men and women of this country into yet another tool in service of Corporate America. The fact is that Bill did sit down with the opposition and did negotiate agreements. Remember the famous strategy of “triangulation” put forward by Dick Morris in which Bill would balance himself between the Republican Majority and his own party? Remember the miserable legislation that he signed off on? He signed Newt’s Telecommunications act making it possible for Rupert Murdock to set up shop in the United States and making Fox Noise possible. He signed off on the federal responsibility for welfare, waging successful war with the Republicans against the “Welfare Queens” of the land. He re-appointed Alan Greenspan to the Federal Reserve virtually insuring that the workers would get no additional share of the growing economic pie. After 13 veto’s he signed off on allowing the banks to invest in the stock market, tearing down one of the last firewalls erected by the New Deal. Under his tutelage, Wall Street prospered while Main Street suffered.

In fact what infuriated the Republicans most, what fueled the investigations and the impeachment, was that he had stolen their thunder. He did what they have for more than a half a century promised to do—balance the budget. He cut crime by putting 100,000 additional policemen on the beat. And he also kept the screws turned down on the workers and allowed Wall Street to walk off with the plunder. This, besides the legacy of scandal, is what the working people of this country remember.

Geraldine Ferraro once said in a speech, following her unsuccessful bid to become Vice President in 1984, that America needs the Republican Party. “What we don’t need”, she told her audience, “is two Republican Parties”. While some of us would vehemently disagree with the first part of that statement, her point is well taken. For a generation the Democrats, beginning with Jimmy Carter’s push for deregulation and taxes on unemployment benefits have been turning cartwheels in an effort to outdo the Republicans. This madness reached its pinnacle during the administration of William Jefferson Clinton.

Many through these long years have yearned for a champion, someone to pick up the fallen standard of Robert Kennedy and take to the ramparts. Today that champion, that would be Luke Skywalker, that young Jedi is Barack Obama.

The Clintons now have nothing left. They have no record upon which to base a campaign on experience. They can no longer present the country with a fiction of change. They are left only with offering more of the same. Last Sunday Bill Clinton said that we cannot transcend the things that divide us. That, in effect, change is impossible. “If you believe….well I got some land I want to sell you”. This is what happens when one sells one’s soul to the devil; when one goes over to the “Dark Side”.

At the Democratic National Convention in 1992, the party was presented with a splendid little film biography of their new champion. In it we were told that the man from Hope had made this incredible journey from modest means to the pinnacle of power. The message was that you could take the boy out of Hope but you couldn’t take Hope out of the boy. Something happens to a man when he sells out, when he goes over to the dark side. As Joe Scarborough pointed out this morning, Bill now finds himself, in the end, waging war on Hope itself.

The young Jedi has met Darth Vader and made him confront his own hopelessness. It is left only to administer the final coup de grace.

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