"Clintonism" and the Netroots
Ed Kilgore writes an interesting post about Netroots attitudes towards Bill Clinton. Only problem - it is based on a false premise:
Chris [Bowers] and others didn't come to grips with Scott [Winship]'s underlying argument about the anti-Clinton worldview of the Netroots Left. And that's a shame.
Sorry Ed. Indeed, I think that is part of the whole problem of the discussion at TPMCAfe - the idea that the Netroots has some type of New New Left ideology. That simply is wrong. More.
A few days ago, I wrote a diary on the TPM discussion and the Netroots "ideology." Ironically, I cite Ed Kilgore as leading to the proper view of the Netroots ideology:
Ed Kilgore hints at some of it:Matt differs from a number of other progressive netroots prophets (most notably Markos Moulitsas) in emphasizing the ideological, as opposed to simply partisan, nature of the "movement." . . . Matt's brief note on the relationship of the netroots with the Kerry presidential campaign also doesn't quite get around to mentioning that the unhappiness of bloggers with KE04 was more than echoed by DC establishment Democrats. . . . So it's all a bit more complicated than the usual netroots versus Establishment--or left versus center--analysis tends to admit. As anyone who reads progressive blogs or subscribes to progressive sites will readily acknowledge, the single largest political change enabled by the Internet revolution has been centrifugal, not centripital. Almost overnight, hundreds, maybe thousands, of well-informed and articulate advocates whose views would in the past have been consigned to the cranky confines of Letters to the Editor columns have been given a platform that rivals newspapers and magazines in readership and influence. . . .
Ed is right as far as he goes, but he downplays the key component that has been the glue of the Netroots - the very real rejection of the Establishment Media and Democratic Party by the Netroots. To me that is the critical agreement that defines the Netroots. Perhaps I am merely reflecting my own blog experiences. I posted at daily kos almost exclusively for 3 years. And that was certainly what undergirded our views.We felt, and feel, that the Democratic Party was not fighting for core Democratic values. We felt, and feel, that the Media had accepted the Republican narrative of politics and that Democrats had simply accepted it. We felt, and feel, that organizations like Ed's DLC were undermining the Democratic Party by emphasizing the need to be more like Republicans, or the need to neutralize "values" issues. We felt, and feel, they were simply wrong on the politics.
Ed now posits that, regarding Clinton, the Netroots thinks:
1) Bill Clinton got elected by accident (a combination of Bush 41's political stupidity, and Ross Perot's third-party candidacy), and then spent much of his first term betraying his core progressive constituency by focusing on deficit reduction, supporting free trade, and refusing to fight for single-payer universal health care;
2) After his first-term record discouraged the Democratic base and created a Republican landslide, Clinton got re-elected by "triangulating," caving into Republicans on welfare reform in particular.
3) Clinton's apostasy from progressive principles led to a meltdown of the Democratic Party in Congress and in the states.
4) Clinton's political guidance snuffed Al Gore's 2000 campaign, and his "centrist DLC" acolytes led Democrats into an appeasement strategy that killed the party in 2002 and 2004. Moreover, it became obvious that Clintonism represented not just appeasement of the political Right, but a subservience to corporate interests that Clintonites relied on for campaign contributions.5) The revival of the Left and of the Democratic Party in 2006 involved an implicit repudiation of Clintonism.
Who thinks that Ed? Number 1 is simply absurd and I know of no Netroots person that ascribes to that view. Give us some credit Ed. We know that Perot probably hurt Clinton in 1992, as Clinton held a double digit lead until Perot reentered the race.
Number 2 is equally absurd and I know of no one in the Netroots who says it. If anything, the Netroots has looked to the REPUBLICAN political activity from 1992 to 1994 as sort of a model. You may have heard this one Ed - Fighting Dems.
I have heard number 3 a bit. And there is a a truth buried in the oversimplification - to wit, Clinton DID separate himself from the Democratic Party after 1994 - becoming an island politician. And we do think that hurt the Party to some degree. Indeed, Democratic fortunes improved only AFTER Clinton started to fight back against Gingrich and the Republicans. The 1995 government shutdown was a pivotal POLITICAL turn and led to a significant Democratic recovery in the 1996, 1998 and 2000 elections.
As for number 5, I think Ed misunderstands the thinking of the Netroots here. I actually wrote a post on the subject:
When Jeralyn and other bloggers met with Bill Clinton last month, I mused this question:Amusingly, Ed writes:I asked myself what I would have liked to discuss with Clinton. I thought of this issue most of all - 'does Clinton think his Third Way/New Democrat approach, that worked so well for him (did it work for the Dem Party?) in the 90s (of course since he is the best politician of his generation it is not clear that using of other approaches would not have worked for him) is the right political approach in today's hyperpartisan age of Bush Republicanism?'
In the past month, Bill Clinton has provided his answer:Former President Bill Clinton rallied Iowa Democrats Saturday with a blistering attack on the Republican leadership in Washington . . . Republicans, who control the White House and Congress, have alienated rank-and-file voters by working for the interests of the wealthy and painting opposing viewpoints as unpatriotic, Clinton said in his 45-minute speech at Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines.
More Clinton:I have never seen the American people so serious. Listen to how quiet it is in here . . . And I think I know why, because people know things are out of whack - that fundamental order of the rhythm of public life and our common life as Americans has been severely disturbed," he said. . . . He marked the differences between his administration and President Bush's, and faulted the current president for ushering in ideological leaders who had the interests of the few as priorities.
Unlike Barack Obama who is still searching for "common ground" with extremist Republicans and foregoing the partisan fight for the Party he belongs to, Bill Clinton has realized that his Third Way approach does not work in this climate:Clinton -- who regards Rove with a mixture of admiration and disdain as the most effective modern practitioner of polarizing politics -- said in an interview that he has become fixated on the problem of how Democrats can learn to fight more effectively against the kind of attack President Bush's top political aide leveled. Associates of the former president said he thinks that Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) in 2004 lost the presidency because they could not effectively respond to a modern media culture that places new emphasis on politicians' personalities and provides new incentives for personal attack.
While the Foley and Allen episodes burned Republicans, Clinton said in an interview earlier this year that he thinks the proliferation of media outlets, as well as the breakdown of old restraints in both media and politics, on balance has favored Republicans. Without mentioning Gore or Kerry by name, he complained that many Democrats have allowed themselves to become unnerved and even paralyzed in response."All of this is a head game, you know. . . . All great contests are head games," Clinton said. "Our candidates have to get to a point where they don't allow other people to define them as either people or as political leaders. Our people have got to be more psychologically prepared for it, and there has to be more distance between them and these withering attacks."
I won't go into a refutation of these contentions until someone in the Left Netroots openly admits to them.
Then you won't have to Ed. But it would be interesting if you addressed our thinking on the subject.
Ed does end with a very interesting thesis - to wit, the DC Establishment ALSO rejected Clintonism:
Throughout and beyond the Clinton years, there persisted an enduring hostility to Clintonism in the establishment DC Democratic Party. It was evident in congressional (especially in the House) Democratic opposition to many of Clinton's signature initiatives; it got traction in Al Gore's rejection of Clintonism and everyone connected with it in his 2000 campaign; and reached fruition in 2002, when Democrats went forward with the anti-Clinton, Bob Shrum-driven message that we were "fighting" for prescription drug benefits at a time when the country was absorbed with national security concerns. Indeed, the primacy of Shrum--the only major Democratic strategist with no involvement in either of Clinton's' campaigns--in the 2000, 2002, and 2004 Democratic campaigns, is a good example of how the hated DC Democratic Establishment hasn't been Clintonian for a good while.
Ed goes too far when he argues that shying away from national security concerns and trying to run on "kitchen table" issues in 2002 amounts to anti-Clintonism. Clinton was not exactly known as the National Security President. But the rest of it is intriguing and worth considering.
So I agree with Ed when he writes "So: let's talk more about Clintonism, the Left, the Democratic establishment, and the netroots."
Let's do talk about them. But let's address the REAL arguments, not the imagined ones.
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