I’ll Vote for the Guy Who Did Inhale

by | Dec 23, 2007

“I used to sleep at the foot of Old Glory and awake in the dawn’s early light,
But much to my surprise when I opened my eyes I was a victim of the great compromise.” -John Prine


In today’s New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai has a cogent analysis of “Clintonism” and how its centrist approach will likely influence Democratic voters in 2008.

It’s worth the time it takes to read through the piece, but here’s the part I’d like to share here:

Listening to him talk, I found it hard not to wonder why so many of the challenges facing the next president were almost identical to those he vowed to address in 1992. Why, after Clinton’s two terms in office, were we still thinking about tomorrow? In some areas, most notably health care, Clinton tried gamely to leave behind lasting change, and he failed. In many more areas, though, the progress that was made under Clinton — almost 23 million new jobs, reductions in poverty, lower crime and higher wages — had been reversed or wiped away entirely in a remarkably short time. Clinton’s presidency seems now to have been oddly ephemeral, his record etched in chalk and left out in the rain.

Supporters of the Clintons see an obvious reason for this, of course — that George W. Bush and his Republican Party have, for the past seven years, undertaken a ferocious and unbending assault on Clinton’s progressive legacy.

Some Democrats, though, and especially those who are apt to call themselves “progressives,” offer a more complicated and less charitable explanation. In their view, Clinton failed to seize his moment and create a more enduring, more progressive legacy — not just because of the personal travails and Republican attacks that hobbled his presidency, but because his centrist, “third way” political strategy, his strategy of “triangulating” to find some middle point in every argument, sapped the party of its core principles. By this thinking, Clinton and his friends at the Democratic Leadership Council, the centrist think tank that served as a platform for his bid for national office, were so desperate to woo back moderate Southern voters that they accepted conservative assertions about government (that it was too big and unwieldy, that what was good for business was good for workers) and thus opened the door wide for Bush to come along and enact his extremist agenda with only token opposition. In other words, they say, he was less a victim of Bush’s radicalism than he was its enabler.

Bai has answers for the progressives that the Clinton’s would favor, but he also points out how Obama and Edwards are working to remind voters that a return of the Clintons’ to the White House would mean more of the same.

For me personally, there’s no debate. While Obama is far from the perfect candidate, he’s the only mainstream Dem offering even a shred of hope for substantive change. Given that I’m a resident of South Carolina, I look forward to casting my vote (for that possibiity of change) late next month.