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Andrew Levine

Andrew Levine

Posted: November 1, 2010 10:01 AM

Clinton Again? It Could Happen Here

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One of the more remarkable features of the Obama years is how "the Great Rightwing Conspiracy" switched its animosity from Hillary and Bill Clinton to Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama. The result: almost overnight, mindless Republicans and "independents" came to think of the Clintons, formerly embodiments of evil, as the good Democrats. This could matter in the years ahead.

If the Democrats crash big-time on Tuesday as almost everyone predicts they will, or if (as I believe) they don't, the most likely result will be that almost nothing of importance will change. Congress, these days, has almost nothing to do with foreign or military or "national security" policy. And, in any case, in these areas, despite the occasional minor blip (as, say, between late 2001 and 2004 when neo-conservatives called the shots), there has always been a robust "bipartisan" consensus.

In 2006, Congress could have mattered more. Then Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders campaigned on ending the Iraq War. When Democrats won big, all they had to do was defund it. Leading Democrats also promised to impeach the war-criminal-in-chief along with Dick Cheney, the power behind the throne, and all the Cheney-Bush underlings. But Pelosi did exactly nothing on either score. The rule of law has not been restored on her watch, and neither has any semblance of peace. Her excuse was the presidential election to come. We were told to wait; that "change" would come soon enough. We're still waiting.

That the Right nevertheless hates her guts, and Obama's, is proof positive that they recruit from Morons "R" Us. But that's how it was with the Clintons too, and their politics should have been even more to the Right's liking. It was Bill Clinton, after all, who did more than anyone, including the Gipper himself, to implement "the Reagan Revolution" and to quash "the Vietnam syndrome." Obviously, we are dealing with a "rightwing conspiracy" that is not "great" on any measure other than efficacy, and that is guided by neither rhyme nor reason.

As for the Obama agenda in domestic policy, it is unlikely that much will change either after Tuesday's election. Having squandered his political capital long ago, Obama is unlikely to attempt anything major, no matter which party controls Congress. And even if it did, count on almost everything worthwhile getting compromised away - not just to placate Republicans but right-wing Democrats as well. One welcome outcome of Tuesday's election is that there are likely to be fewer Blue Dog Democrats around demanding placation.

This sad future is not just the most likely outcome of this dreadful electoral cycle, but also by far the best -- not least because, if it comes to pass, the Clintons will likely keep their ambitions in rein. They will remain team players, biding their time for another six years.

There are other possible scenarios, however. We could be at the threshold of twenty-first century fascism. After all, within the Tea Party fold, risible but charismatic leaders like Sarah Palin already have cable pulpits, and racism and thuggery are alive and well. However, old white guys and gals do not a movement make, even when hapless theocrats join in. Think of that fat geezer who stomped on the head of a MoveOn demonstrator at a Rand Paul rally; according to press reports, he said he did it so he wouldn't have to bend over and put out his back! Any self-respecting Brown Shirt or Hitler Youth militant would be appalled. Moreover, real fascist movements organize around ideals capable of inspiring dislocated and resentful masses. Ayn Rand libertarianism and Friedmanite economics just doesn't cut it.

However the main reason why this most awful of possible prospects is unlikely is that although, for them, greed is all, most American "business leaders" are not ideologues of the Koch Brothers variety. They understand that they can enrich themselves well enough under the status quo, and that Obama is way better for them than anyone cut from Rand Paul's or Sarah Palin's cloth. But if the (not much better) GOP establishment caves in fear of their formerly useful idiots, giving the Tea Party ample political representation (whether or not its candidates win on Tuesday), the prospects could change. In short, don't worry a whole lot, but worry.

Then there is a less disastrous, but more likely, possibility. If Obama and the Democratic leadership draw the wrong lessons from the coming elections as they almost certainly will - if they become even more servile towards the interests that bank roll our duopoly party system -- the despair of those who voted for "change" in 2008 will become even more palpable. This could split the Democratic Party, and that could spark a return of the repressed.

Winston Churchill is supposed to have said that America always does the right thing, after first exhausting all the other possibilities. There is something to that - it helps explain why we are still in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example. And it's why the most likely splitter of the Party of Pusillanimity is the one we thought we finally saw the back of -- Hillary Clinton.

There is reason to be pessimistic about the prospects for challenging Obama from the left, whether inside the Democratic Party or out. The problem is not just a disabling lack of prior preparation and charismatic leadership. It is that core Democratic constituencies remain shamefully disposed to cut Obama slack, and show no sign of changing course, no matter how disparagingly Obama treats their interests.

In the effort to exhaust all other possibilities (than withdrawal) in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military dusted off a strategy that failed egregiously in Vietnam and that it disparaged for decades -- counter-insurgency doctrine. Unhappy Democrats could mimic this self-defeating step backward, by calling on the newly admired Iron Lady and her rehabilitated husband of convenience to turn on Obama et. al. For those who take Obama's prattle about bipartisanship seriously, this would be a logical move. If Clinton is no longer polarizing in the way that Pelosi and Obama have become, then let her be the one to institute a functioning de facto one party state. She's certainly rightwing enough for all but the most retrograde Republican. Can anyone doubt that it would sorely tempt the Clintons if that idea were to take hold?

So Obama had better keep his Clintonite friends close and his enemies, the Clintons, closer. Though we got a Clintonite restoration under his aegis, obviating the main reason for preferring him to Hillary, no good would come from a challenge to his leadership from a quarter that is still, marginally, even worse. It isn't likely, but, unlike the worst of the possible outcomes of Tuesday's election, neither is it unlikely enough that we can afford not to be concerned.