Bill Clinton has done it again. I am having political dejavu. His recent behavior has once again taken my good faith and high opinion of him and crushed it. Just months ago I had forgotten the more torturous details of his administration and had come to respect him again as a former president of high honor. He has been out there fighting the good fight against poverty and disease. He has been busy writing books and talking to Oprah fans about giving and traveling the globe seeking to ease tensions. He doesn't quite have the focus and determination of Al Gore or the moral authority of Jimmy Carter, Bill is after all, mostly about Bill, but he has been a credible and admirable statesman. Someone who until recently has done America proud.
There was a time when I was enamored of the Clintons. I knocked on doors, phone banked and rallied during his campaign. Many of us had been devastated by the AIDS crisis... our cities were wracked by violence, our neighborhoods blighted by foreclosures. The rich seemed uncaring... the poor were enraged... the middle class was un-moored and tired of waiting for the elusive "trickle down effect" to lift their boats. Bill Clinton was relentless, eloquent and truly charming. It was a heady moment when the man from Hope triumphed against the apathy and agony of the times. I remember standing at the Arkansas Ball listening to Bill speak with tears streaming down my face. Here was a president that would tackle the AIDS crisis (or at least acknowledge it... something Reagan refused to do). He was married to a strong woman, possessed of a strong mind and his election gave me the strength to hope that America could once again be the land of opportunity for us all.
I also remember the day that damned blue dress came back from forensics. I had been adamant about the "vast right wing conspiracy" that had trumped up this Monica Lewinsky mess. I toed the party line and set about defending Bill Clinton based on his statement, ' I did not have sexual relations with that woman". Now mind you I did not believe a lot of things Bill Clinton said. I did not believe for instance that he "did not inhale". Defending him at that point was naïve to be sure, but I am no cynic. I was the last kid on the block to believe in Santa Claus. I am a believer by nature. And then the awful fateful truth was revealed and I was humiliated. I took it personally that he lied. I never believed Bill Clinton again.
The subsequent scandals... not to mention some very questionable policies like "Don't ask don't tell," NAFTA and the "Defense of Marriage Act" took their toll on the Democratic base. We still loved the guy, but it was like being in a bad marriage. The man was still charming and the mortgage was paid but the trust was broken and feelings were hurt. I think this is why Al Gore had a hard time of it. He was a fine candidate... and a fine man but too many good democrats were still licking our wounds. We were just not up for another fight. The vehemence and self righteousness of the right wing overwhelmed us. The left wing was depleted and not a little depressed.
Thus began the slow march to the hell of now. A stolen election went un-protested ... the inauguration of George w. Bush was a seen as a fact and not an outrage. We knew it was wrong, we just didn't care anymore. Then 9/11 happened and things got ugly. The kinder gentler tenure we thought we could endure morphed into our worst neo-con nightmare. The opportunity to engage as one nation and unite the World to our cause was squandered. Darkness fell in America.
Somewhere in the midst of this darkness the spirit of the Democratic Party awakened and we began to fight. We poured our resources and our hearts into the 06 elections and came away victorious. We are not alone. Independents and Republicans are also seeking the light of a new day. The whole citizenry has begun to rise up in great numbers and demand a new direction. Several politicians have emerged to lead this movement. All of them are qualified and even inspiring. Unfortunately one of them is married to Bill Clinton.
In the interest of unity I have been loathe to bring up the past and many of the painful memories of the Clinton era. I have chosen a different candidate, but I do not wish any ill on Hillary or her supporters. This feeling seemed mutual. Aside from a few angry feminists who have castigated me for choosing a male ... most of us have agreed to disagree. That is why the slash and burn tactics of the Clinton campaign are so hurtful.
It is unseemly for a former president to be sniping at reporters and railing against caucus rules and Primary dates. It is heartbreaking to watch him degrade and attack Barack Obama ... deliberately obscuring the facts and going for the cheapest of shots. During an election season this is referred to as 'throwing elbows". Any other time this would be called 'lying' and 'race-baiting".
My friends on the ground in the primary states report to me that the behavior of the Clinton campaign is appalling. Many of them are former supporters and it is truly upsetting for them to witness the "anything to win" tactics of the Clinton folks. I knew from the beginning, when Terry McAluffe arrived in LA and threatened "You are either with us or against us", that there was cause for concern. Now there is cause for alarm. This is not good for the Country and in the end it is not good for Hillary Clinton. They are at risk of fracturing the party that they hope to lead. There are some wounds that will never heal.
There is a war going on for the soul of the Democratic Party and there are arguments to be made on both sides. The Clintons have been sowing the seeds of a Hillary presidency for years. They are surely and rightfully anxious about the ascendance of the young man from Illinois. The Clintons have dominated the party for decades and not always for the good. The Bushes have embarrassed and exhausted many of the staunchest supporters of the right. That is why we must look at this election in the wider context of the state of the union. For the first time since 9/11 we have an opportunity to bring this country together. To do this Americans may well be wise to choose the new guard over the old.
On a recent trip to DC the city got hit by an abundance of snow. Cabs were scarce and I had to ride-share a taxi from Dulles to DC. My fellow passengers were both attorneys. One was a white male from Orange County self described as a conservative Christian and a Huckabee supporter. The other was a Canadian woman currently employed by our military to defend one of the detainees in Guantanamo. The man noticed my Obama 08 lapel pin, and a most surprising exchange took place. He explained to me that he was a "values voter" and maintained that if he could not elect Mike Huckabee then Barack Obama would be his second choice. A remarkable statement, but it made perfect sense to me. The two candidates are both Christians who walk the walk and this man like so many of us has grown weary of the "talk". We are all tired of the finger pointing, the half truths and the out and out lies of our supposedly righteous leaders. Tell us you made a mistake but please tell me us more lies.
I agreed with him and he with me on a wide variety of issues. We shared many of the same concerns. The woman in the front seat said little. She was clearly exhausted from 30 hours of travel. She had been to Yemen to interview her client's friends and family. The man had been held in isolation for years, the charges unclear. I tapped her shoulder, "I hope we aren't boring you with all of this talk of the election". She turned to face us and said: "It's an important conversation. I am Canadian and cannot participate, but I will say this ... for the sake of the whole world ... please vote and vote soon".