President Clinton always struck me as an arrogant narcissist. Those qualities are present in many politicians and forgivable in some, but his transformation of the Democratic Party into the "liberal" branch of the GOP can not go unnoticed. He and former Fox commentator Dick Morris, who thought that Romney won the last election, engineered it. With the Clinton victory, the ever-elusive "political center" shifted right and the previous values and principles of the Democratic Party suffered. Republicans followed by shifting to the right to differentiate and birthed the Tea Party. Previously "liberal" Republicans (think Maine's politics) leapt to the right and began to espouse views that would have been unconscionable to speak aloud.
Rather than embrace the slower-but-surer path of organizing to win votes in the wake of the Nixon/Reagan eras, a shortcut was taken to capture a larger share of the electorate rather than to have them slowly come around. The signal moment for me of Clinton's prioritization of victory over values came with his Arkansas oversight of the death penalty carried out against Ricky Ray Rector, a prisoner incapable of understanding his case during trial. His willingness to support the use of the death penalty in spite of general and case-specific human rights concerns was unsurprising to anyone except those of us who knew the history of the Democratic Party. Clinton felt that it was important to prove that he was "tough on crime" to maintain the winning high. Rather than the motto we've all heard about ("It's the economy, stupid") we might add another motto the the Clintonistas: "Anything for victory, including moral treachery."
The general public might characterize that the GOP is on the political right and the Democratic Party on the political left. But this hasn't really been the case for decades. Both parties have moved so far to the right that only the far fringes of the Democratic Party are even as far left as most of Europe's political right. The sad results are that we have the horrors of Rwanda, Bosnia, and Somalia having happened or festered considerably while American presidencies have been busy with other matters. The moments of interventionism in the name of human rights have largely masked imperial interests and ambitions rather than advance the cause of universal human rights. Obama has followed this lead by walking on civil liberties and dropping drones in many mostly Muslim countries. It's nice to have the fig leaf of permission from governments, it hasn't been necessary. Bush normalized and gave sanction torture and it has become commonplace. See this piece by Jonathan Turley on how the Obama administration has continued the Nixonian legacy.
Is it over? No. There are moments of hope even in the most unexpected places and we should all continue to organize and push through current and future politicians on every level. After all, let us take stock and consider the list of depressing news. Obama's appointment of Brennan to direct the CIA would have created hysterical opposition from the Democrats had Bush made the identical appointment. Party leadership makes very few waves for the fact that we've killed a US citizen (a 16-year-old) without judicial review and may be about to kill another. A Democrat, Leon Panetta, tried to create a military medal for drone pilots that would have outranked the Purple Heart itself and the Dems leadership remained largely silent. Sexual violence in the military has (with the notable exception of Senator Gillibrand) gone largely unremarked by the Dems in Congress. Guantanamo remains open and there are no more powerful people demanding its closure. The level of secrecy and surveillance under this administration is higher than even the preceding one and there is little heard.
Where is the outrage about that from the left? Why were there not a million or two Americans on the mall during the years of torture in the Iraq days? A million Brits demonstrated against the administration of Tony Blair. Literature and reports from human rights groups only go so far, there must be action on a broader popular level. A building of a constituency that cares, marches, sings, and acts. I never thought I'd say it, but Barbara Bush is right. There should be no place for dynastic monarchies in a democracy. Enough with Bush, Clinton, Cheney, and Kennedy. It is time to restore this republic to the public. Wake up and demand the change. This is not a call to endorse Democrats over Republicans as much as a warning that there is no discourse or discussion any more between political parties with different ideas. There is just one party with two different names.
What specifics? No more casual use of drones to project power internationally or domestically without major oversight. Push for a truly equitable two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. End the death penalty. Increase programs for education and social safety nets. Transparency in all matters possible. Bankers who break the law should be treated on par or worse than other offenders and that should include substantial jail time. No torture. No imprisonment without trial. Close Guantanamo. Let us be the Change and Hope we need and let us have the courage to carry it through.
Human rights need to have a home. Presently in both the United States and much of the world it has taken a back seat to right and left. In a world that cares about people, human rights shouldn't take a back seat to any political party. Universal human rights should drive.
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