Distancing the left from Clinton

Carl Remick cremick at rlmnet.com
Fri Mar 19 06:42:57 PST 1999

Now that Henry Hyde has lumbered off the stage of history and Kenneth Starr faces investigation, I think the left (such as it is, to use the proper Henwoodian qualifier) should strive energetically to put as much daylight as possible between itself and President Billy Bob. My slim hopes that Clinton's survival would push him leftward in a meaningful way and give him renewed clout have proved illusory. The man's dead meat politically and there's no percentage for the left in trying to continue to shield him from the maggots. The page-one headline in today's NY Times says it all: "Clinton Playing Out Presidency in Reveries and a Long Twilight."

There's a piece by Richard Goldstein in this week's Village Voice that provides excellent reminders why the left should loathe Clinton and *act* on that loathing. Some excerpts:

While Clinton's appeal remains unwavering among minorities (he's the most popular figure in the black community except for Jesse Jackson, says Manning Marable, who recently completed a nationwide survey of black political attitudes), in activist circles he has long been regarded as a wolf in multiculti clothing. "I don't really get it," says Gwendolyn Mink, the author of Welfare's End. "The president has added more death-penalty crimes than any of his predecessors, and you certainly know about the racial effect of the death penalty. He's enacted a welfare reform that not only cancels an entitlement but also takes away rights from a certain caste of women. He pushed through NAFTA, which undermines the position of American workers. If there's a right-wing conspiracy, it's Bill Clinton."


Combine the president's manipulation of the left's domestic agenda with his outrageous military strikes and you've got a leader every bit as martial as Lyndon Johnson and a good deal less activist. It's these foreign adventures that the anti-Clinton left is focusing on (in part because they're easier for radicals to deal with than the sex scandals are). Horrified by support for the bombings by Congressional progressives, a group of historians has been circulating a petition to "impeach Clinton for the right reasons." So far, about 240 prominent scholars- including Noam Chomsky and Edward Said- have signed the petition. No one expects it to change history, but at least it's a manifesto of dissent. As Sam Husseini of the left-wing Institute for Public Accuracy puts it, "Supporting Clinton is assuring that you will get the worst possible Clinton."


It's tempting to see l'affaire Hitchens as the latest example of sectarianism run amok. After all, who really cares about the bad faith of social democrats or the opportunism of Marxists with a hard-on for prime time? But something much bigger than anyone's ideological dong is at stake. This dispute is not just about misplaced loyalties; it's about the future of progressive politics. Already, the right is rubbing its hands over what The Weekly Standard calls "the silence of the Dems." As Noemie Emery declared in its latest issue, "Every feminist Democrat . . . who ever backed the Violence Against Women Act and then either defended Bill Clinton or has said nothing about him, is now fair game." This may be whistling in the wind, but the prospect of being saddled with Clinton's sins is something the left can't ignore. "There's been a certain duplicity on the part of many progressives," says Barbara Ehrenreich. "It has to do with the feeling of being part of the majority. It's interesting that the right likes to feel it's a tiny beleaguered minority, whereas the left loves the opposite delusion, which is that it's part of some vast groundswell that's not getting through to the media. You have to get beyond that and live with being a minority, and make the best possible attempt to change that status by arguing your case, not muffling it." After all, what if we had put up with Vietnam to preserve the War on Poverty? What if we'd let Reagan's popularity push us into a permanent retreat from politics? And what if, after 20 years in the wilderness, we settle for coffee with Bill and Hill as a surrogate for speaking truth to power? Then we have met the enemy, and he is us.


The full text is at http://www.villagevoice.com/features/9911/goldstein.shtml

Carl Remick

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list