08 Oct The Morning Call listens to the Oldies podcast
LONG TIME GONE
We know that when you read the following, you’re gonna think we’re being snarky.
But we’re not. We swear.
Anyway, the other day, we read something fascinating. In Politico.
It’s a piece by John F. Harris, and it’s great:
Bill Clinton and Tony Blair no longer have power, but they still have advice. They perceive plenty of people in need of it.
The needy include progressives in the United Kingdom, where the Labour Party has not had power in a long while, and the United States, where the Democratic Party has power for now but looks likely to lose lots of it in midterm elections this fall. Together, they offered a fitness program of sorts for members of their own parties that they fear are getting badly out of shape.
Clinton urges progressives to rebuild atrophied muscles of persuasion. “I think one of the ways you win elections is by talking straight with people and giving them permission to vote against you,” he explains in the most recent edition of his podcast. In other words, don’t hector and moralize, as though the merits of your position should be self-evident to any decent person. Assume a position of modesty that argues, “If you really disagree with this, then you will go out and take another choice, but here’s why I think it’s better for you.”
Blair urges progressives to rebuild atrophied muscles of self-discipline. For much of the left, Blair said on Clinton’s program, it’s not clear that their main goal is really to win power or wield it: “Its primary purpose is to make itself feel good about itself, right? To convince itself that it’s principled, right? But that is in the end, something that leads you to self-indulgence.” Unless progressives commit to reclaiming the center in “culture wars,” Blair added, they’ll remain vulnerable to “some loose remark from someone” being exploited by the right and will be “hammered day in, day out. That’s just not competent politics.”
Why is this fascinating?
Let us count the ways…
First, LOL at Bill. He thinks that you win elections by talking straight with people. And giving them permission to vote against you. Sure he does. This is the guy, remember, whose testimony UNDER OATH to a FEDERAL GRAND JURY hinged on the prosecutor’s intended usage of a copulative verb. This is the guy who was DISBARRED in his home state for his behavior during the Independent Counsel’s investigation. This is the guy who had an affair with an intern, tried to portray her as a crazy stalker, and pointed his fat index finger at the American people and told them he DID NOT HAVE SEX WITH THAT WOMAN. MISS LEWINSKY. But sure. He believes in talking straight with people.
As for Blair…well…he’s right, although he misuses the word “reclaim.” It’s tough to RE-claim something you never held, and Progressives have NEVER held the center in the “culture wars.” Indeed, the ethos of the Clinton-Blair era was to be “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” – a position that works mostly in theory and, even then, only briefly.
And speaking of being “socially liberal but fiscally conservative,” this is, as we noted the other day, the quintessential manifestation of “The Third Way,” which these two pretentious scolds have been pitching for more than three decades and which is, in fact, the very cause of “the culture wars” Blair claims to reject. True Leftists rebuff Clinton and Blair because they loathe the “fiscally conservative” part of the equation. But then, the “True Leftists” have been the minority in liberal circles since at least the 1960s…so it’s hard to see why Bill and Tony think they have anything especially insightful to offer anyone. In a very real sense, most of the differences between Clinton and Obama and Biden are negligible.
A third reason that this story is fascinating is that these guys are old. They were in office a LONG time ago. Even Harris calls them “superannuated.” Clinton left office twenty-one-and-a-half years ago. To give you a little perspective: at the same point in his presidency (about a year-and-a-half into the first term), twenty-one-and-a-half years earlier, Nixon was still in his first term. The Watergate break-in had not even occurred yet. The Pittsburgh Steelers had never been to a Super Bowl. Heck, the Super Bowl was only a few years old. In other words, Clinton is a dinosaur.
He’s FOUR years YOUNGER than Joe Biden. He’s SEVEN years younger than Nancy Pelosi. He’s younger than 10% (5) of his party’s Senate caucus and 8% (18) of House Democrats. If the Constitution hadn’t prevented him from doing so, and if he had run as an independent for president in 2020, he would have been the youngest candidate on the ballot.
American politicians are old, REALLY old. The Democrats are even older than the Republicans. And if Bill Clinton is “superannuated,” what does that say about the party’s leaders, many of whom were, like Mick Jagger, “around when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain.”
Every time the Democrats make a “new” policy proposal or, like Biden, make a “new” pitch for gun control, we mutter to ourselves about how these people haven’t had a “new” idea since the Johnson Administration. And that’s true, in part, because they’ve all been around since the Johnson Administration.
Honestly, compared to most of the rest of the Democratic Party, Bill Clinton and his hackneyed “Third Way” look fresh and creative. And that’s the problem – with the Democrats especially but with much of the GOP as well. Sticking around a long time does not make one good at something, and it definitely does not make one a statesman.
And that’s what we need right now – not some tired, old retreads from 20 years ago.