Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Obtuse Triangle - Are We Forgetting Clinton's Legacy?

There's nothing more interesting than an intra-partisan debate, like watching a libertarian anarchistic worshipper of the free-market debate a faux-populist demagogue of the religious right. And in the end they are both still considered "Republicans."

It's always telling to analyze just which issues unite them and, more importantly, which divide them into warring factions and how those factional divisions can be used against them.

Unfortunately, according to an intriguing article in The New Republic, Democrats are guilty of similar factional strife, as Andrei Cherny explains. On one side are the passionate and fiery progressive voices like those often seen on Northwest Progressive Institute, The Nation, Mother Jones, and

These political thinkers are resolutely left of center and representative of urban concerns, desire a more active federal government to promote the general welfare, and are usually critical of the excesses of unregulated capitalism.

Often the harshest critics of Clintonian triangulation, these progressives often felt that issues such as public housing, job creation, worker rights, welfare assistance, healthcare, peace, and the environment were too fundamental to be shrouded in "family values" veneer.

On the opposing end of the Democratic spectrum are what I will call the "Clintonistas." These Democrats believed strongly in triangulation - a strategy taht involved taking various rhetorical and policy points from both left and right and creating a new political fusion that would best suit a "post-industrial America."

These Democrats often wholeheartedly endorsed the free-market rhetoric that seemed so monolithic in the late 1990s and accepted privatization and deregulation as divine providence. While these Democrats did favor Clinton's welfare reform, his 100,000 cops on the street, and his free trade policy, they also endorsed universal healthcare, gays in the military, and his remarkable environmental policy.

Stating that America's "two great dominant strands of political thought" --conservatism and progressivism -- both had important value, he went on to say:
"It seemed to me that, in 1992, we needed to be [both] more conservative in things like erasing the deficit, and paying down the debt, and preventing crime, and punishing criminals, and protecting and supporting families, and enforcing things like child support laws, and reforming the military to meet the new challenges of the twenty-first century."

"And we needed to be more progressive in creating good jobs, reducing poverty, increasing the quality of public education, opening the doors of college to all, increasing access to health care ... and working for peace across the world and peace in America across all the lines that divide us."
As the article demonstrates, these two factions were often and continue to be at odds over fundamental economic issues: Should Democrats continue FDR's legacy of government action in defense of the common man, or should a more "post-industrial" policy be crafted for a period in which "the era of big government is over."

A common progressive critique of Clintonism goes as follows:

[Clinton] gave credence to those commentators who had always dismissed his policies as the political equivalent of a menu in an old-fashioned Chinese restaurant: one issue from a conservative Column A and another from a more liberal Column B.

He bolstered the viewpoint of those on both sides of the political divide--stuck in ideological gang warfare -- who always claimed that matters like crime or national security or fiscal responsibility were issues that conservatives owned, and that Democrats who acted on them were straying onto Republican turf.

Most of all, he reinforced the notion that his presidency did not have a guiding compass.
To further summarize, the author argues that Democrats and progressives today berate Clintonism at their peril.

The article then continues and reasons that Clinton's success was not due to his Southern charm and telegenic wit but rather his authentic and highly articulate, globalised worldview.

The author also presents an interesting economic reform proposal for the 21st century and issues a challenge for progressives to implement it.

Finally, the author discusses the importance of community values. Could that be the reason for the Democrats' current malaise?

So, progressives, what do you think? Do you agree that Bill Clinton was a visionary leader with a new vision of a postindustrial America, or rather was he a vacillating centrist motivated solely by polls and lacking any true political vision?

I know not many of you read the New Republic, so I figured this would be a good opportunity for an intellectual exchange of ideas. Feel free to post your ideas in the comment thread.

<< Home