Building on the Ruins of Clintonism

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

No
matter will be sworn in on January 20th, we can be secure
in the knowledge that Bill Clinton will be leaving the White House.
In his wake, Clinton leaves a democratic party ideologically and
politically impoverished. This is due partly to the dominance of
Clintonism in the Democratic Party. Clintonism as an ideology has
an all-consuming focus on centralized government as the best form
of government. In order to accomplish this, the Presidency must
be preserved for the Party at all costs. What they fail to realize
though, is that by abandoning the other levels of government, they
abandon the foundations that hold up the party. The Democratic Party
has ended up as the party of Washington, D.C. All democrats of Note
live in Washington, D.C. They have lost their connections to anything
outside the beltway. They control little more than the Washinton-New
York axis with some outposts in California.

In
spite of massive power grabs by the presidency in the past century,
however, the nation cannot be ruled from the oval office alone.
Clinton himself has spent so many years eating up funds for legal
defense funds and his Presidential Library that democrats in State
and Local government are left out in the cold. Right now, the democratic
leadership is dominated by shrill leftist leftovers from the 70's
like John Conyers, Charlie Rangel, and Ted Kennedy. None of these
stands a chance of ever winning the Presidency or of even being
taken seriously in most parts of the country. The newly powerful
Dems like Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman are unlikely to get
anywhere near the White House either. A Northern Democrat hasn't
won the White House in forty years. Since the Dems always have the
Northeast locked up, they gain nothing from running a candidate
from that part of the country. Southern Democrats like Carter, Clinton,
and Gore have been the only Democratic nominees with any chance
of winning, yet they have become more scarce than ever. Clinton's
open disregard for traditional morality has alienated the South
which, once solid territory for Dems, is now reliably Republican.
Clinton and Gore themselves came from a South that no longer exists.
It's unlikely either of them could be elected to a major office
in their home states.

Al
Gore is Clinton's named successor, yet he can't muster even 50%
of the vote at a time when finding a job requires little more than
being able to avoid drooling on the merchandise. Even with a booming
economy and declining social ills, Gore's own partisans don't seem
to like him much. As president, Gore would be even more damaging
to the party. As a Senator, Gore failed to produce much affection
from his fellow Senators. Most of them endorsed Bradley back during
the primaries, and the general consensus seemed to be that Gore
is difficult to work with. If Gore can't even make friends in his
own party, how does he think he's going to govern with this Congress?
Gone are the days when Clinton could engineer repeated humiliations
of the Republican Congress. Gore simply doesn't have the political
genius to pull off anything like it. Without Clinton's cupped lip
and "aw shucks" demeanor, Gore's just a stuffed shirt
from an eastern prep school.

.
The numerous Democratically controlled statehouses and governorships
are gone. For eight years, the Democratic party has increasingly
stood on one shaky leg that was Bill Clinton, and now that leg is
about to be gone. They have Clinton to thank for the fact that there
aren't any other legs. He was so good at surrounding himself with
sycophantic hacks, that when he announced that he'd lied to his
cabinet about the Lewinsky affair, not a single member resigned
in disgust. These are the moral and intellectual giants that have
surrounded Bill Clinton. While Clinton will spend the rest of his
days posing for lurid photo ops and demanding apologies from anyone
who didn't like him as president, the Democrats will have to scramble
to come up with a candidate who has national appeal. Since Clinton
made sure that no one else in the party was able to rival his renown,
that will be a tough problem to solve. Just as George Bush owed
Reagan for his win in 1988, if Gore manages to win, he will owe
it all to Clinton. He'll be on his own in 2004.

If
experience holds true, a Gore presidency will also produce gains
for the Republicans in the Congress. The Dems will continue to be
locked out of Congressional leadership. Most prominent party members
will remain obscure to the national public. When re-election time
comes, Gore will be the one to answer for the supposed do-nothing
government that has resulted from all the gridlock. Even granting
a good economy (which is a stretch) Gore won't have much to say
in his defense.

Of
course, all of this could be fantasy since it's still conceivable
that Bush could win the White House. Even then, the ruins of Clintonism
might still help the party. The Democratic Party will regroup and
maybe make some gains in the Congress. But,they'll still be left
with coming up with a Clinton replacement in 2004. It's not at all
clear that Gore would be the nominee in 2004. After all, if he can't
win now, why should they believe that he could win later? The Closest
thing to a powerful southern Democrat that they have is Dick Gephardt,
yet moving from the House to the White House has always proven exceedingly
difficult. He's hardly assured of a win. The rest of the field looks
pretty weak.

Either
way, the Republicans need to be exceedingly careful in the next
four years. If they win the White House, they absolutely must avoid
the kind of White House tunnel vision that permeated Clintonite
thinking. They need to pay attention to Congress and the States.
Republicans had also better be sure to enact something to avoid
being labeled do-nothing politicians, and they can just pray that
the economy isn't in shambles come November 2004. If all that "Uniter,
Not a Divider" stuff is true, then Bush may be able to pull
it off, although it's doubtful.

If
Gore gets into the white house, the Republicans must focus their
efforts on Congress and on grooming a nominee for 2004. Like Gore,
it's not clear that Bush would be the automatic nominee in 2004.
If he loses this election, he'll still have a job in Texas, and
he doesn't really seem to want the job of president that much, anyway.
He may simply decide that it's not worth it. If that happens, the
Republicans can draw on a pool of as many as a dozen powerful Republican
governors to step in.

The
Republicans should learn from the example that Clinton has set.
If they wish to hold onto any vestiges of their rapidly fading conservatism,
the Republicans must stay in touch with the states. Otherwise, they
will be sure to betray their core supporters. The problem with Clintonism
for the Democrats is that it lacks a long-term vision of any kind.
Clinton did whatever was necessary to increase his power in the
short term; the long-term devastation of the party was of no concern
to him as long as he looked good. The Republicans should be wary
of doing the same thing. If they do anything to win the White House
and lose the Congress as a result, it will avail them nothing in
the long run. Early in the 1990's the Republicans where smart about
building power from the statehouses all the way up. In recent years
they have been neglecting that excellent strategy and have lost
some ground. If they do not control the states, they cannot expect
to control the Congress. Clinton engaged in top down demagoguery
and robbed his party of its foundational support. Now that the Republicans
can taste the power of the presidency, they should be careful to
not go down the same path as Clinton, and lose all the gains they
have made in the past decade.

November
24, 2000

Ryan
McMaken is a graduate student in American politics at the University
of Colorado. He edits the Western
Mercury
.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare