Hillary Clinton’s biggest mistake was not divorcing Bill in 2001 and then pressing forward into the presidential campaign as Senator Hillary Rodham. He’s a millstone, and the campaign thus far has exploded the claim that Bill Clinton is still magic as a vote winner. Many Democratic Party regulars have very hard feelings about him. Clinton was not good for the Democratic Party when he was in the White House. He triangulated with Republicans and wouldn’t release campaign funds for Senate races that could have elected more Democrats in 1996 and 1998. As Barack Obama pointed out in a speech in Virginia Beach, “Keep in mind, we had Bill Clinton as President when, in ’94, we lost the House, we lost the Senate, we lost governorships, we lost statehouses.”
On top of that, Bill Clinton infuriated blacks in South Carolina by mildly race-baiting Obama. Clinton’s little slaps, designed to ghettoize Obama, produced huge black majorities for the purveyor of change and angered many white liberals too.
Hillary as divorcée would have had real panache, a woman high-stepping into freedom on the ashes of her past, like Eva Perón. As things stand she can’t even offer Obama a deal whereby she’ll accept the vice presidency. Who would want Bill scampering in and out of the Old Executive Office Building, checking out the interns?
But if Hillary’s in bad trouble, the Hillary haters are in even worse shape. The conservative movement is finished. Rush Limbaugh, the dirigible of drivel himself, is flaming out like the zeppelin Hindenburg. The demon prince of right-wing hate radio, just like Milton’s Satan, now lies
Hurld headlong flaming from th’ Ethereal Skies
With hideous ruine and combustion down
To bottomless perdition…
Not deep enough. For years now liberals have loved to tremble at Limbaugh’s malignant powers. But it turns out Rush couldn’t get a dogcatcher elected. For months he has urged the dittoheads to rally to a true conservative. He’s worn himself hoarse denouncing McCain as a traitor to the cause. With each daily dose of raillery from Limbaugh, McCain’s cause flourished, and Limbaugh grew hysterical. He screamed to the dittoheads that Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was “close enough to [McCain] to die of anal poisoning.”
Meanwhile, Ann Coulter, the Saxon Klaxon, announced that if McCain gets the nomination she will not only vote for Hillary but will “campaign for her,” because Clinton “is more conservative than he is.” Richard Viguerie, one of the creators of the modern conservative movement, bleated that McCain has only a short time to reach out to conservatives–to “stop the bleeding before it’s too late.”
Then came a futile fatwa from James Dobson, the single most influential voice among evangelical Christians. “I am deeply disappointed the Republican Party seems poised to select a nominee who did not support a Constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage, who voted for embryonic stem cell research to kill nascent human beings, who opposed tax cuts that ended the marriage penalty, and who has little regard for freedom of speech, who organized the Gang of 14 to preserve filibusters, and has a legendary temper and often uses foul and obscene language.”
The prophets are discredited because their cause has failed. The conservative movement has splintered, victim of lethal saber slashes from the neocons, who plunged the country into an unpopular and hopeless war, and from George W. Bush, who rewarded the conservatives with the No Child Left Behind Act and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, both of which could have been put forward by Bill and Hillary Clinton. These two betrayals were compounded by Bush’s great failure in his second term: his proclaimed ambition to hand over the Social Security trust funds to Wall Street.
This was never a job for Republicans, any more than was welfare “reform.” Eradication of the social safety net is a job for the Democratic Party, and by late 1998 Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin and a secret team were far advanced in the attempt. As Robin Blackburn described it on the CounterPunch website in 2004, “It was a desperately close run thing. On the account of members of Clinton’s secret White House team, mandated to map out the privatization path for Social Security, they had got as far down the road as fine-tuning the account numbers for Social Security accounts [to be] released to the captious mercies of Wall Street.” Then came the Lewinsky scandal. Clinton needed the liberal Democrats in Congress to stave off successful impeachment. Now it looks as though it will be up to Obama to include “reform” on the menu of “change,” when the latter condition has to assume some concrete shape.
Has Obama made mistakes? Not many, so far. That’s the beauty of talking vaguely about the audacity of hope and the need for change. People lap up his high-minded waffle, which is why they didn’t like the above-mentioned mild race-baiting in South Carolina. Mild? We live in timid times. In the late ’60s my friend Andrew Kopkind wrote in The New York Review of Books about Martin Luther King “shuffling off” the stage of history. Malcolm, not MLK, was the lodestar on the left. In the 1967 essay “Soul Power,” Andrew wrote, “In spite of King’s famous sincerity and the super-honesty that he exudes, there is something disingenuous about his public voice…. He is not really telling it like it is, but as he thinks his audience wants it to be…. Although he speaks of structural changes, he assumes structural preservation.”
Remind you of anyone? It’s not Obama’s mistake if you believe what he says. Obama reminds me of Jimmy Carter in 1976, talking about the need for a government as good as the American people. That kind of flattery always goes down well. They both have the same national security adviser: Zbigniew Brzezinski. There’s structural preservation.