By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
This watchword was not Clinton's alone. These were also the words by which Britain's Tony Blair and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder lived, a credo of the Third Way, a statement of how to govern in an age in which capital can and does punish nations that place the interests of workers, or anyone, over shareholders. Clinton and his cohorts understood that capital mobility was the ultimate power, the giant whose ire they never could risk. But it was Clinton above all who gave it that power, whose own Treasury Department made sure that the International Monetary Fund impoverished millions of East Asians rather than place any constraints on the free flow of capital.
One place that capital was flowing was straight into Democratic coffers. Under Clinton, the financial community moved at least partially into the Democratic column -- so much so that our new Republican president has yet to find a Wall Street investment-type to serve in his Treasury Department. The Street's affinity for Clinton made perfect sense. Clinton's Democrats shared the fiscal conservatism and the growing cultural liberalism of the new rich. Bush and the congressional GOP threatened to unbalance the budget with their sweeping, untargeted tax cuts, and espoused a growing cultural intolerance that made all the young investment bankers and dot-com millionaires very uncomfortable. For the new American elite, the choice between parties was stark and fundamental: Clinton was the biggest Bobo (writer David Brooks' term for "bourgeois bohemians") of them all, and Bush, the biggest Bozo.
IT WAS THE AMERICAN BACKWATERS THAT TURNED against Clinton -- or, more accurately, that loathed him from the start and sought to bring him down. The most surprising set of figures in the 2000 election was the gap that opened up between rural and urban voters. White, rural America took out its rage at Clinton on the hapless Al Gore, who lost the rural vote to W. by a 37 to 59 percent margin, while winning the urban vote by a 61 to 35 edge.
The only other American president who inspired this kind of rage during the past century (other than Richard Nixon, who was a uniquely polarizing figure) was Franklin Roosevelt, whom the rich in particular hated as a traitor to his class -- that is, to them. A similar dynamic may explain the hatred that the moralist right has always felt toward Clinton -- that this son of Arkansas is also traitor to his class, to the rural Protestant America where he grew up. Clinton is the smart guy who moved straight into the elite, but insisted he was still one of them, though he mocked and flouted all their values. He is the Bubba turned Bobo, the ultimate betrayal, for which he was made to pay.
The most common assessment of the Clinton presidency is the lament that he wasted it -- that all kinds of grand compromises were there for the making in the past four years if he'd only resisted the combined attraction of Monica's thong panties and the pizza she'd bring him. But some opportunities -- and I'm not talking about the panties and the pizza -- are better off wasted, and it is a blessing that Clinton didn't make a deal with Newt to "save Social Security." Raising the retirement age or scaling back benefits might be fine with the Democrats' donor base, but it would have infuriated labor and triggered an intra-party class war that would have dwarfed the fights over trade. Moreover, by spurring economic growth, Clinton ensured that the system would remain solvent without having to take such drastic expedients.
What he did waste was the Democrats' majority in Congress, and with it, his ability to carry through on the progressive promise of his '92 campaign. It is a mark of Clinton's brilliance and tenacity that he's been able to increase, if incrementally, health coverage for children, and homeownership, and the incomes of the poor -- all over the opposition of the Republican congressional leadership. The shame is not that he did not deal with the Republicans more, but that he had to deal with them at all, that he squandered the political majority that could have enabled him to universalize health care and realize his original platform in a more fundamental way. The shame is that he, more than anyone, built a global financial order that further limited his good deeds, and those of his fellow world leaders, to dribs and drabs.
For most of his presidency, he played defense -- against his opponents, against himself. That he played it so well only makes his inability -- and his considered reluctance -- to go on the offensive, to move ahead of public opinion, to realize the hopes of 1992, more poignant still.