On Clintonism

by TNR Staff, TNR Staff | September 14, 2007

Following up on Ryan's New Yorker piece about the Democratic candidates' efforts to deal with Bill Clinton's legacy, Ed Kilgore has an insightful post noting the similarities and differences between the critiques of Clintonism offered by Dick Gephardt and Ted Kennedy in 1997 and those offered by Edwards and Obama today. Although there are some important differences, he finds more similarities:
[T]here's an old-school and new-school critique of Clintonism in the Democratic Party that has to a remarkable extent merged, even if some new-school critics don't know about it and even more don't acknowledge it. The old-school critique preceded the domination of Democratic politics by Clintonistas. It preceded Monica Lewinsky, the 2000 elections, and the Iraq War, And it lives on, in many forms, including the re-emergence of Old Democratic Left institutions like The Nation, Campaign for America's Future and the Progressive Caucus in the House. It lives on in many individual figures in politics, such as Bonior and Trippi. And most of all, it lives on in the Clintons themselves, whose approach to intra-party politics was largely forged during the days when they were being hammered as upstarts challenging the Democratic establishment even as they fought a vicious Republican assault. HRC's long march from embodying the Left Opposition within the Clinton White House (usually opposed, ironically, by Al Gore) to her current intraparty status was by most accounts accelerated by the bitter response of many old friends to her husband's welfare reform decision, and by the House Democratic revolt on trade authority. And Bill Clinton himself, as illustrated abundantly in Matt Bai's new book, The Argument, clearly views his and HRC's netroots (and liberal funders') detractors as people who are the heirs of his old Democratic enemies, and who don't appreciate either the Clinitons' reformist credentials or the necessity of the whole New Democratic strategy in preventing the kind of total Republican takeover in the 1990s that occurred after he left office.
Of course, the old-school critiques of Clintonism--particularly Gephardt's--failed to draw much blood (as evidenced by Gephardt not running for president in 2000 and Bill Bradley losing to Al Gore). Given Hillary's currently formidable standing in the polls, it looks like the new-school critiques might suffer a similar fate. --Jason Zengerle

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/clintonism