Barack Obama didn’t just run against Hillary Clinton. He ran against Clintonism. The assault started indirectly in his book, The Audacity of Hope, which spoke about moving past the generational fights that had consumed baby boomers in the 1990s. He was attacking both parties for their preoccupation with Vietnam and the warmed-over cultural battles of the ’60s and ’70s, but on the Democratic side, this was an explicit effort to push away from the biggest boomer of all, Bill Clinton, and the turmoil of his reign.
The “Washington game” of massaging opinion and of political navigation, as Obama puts it in putting it down, was in part, after all, a Clinton creation. ”George Bush may have perfected divisive special interest politics, but he didn’t invent it,” Obama regularly said. ”It was there before he got into office.” At the heart of that game-playing was the sin of what Obama called “triangulation and poll-driven politics.” Triangulation has become almost a curse word in some Democratic circles, standing for selling out on principles and using liberals as foils for deal-making with Republicans. To engage in triangulation, as Obama and his supporters defined it, was a selfish act. It built political power for Clinton but not for the party he led, as Obama explained in one debate. It is because of this worldview that Obama famously picked Reagan over Clinton when talking about leaders who had genuinely transformed the country. Maybe as a term of her surrender, Clinton will demand a paean to Clintonism.
When this game started about a year ago, I told people one of the reasons I supported Obama was because I felt that Clintonism was a cancer on the Democratic party.
To me, Clintonism meant supporting issues that you don’t believe in as a way to gain and retain power.
Hillary’s support of the war made her an unacceptable candidate for me from the beginning. At least Kerry and Edwards later told us that their votes on that issue were wrong.
I heard nothing like that from Clinton.
But I do remember Bill Clinton in the 90s. Yes, we had peace and prosperity. Those were good things. He did a great job of balancing the budget.
But during those years, Clinton didn’t do much for working and poor Americans. Remember NAFTA? Remember welfare reform?
He didn’t care about us; he cared more about his legacy and retaining power.
In his incompetence, he caused Democrats to lose both the House and the Senate in 1994. After those losses, he was never able to pursue a progressive agenda.
As a presidential candidate, I always got the feeling that Hillary Clinton was holding back. It was as if she restrained her real thoughts to try to fit in.
But maybe, just maybe, Obama’s emergence marks the death of Clintonism and the birth of a new era where people can say what they mean and mean what they say.
Obama is well-positioned to take on that role.
Or maybe he just needs some rest for a few days.