The problem with Clinton nostalgia


Hillary Clinton, 1997, 2007, 2013
Hillary Rodham Clinton, as first lady, in 1997 (White House photo), as presidential candidate in 2007 (photo by Veni Markovski) and as departing Secretary of State, 2013 (Dept. of Defense photo)

Let’s start with, on the whole, I’m a big fan of Hillary Clinton. She commits. She works hard. She gets thing done.

Her impressive performance as secretary of state made sure that the good ship Hillary never bottomed out, buoyed by a tide of political good will, domestically and abroad. The energy of, let’s call it love, for her direct political style, despite her loss of the 2008 presidential nomination, makes her the overwhelming choice of an overwhelming majority of Americans to lead our country after 2016. I don’t agree with all of the stands she has taken, but unless someone better comes along, I can see myself voting for her.

But let’s be clear: Hillary Clinton is an establishment Democrat, a stalwart, with her husband, of the now defunct Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC made a political calculation, twenty-plus years ago, to tone down the traditional social welfare, pro-labor rhetoric of the Democratic Party, to try to win back centrists they had lost to Reagan and Bush 41.

The strategy, at the time, seemed to be effective. “The DLC hailed President Bill Clinton,” the Wikipedia entry reads, “as proof of the viability of Third Way politicians and as a DLC success story.” (That, of course, is arguable. There are lots of reasons George Herbert Walker Bush lost that election.)

But it was this move away from the political left that brought us welfare reform and the repeal of the strong banking and insurance regulations of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which many believe directly led to the abuses that crashed our economy in the Great Recession of 2008.

The conscience of the DLC was also present when Hillary voted to authorize the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld war in Iraq. And her defense of lobbyists at an appearance before liberal and progressive bloggers, in 2007, got her booed because, as Politco wrote, at the time, “it seemed to solidify the perception of Clinton as a Washington establishment figure in a year when Democrats are eager for change.”

It was more than two years into President Obama’s first term, before the DLC folded, and had its records acquired by the Clinton Foundation. The change that we were eager for seemed to have come.

Now, in the wake of the release of historical documents from the Clinton White House, Republicans are dredging up the 1990s, again. Reports that Hillary Clinton “dissed” the individual mandate the GOP had proposed during the Hillary-care discussions are now fodder for the Right, but their agrument ignores that, like many liberals today, she didn’t approve of that solution because she was working toward a public option healthcare system.

Sen. Rand Paul has even chosen to revisit the Lewinsky affair, and has been referring to President Bill Clinton as a “predator,” in his obvious attempt to splash some taint of the affair onto the former first lady. What Sen. Paul doesn’t seem to realize is that America didn’t care about it then, and we certainly don’t care about it now. Move on.

I mean, let’s not reminisce about the 1990s, or even the Hillary Clinton of 2008. Let’s have a discussion about Hillary, today, the one who is neither a true liberal nor a solid centrist. What Hillary Clinton is, and perhaps always has been, is a pragmatist, and a damn smart one.

“Clinton is positioning herself perfectly,” wrote Brent Budowski, in the Hill, recently. “If the politics of the [healthcare] law get better for Democrats, she can play it cool. If the politics of the law become worse for Democrats, she can escalate her calls for change and tell voters — accurately and honestly — that she was against the mandate then and that she was right and Republicans wrong.”

If you want to join the mania over Hillary 2016, by all means, jump aboard. Just remember that the direction of United States policy is larger than the promises made by, and the personality of, one politician. It has always been up to the people to steer the course. Don’t just stand on the sidelines, watching MSNBC and reading blogs. Stand for something. Work for something, as if the future of your country depends on it, because it does.

– PBG

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