Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hillary and Obama: Shades of 1992

With Bill Clinton's race-baiting of Barack Obama after Obama's South Carolina victory, both sides of the Democratic primary are looking like a reprise of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign.

Barack Obama is doing one side of Bill Clinton's "new Democrat" schtick with his opposition to the "brain dead partisanship" of the past, his ideas about rising above ideology, and his respect for Republican ideas. E. J. Dionne recaptures Bill Clinton's efforts to get beyond partisanship during his first presidential campaign.

The worst thing about all this is what both Clintons are doing to their own legacy as pioneers of an approach that rejected, as Bill Clinton said in a 1991 speech, "the stale orthodoxies of left and right." The great asset shared by both Clintons is their willingness to bring fresh thinking to old problems.

"Our new choice plainly rejects the old categories and false alternatives they impose," Bill Clinton added in that 1991 address in which he offered a long list of new ideas. "Is what I just said to you liberal or conservative? The truth is, it is both, and it is different. It rejects the Republicans' attacks and the Democrats' previous unwillingness to consider new alternatives."

Needless to say, Bill Clinton was not talking much about "stale orthoxies of the left" in 1996 after all of his DLC ideas crashed in the face of right-wing partisanship.

Obama's similarity to Clinton is annoying enough, but what it makes it worse is that Obama's talk about "transcending partisanship" is contingent on the hard fighting that Congressional Democrats, progressive groups, and liberal bloggers have done against the aggressive Republican partisanship of the last 15 years. Now that the various factions of the Democratic coalition have finally turned the corner on the right-wing, Obama's calling for an end to partisan conflict.

To quote one of my least favorite Hillary surrogates, that's "pure fantasy."

At the same time, Bill Clinton and other Hillary surrogates like Andrew Cuomo have been reviving Bill Clinton's 1992 strategy of attacking Sister Souljah to prove he wasn't a captive of African-American interests. That might have been cleverly nasty in 1992, but this year Hillary Clinton has to prove herself to black voters and to white progressives. As a result, Bill's race-baiting comparison between Obama and the non-competitive Jesse Jackson campaign was both disgusting and stupid.

With all the progress that people on the left have made over the last five years of the Bush admininistration, it's extremely disappointing that the Democrats seem to be stuck in a 1992 moment.

But this also provides an opening for Hillary Clinton. She could claim that she's already been through an Obama-style campaign and that she's learned the lesson that the right-wing is both committed to extreme partisanship and in control of the Republican Party. By building on her attempts to pose herself as a "fighting progressive," Hillary could both regain the upper-hand on Obama and establish some much-needed distance between herself and the "legacy" of the Clinton administration.

1 comment:

Scottye said...

Isn't this a bit of political Marxism in action? By that I mean the Clinton's came into power by usurping control from the establishment (or ruling class) and now have become the establishment themselves.