The Breakfast Table

Me? Representative?

Geez, no one ever asked me if I was representative before. This could go to my head. The Clinton strategy from day 1 has been to assume that the riffraff in the Democratic party who care about wages, welfare, labor agreements, and civil rights have no where else to go. Who cares what we think. What are we gonna do, vote for Bob Dole? Today on Pacifica Radio I was part of a panel of equally marginal “experts” discussing what, if anything, the Clinton scandal will mean for the issues we care about. Will Dick Gephardt or Paul Wellstone make a decent showing? Will the Democrats be shattered in the mid-term Congressional elections?

I suspect there will be a lot of running away from Clinton. And this will certainly hurt the Dems in Congress. For better or worse, having the party’s leader humiliated is bad for everyone. Of course, the social conservatives have been beating back the Dems on one vote after another on abortion. I suspect they’ll be in a defensive posture on any topic that smacks of libertinism, and all too eager to show their boyscout bona fides–so we can expect lots of anti-extra-marital-sex speeches and a crackdown on teenaged mothers. Likewise in the Presidential primary. But maybe there’s an opening for a back-to-basics strategy that turns the disgust with a corrupt Clinton Administration into a drive for old-fashioned democratic populism.

I am more disillusioned with Clinton than ever after his lying speech last night. We got a lot of calls on Pacifica from lefties who say they want to hear more about how Starr and the Republican morality police are the evil ones. But I have no stomach for it. The bottom line is, Clinton is a liar and unprincipled. I think there has to be some hard thinking on the left by people who’ve been dragged along, supporting him.

The greatest low point for me before now came back during the 1996 convention, when a group of feminists held a press conference to announce we must stand behind Clinton after he signed the welfare bill, because people who care about welfare recipients need him to undo the legislation after he’s elected. This is the most pitiable of twisted logic. And still today there are those who believe.

Along these same lines there’s an op-ed by Gwendolyn Mink in the New York Times today that discusses the way feminists have developed a split consciousness about Clinton. I think there is a very serious issue for feminists to try to unravel here: the Lewinsky matter came to light because of the Paula Jones suit. It is a direct result of a sexual harassment suit. I was all for Jones having her day in court. It seemed to me arrogant for the President to avoid facing his accuser, especially after Carville defamed her as “trailer trash”–why should he be able to trample on “little people” and avoid facing up to these charges? But in retrospect, I don’t know that it should not have waited until he was out of office. As a nation we need to figure out what is sexual harassment and what is seedy sexual behavior that doesn’t need to see the light of day. This is a complex legal issue. And I think after Anita Hill, Paula Jones, and Monica, we’re more mixed up than ever.

Finally–Nixon. Yes, liberals who worked in the Nixon Administration–I’m thinking of Leonard Garment and his fine book, Crazy Rhythm–have a lot less to answer for than the liberals who stood by Clinton as he dismantled the New Deal. Nixon did a lot, from founding the NEA to negotiating a settlement with AIM, to raising the minimum wage and expanding welfare–that liberals can be proud of. But alas, we live in different times. Clinton has proved you can ignore, or throw crumbs to, the very constituencies that seemed scary then–the peace movement, blacks, the poor–and still get elected. It’s really up to the grassroots to organize to change the larger political landscape–and that’s a much taller order than defecting over this sorry, putrid scandal.

I hope one of the outsider left candidates–Wellstone, Jackson, Gephardt (though he’s the least outside) can run the kind of campaign that would leave behind an organized leftwing movement, the way Pat Robertson did with the Christian Coalition. Then perhaps we’d see something …



Week 1:

Mon., 8/10; Tues., 8/11; Wed., 8/12; Thurs., 8/13; Fri., 8/14

Week 2:

Mon., 8/17; Tues., 8/18; Wed., 8/19; Thurs., 8/20; Fri., 8/21

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