Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Winter of our Discontent

"Now is the winter of our discontent" William Shakespeare - Richard the III

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves"William Shakespeare - Julius Caesar

"Poor country!  It hardly knows itself."  MacDuff

There are a lot of bad things that can be said about Donald Trump.  I won't bother to repeat them in detail.  In summary it can be said that he is a bigot and a huckster selling and thereby enabling the worst of what Americans can be to say nothing of his sickening relationship with Vladimir Putin.

If you believe that elections reflect the character of a country then I do not recognize this country any more.  But is Trump truly the choice of the people or is he instead the winner by default?  There is a lot of evidence that Democrats simply handed the Presidency to him and that the Clintons were complicit in their own defeat.  

We knew this.  In his series of what happened to the Democratic Party Thomas Frank began by describing how the Republican Party was operating in his book, "The Wrecking Crew".  They would first campaign as reformers claiming that government was broken and then proceed to break it completely.  Then, using the resulting chaos to confirm their original premise... that government was broken!

In his next book, "What's the matter with Kansas?" he described the demise of a once entirely Democratic state after the Great Depression and dust bowl days into perhaps the most broken and ultra conservative one he carefully documented how the D Party abandoned the farm towns and main streets of that very rural state for the caverns of Wall Street..

In his most recent book he is considerably more blunt.  It was the Clintons who wrecked the Democratic Party!  Memories can be short in politics, a malady often attributed to those of the members of the TEA Party.  But Frank provides such a clear refresher course you are left with little doubt of how we came to this dark moment in American History. For decades it was FDR and the New Deal that had guided the party and provided it with its greatest moments.  It was the Clintons that put a stake through its heart.

Specifically they brought about "The end of welfare as we know it", "Three Strikes" laws that filled the prison pipeline, undermined long time Democratic allies by passing NAFTA and most notoriously the "Commodities Modernization Act" which kicked down the barriers that the Glass Stegal Act had put in place to cure the causes of the Crash of 29 and Great Depression.  More so than any of the Bushes, it was the Clintons that set the stage for the crash of 2008 and the mortgage securities bubble.

As well documented and within our memories these events are, if it was the sole claim of a single author the argument might be blunted.  But it is'nt.  In a pre-election piece the well respected PBS show Frontline did a profile on both Trump and Clinton and the detail of how that came about is all the more damning. It began with the Clinton "Third Way" which effectively enabled any number of Republican issues that they could never have passed even under Reagan or Bush without also total control of Congress.  It starts out well enough showing that at least at the beginning, Hilary believed that the purpose of politics was to make the impossible possible and that she was capable of speaking that truth to power, but in partnership with Bill learned to compromise her principles for short term victories.  In the end, it was the involvement of Dick Morris that put her on the track for this historic debacle.  But for her, the ends justified the means.  Principles took a back seat to political survival.

There is a certain logic to that.  The Clintons themselves were fond of saying that "You can't achieve your goals unless you get elected!"  True  enough.  But from a Democratic point of view in looking back at the 90s it is increasingly difficult to see what goals were achieved other than keeping the Clintons in the White house.

" I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself, And falls on th' other."  MacBeth, Act1 , Scene 7

But what of her own career?  In the Frontline piece it is noted that on the day that the Senate failed to evict her husband from office her office in the White House was already filled with political maps of New York beginning the plans for her Senate run.  Having survived the political attack there were several lessons Hilary might have learned.  One could have been that centrism wins you not loyalty but derision.  They had after all been attacked with all the ferocity had they been Communist moles.  No recognition, no quarter had been given for their support for conservative programs.  But that is now what she learned and it was not what we saw.

If only she had been able to free herself from the lessons learned with Bill we may have seen a different, freer Hilary Rodham as she began her career.  But that did not happen.

What she did learn was that political shape shifting was the way to succeed.  The problem was that it was the way for her to succeed, not the party, not working people and certainly not New Dealers or modern Progressives who would have benefited from a strong advocate of "the impossible" as she said in her Welsley graduation speech which originally propelled her into the public eye.

Given the choice of winning on principle vs. survival by rebranding she sadly took the latter option and set the trend for the Democratic Party for two decades of cascading failure.  By blurring the lines between the parties she undermined the party brand that had served us so well. You've heard it.  "They are all the same!"  Yes, it would seem that they all are.

The age of the Clintons is over.  It can be no other way.  If she returns and achieves national prominence again it will in fact destroy the party forever which at that point might be the only option.  I hope not.  The question is, what will we now learn the lesson she failed.  The first question on that test should be an easy one.  Just what is it that you stand for?

The party is now on life support and it can choose to live or die but it must also decide if its own survival will be worth more than the mere existence of a label.  We need if not that party but some party to take up its old causes.  I wish it to stay because as the Weyrd Sisters asked themselves, "When shall we [] meet again?" except in that party?  And I ask, shall we again draw the wrong inferences from their spells?

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