Its one of the ironies of American political life that the farther ex-Presidents recede into the past, the better they seem to look. Even the iniquitous Dick Nixon was getting kudos by the time he passed on. Therefore, its understandable that after 5 years of a truly dreadful Bush Administration, many Democrats wax nostalgic for Bill Clinton. Yes, they acknowledge, Bubba had issues, but he was infinitely preferable to Dubya.
True enough. But Clintons issues have left a lasting mark on the Democratic Party. Theyre responsible for many of the problems that currently plague the Dems. If FDRs Party is going again to be the dominant voice in American politics, it will have to deal with these issues.
At the core of these issues is situational ethics, the philosophy that argues that no values are sacred. This propensity can be seen in todays Clintonista wing of the Democratic Party that believes that winning is everything, that the ends justify the means. This position advocates tactics that shift as their perception of the mood of the electorate changes. The Clintonistas rely upon polls rather than principle.
After he was elected, Clinton changed. Outwardly, he was still the same charismatic, articulate person. But over time, Bill and his advisers adopted the position that the ends justified the means, that winning was everything. Bubba quit talking about his New Covenant, and deemphasized responsibility. He redefined FDRs Party as Republican Lite.
Many Party loyalists noted this change and warned that in terms of ethics, Clinton and his followers were becoming indistinguishable from Republicans. When Clinton co-opted the Welfare to Work program, true blue Dems saw that he was abandoning the historic Democratic commitment to protect Americas less fortunate citizensforsaking opportunity. When Clintonistas boasted of their third way philosophy, many in the party saw this as a repackaging of Neo-Liberal ideology that elevated corporate profitability over the common good. When Clinton lied about his liaison with Monica Lewinsky, and then tried to minimize it as a personal matter, many Dems warned that it needed to be taken seriously. They saw that in the eyes of many Americans, Clintons personal morality reflected upon all Democratsour willingness to take personal responsibility for our conduct. These observers foresaw that Dems, in general, would be accused of Bill Clinton disease; espousing sixties values such as free love, and the attitude, if it feels good then its okay to do it. At each point, Clintonistas brushed off these protests, pointing to Bubbas personal popularity and his ability to win elections. But when charismatic Bill was gone, the taint of his immorality stuck to the Party.
In 2006, Clintonistas remain a powerful element in the Party. The Democratic Leadership Council, the campaign of Hillary Clinton, and the role of Rahm Emanuel as chair of the DCCC, shows the extent of their influence. At a recent event, DLC leaders were asked about the Democratic message in 2006; they replied that the events and the economy will determine the outcome, therefore Dems needed no message at present. Of course, the Clintonista no message mantra produced their vacuous position on Iraq: make it President Bushs problem; dont demand withdrawal because it makes Dems look weak; instead insist upon benchmarks for success.
Heres the point: recent polls indicate that three-quarter of Democrats are people who have definite moral values. They may have voted for Bill Clinton in the past but they dont embrace situational ethics. They certainly dont believe that the Democratic Party will be successful by abandoning its historic principles. They feel that FDRs party actually has a set of values that should dictate what its program is. Prominent among these are honesty, responsibility, equality, opportunity, and community.
Ironically, these are values that candidate Bill Clinton talked about, and then jettisoned once he became President. Now Democrats have to put the Clinton era behind them and move on. Its time to reassert core Democratic values and purge Clintons ghost.