Heading back into Clinton-time


What lies ahead politically? Look for an answer back in the ’90s. Even if the Republicans don’t take over after the midterm elections, the Democratic Party now in Congress is dominated by politicians fashioned in the Clinton era, nourished by such heirs of Aristotle as Rahm Emanuel and, before him, Tony Coelho. Their maps had simple precepts and coordinates. Barring a few yaps, the left will put up with anything and stay loyal. As for corporate America, stick your hand out for the campaign contributions and click your heels.

Progressive outfits tend to use the current cuss word of the left, “bluedog,” to mean a faction of Democrats from rural districts who were elected where Obama lost in November 2008. The old and more reliable definition of bluedog — pro business, pro military — extends much further than a mere bloc to well over 90 percent of the entire congressional crew of Democrats.

There is a fantasy that 2010 may get better for progressives: that Obama, fearful of Republican takeover in the midterm elections, willneed to rally the progressive vote, which will mean making some effortto cater to their agenda — card check; don’t ask, don’t tell; a secondstimulus package; financial reform regarding credit cards andforeclosures; an end to warrantless wiretaps and renditions; arenegotiation of NAFTA; and replacing fast-track trade authority. Suchhopes are vain.

Take a bellwether like the economist Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnistand Nobel prizewinner, a hero to the left for much of 2009 because ofhis fierce attacks on Obama’s bailout for banks, onslaughts on thestimulus for not being big enough and sharp words for sellouts onhealth reform. But on Christmas Day, Krugman gave the White House agift it had surely not even dared to dream of: a measured instructionto his audience of progressives that the Senate version of the healthcare bill, although markedly short of alluring features, wasnonetheless a big step forward for America, that the lives of millionswould be changed for the better and that the left had better rememberthat politics is the art of the possible.

“Imperfectas it is,” Krugman wrote, “the legislation that passed the Senate onThursday and will probably, in a slightly modified version, soon becomelaw will make America a much better country…. And for all its flaws andlimitations, it’s a great achievement. It will provide real, concretehelp to tens of millions of Americans and greater security to everyone.”

IfKrugman can swallow the Senate’s health bill, it is proof if any wereneeded that progressives can swallow anything. In fact, the ghastlyhealth bill, which consumed and wasted most of 2009, was in itself arelic of Clinton time. Obama’s political cowardice in refusing to setthe health reform agenda himself, and instead ceding the initiative tothe Senate, inevitably meant that the parameters would be set innegotiations among the most conservative Democratic senators and RahmEmanuel, along with other Clinton-era White House staffers. Emanuel,remember, led renegotiations on the administration side, not Biden.What we seem to be ending up with is a bill that has the worst elementsof Hillary’s ’93 bill, as reconfigured during her 2008 campaign.

Wesee Clintonism on the foreign side, too. Richard Holbrooke runs thehawkish policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Hillary commits herselfto be at the heart of a Camp David-type peace initiative in the MiddleEast over this year. Any deal is going to be contingent on really harshsanctions against Iran.

Asfor a second stimulus or increased infrastructural spending, theprogressives can dream on. Obama has committed himself, just as Clintondid, to deficit reduction. He’s pledged to have all outlays for hisstepped-up wars in the Afghan theater on the books, not concealed as inBush time, which will be another stick against outlays for stimulus,etc. Now watch Obama launch his attack on “bloated entitlementprograms” — like Social Security.

Whatkind of resistance will there be? Organized labor swallowed the deathof card check with scarcely a whimper and its performance in thehealthcare fight was scarcely robust, even though AFL-CIO chief RichardTrumka is vowing to fight to death the taxing of union healthcareplans. If labor didn’t show for those two fights, what will rally themto the political barricades?

Asfor the antiwar movement, it swallowed Obama in his 2008 campaignpledging war in Afghanistan. Since Obama’s West Point speech, there hasbeen little in the way of impressive public demonstrations. In sum,Obama can triangulate in Clinton-style without too many worries fromhis left — even though, so far as war and constitutional abuses areconcerned, he’s just as bad as the hated Bush.

Jeffrey St. Clair is co-editor with Alexander Cockburn of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. Copyright 2010