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Democrats, Join Us Clinton-Haters!

Democrats backed a winner, but lost everything. Will they make same mistake again?

by James Leroy Wilson
February 28, 2001

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Democrats, Join Us Clinton-Haters!_James Leroy Wilson-Democrats backed a winner, but lost everything. Will they make same mistake again? There are three distinct elements to ambition. The first is a desire to see something, or some things, accomplished. In 1995 Steve Forbes wanted to see the Republican Party advocate tax reform and tax cuts. But this did not mean he had ambitions to run for President; his desire was to see an ideological soul mate, the better-known and more experienced Jack Kemp, run. When Kemp refused, only then did Forbes take the plunge himself.

A second element is love of a particular line of work. Some politicians just love deal-making, legislating, and campaigning. Just as many multi-millionaire entrepreneurs keep working, Oscar-winners keep acting, and Teachers-of-the-year keep teaching. They do so because they love their work, and keep at it even after reaching the heights of success.

The third element is seeking offices, honors, and fame for the power and riches they provide. The desire is not doing good, but to be perceived as being good, to achieve a distinguished place in history, regardless of real accomplishments. No Heisman Trophy or Nobel Prize winner ever took back the award because he didn't feel he deserved it. The perception becomes the reality, because history is written by the winners.

This is why Bill and Hillary Clinton can't be counted out even after this embarrassing pardon scandal. They have survived many other scandals in which they always reacted as if they were guilty as charged. But none of these are quite as important as two very huge perceptions:
1. That they are both very bright, knowledgeable, and skilled politicians.
2. That Bill Clinton's job performance as President was a success, i.e., that he was the initiator of the economic policies that led to decent economic growth for eight years. Therefore, it is good to have the Clintons in the White House, warts and all.

In a few months, the pardon scandal will blow over, and soon there will be a prominent magazine cover story on Hillary, how she's "bouncing back" from her husband's embarrassing scandals, that she is quickly learning the job, and that perhaps an '04 Presidential bid is not as outlandish as it seemed a few months ago. Soon, many of those who are currently disgusted by the pardons will make their way back into the Clinton fold, because the Clintons are winners.

But many other Democrats want to distance themselves from the Clintons, and justifiably so. Many feel like they sold their soul defending their President, especially during impeachment, and got nothing to show for it. No White House, and no house of Congress. These Democrats are in a real bind. If they discredit the second perception, that the Clinton Presidency was a success, they have to concede that either Republicans (Congressional Republicans and/or previous administrations) deserve the credit for the nation's prosperity, or that the entire decade was a failure. That free trade, welfare reform, empowerment zones, and budget surpluses do no good. Conceivably, they could say this, because all of these accomplishments were Republican ideas. But that would require an astonishing rhetorical reversal that the American public wouldn't buy. It is the task of Republicans, not Democrats, to attack the job performance of a Democratic President.

So that leaves option #1. But it is difficult to alter the perception itself (even though Hillary has an Al Gore-ish condescending style and some huge setbacks during Bill's term were due to her bad advice). What Democrats can say, and should say, is that the talents of the Clintons aren't important. They may be smart and skilled, but they are corrupt. And, as The National Review has pointed out, they are corrupt in the same sense that Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr were corrupt; they will do anything and betray anyone as long as they get the power, the credit, and the limelight. At this point in their lives, it appears that they have some of the second and tons of the third elements of ambition, but very little of the first. They want power not to make the country a better place, but because, well, they want power.

Conscientious Democrats realize that the Clintons must be gotten rid of. But a lot of people who have crossed the Clintons have come away badly damaged. Alexander Hamilton gave up his own life to destroy Burr's political career. It might take a sacrifice almost as great, by more than one person, to exile a Presidential couple who lost the largest asset the Democrats thought they had: moral authority.

While Republicans are pursuing a substantive, reform-minded agenda, the Democrats, thanks to the Clintons, have nothing to do except use scare tactics on abortion and hate crimes. Clinton '04 may be tempting, but new leadership, leadership with a vision, is required. The more Democrats join the ranks of "Clinton-haters," the better off the country will be in the long run. I hope that by 2004 no one will have to write about them again.

Comments (1)

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Everett writes:
February 28, 2001
Republican ideas? So? In politics, it doesn't matter much who thought of what first. The credit goes to those under whose watch the good ideas become public policy. The Republicans may have had good ideas, but they apparently didn't know how to effect them. Now we have a chance to see if they have learned anything.

[The author responds:

From Everett's tone, it sounds like he's disagreeing with me. He's not. The fact that the Democrat Clinton gets the credit for our nation's prosperity is exactly the dilemma for Democrats who don't want another Clinton.]

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