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Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The Hips vs The Straights

I would like to applaud TAPPED (a great blog, in any case) for correcting a common misapprehension about Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party. They cite Joe Klein's egregiously mistaken assertion in Time in which he says, "One could argue that the only winning strategy for Democrats in the past nine presidential campaigns has been camouflage."

TAPPED responds:

Bill Clinton wasn't a camouflaged liberal. He was a genuine centrist, who combined liberal views on some issues with moderate, even conservative, views on others. So was Jimmy Carter, more or less. The most successful act of campaign-trail camoflage during the past couple of elections has been that of George W. Bush, a hard conservative who ran as a center-right candidate. Yes, the Democrats have a weak field. But during the last few years it's been Republicans, not Democrats, who have had to hide their true beliefs on most issues to build a political majority.

Thank You.

Like most purveyors of DC conventional wisdom, Klein persists in seeing Clinton and Bush through his own psychological prism. The reporting about both Presidents says much more about the establishment political press than it does about either men. It’s not about politics. It’s about them.

Back in ’92, Klein and all the others were just giddy with excitement when they realized that the first baby-boomer (like them!) was going to be president. Instead of Guy Lombardo we had Fleetwood Mac, man! It was like being in college again. All night bull sessions, solidarity with the brothas, takin’ down tha man. It was finally happening. A liberal JFK kinda guy was coming to power and it felt good. (Of course, Clinton didn’t run as a liberal, but that picture shaking hands with Jack said it all, right?)

Then they woke up with a morning-after hangover to turn to the face on the pillow next to them and saw that, like them, he was actually a paunchy professional whose adolescent idealism had long ago been subsumed by compromising practical concerns and failed marriage and bloated ambitions and mid-life insecurities. He was a damned politician. They had projected their younger, better selves onto Bill Clinton and saw their older cynical selves reflected back. He was them and they hated him for it.

Klein says Bush, on the other hand, is “bold, decisive, uncomplicated, a man of real convictions who has not been afraid to take unpopular positions.”

This is how Klein sees himself today, cleansed of Clintonian complexity, filled with manly courage and moral clarity. The description bears little resemblance to Bush, however. TAPPED asks,

“Can Klein name a single issue on which Bush has taken a clear position that was deeply unpopular? On the most controversial issues, like therapeutic cloning, Bush has taken muddled, carefully-calibrated stands designed by Karl Rove. Where Bush has pursued a very conservative agenda, he has mostly been forced to adopt moderate rhetoric to shade over hard-right views.”

Klein is being purposefully blind and to such a degree that you can only conclude that he is unable to see Bush in a realistic light. To him, Bush is the anti-Clinton, the modern boomer – a playa, an operator, a winner. Like Klein. He has “a clever team.” (Like Ken Lay.) He’s a man. Like your Dad was a man. A 50’s style man.

Neither of Klein's CW characterizations bear any relationship with reality. Clinton had never been much of an idealist and Bush is not a man of real conviction. The first was always an ambitious politician driven to power and the latter is the glad-handing celebrity front man for a very powerful political operation. They are both products of their age, but not in the way the media perceive them.

This is another chapter in the long ongoing saga of the baby boomers and it isn’t going to end until the last one of us dies. It will forever be the hips vs the straights even though very, very few of us have consistently been one or the other. I figure the last one of us to be president will probably be 2012 or 2016. I don’t think the country would survive much more.