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Election 2008 History Politics The Clintons

Bill and Hillary: You’re no LBJ

Andrew Sullivan has some strong words in response to Hillary’s comparisons of herself and one of our most flawed presidents:

Johnson risked his entire coalition on the issue of civil rights – a heroic act that still reverberates today. The Clintons wouldn’t risk a smidgen of a percentage point in a Mark Penn poll for the duration of a news cycle. That’s the difference.

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Election 2008 Obama Politics The Clintons

Before we came here, we thought of ourselves as good people.

Or What is Wrong with the Clintons

[digg-reddit-me]In 1992, a man from Hope inspired Americans, and a plurality voted him into the White House. But something less hopeful lurked underneath the surface of this aspiring political dynasty. Joe Klein, writing as Anonymous in his fictionalization of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, Primary Colors, told the story from the perspective of an idealistic young aide corrupted both by the process and the charismatic candidate himself. The major subplot of the novel involved a close and lifelong friend of the Stantons (representing the Clintons) who when confronted with the venality, ruthlessness, and pure lust for power of the candidate and his wife killed herself in anger and sorrow.

George Stephanopoulos, writing in his memoir of the campaign and early Clinton presidency, attributed the suicide of the close Clinton confidante and advisor, Vince Foster to a similar emotional breakdown.1 Writing shortly after Foster’s death, Margaret Carlson of Time magazine, quoted Foster as saying: “Before we came here, we thought of ourselves as good people.”

Politics, as Stephanopoulos describes it delicately, is about “play[ing] the game for the sake of getting good things done.” Any realist – any student of history – any politician – will tell you that there is a large element of truth to this. What was Lend-Lease but part of a game FDR was playing to drag us into World War II? What was Lincoln’s careful campaign formulation of allowing slavery to stay where it was but preventing any new slave states from from joining the Union if not a political stratagem? But there is a sense among those who worked with the Clintons that they sold their soul to win this game – that their lust for power overrode all ethical impulses, and that they sullied everyone who believed in them.

There is a risk of this disappointment in every campaign – including Barack Obama’s. Power corrupts. Washington corrupts. Dreams and ideals and promises are broken upon hard reality.

But sometimes, our leaders, all too human as they may be, help us rise above the game. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream; John F. Kennedy called on a nation to go to the moon; Abraham Lincoln called on the “better angels of our nature”. All of these men were corrupted by power; none of them were perfect; they were all politicians. Yet each man met their moment; each individual transcended mere politics even as they participated in the political game. They had the judgment to know when to compromise and when to stand firm.

The Clintons had their chance. They demonstrated their character – and were found wanting. Bill Clinton recently said that to vote for Barack Obama is to “roll the dice”. He had a point. Obama may be corrupted as easily as the Clintons were. But at least with Obama, there is a chance the story might turn out differently. We need to, in Bill Clinton’s words, “roll the dice”.

  1. Page 187 of All Too Human. []
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History Politics The Clintons

People Who Play the Game

All Too Human

[digg-reddit-me]George Stephanopolos wrote in his memior, All Too Human, about a conversation he once had with journalist I. F. Stone:

“You covered Washington for so long,” I asked, “weren’t you ever tempted to go into politics yourself?”

“Once,” he answered. Sixty-five years earlier, when Izzy was in high school, the political “boss” of his class had offered him a place on the editorial board of the school paper ‘his dream job’ in return for campaign help. But whatever temptation Izzy felt was quickly overwhelmed by a wave of nausea and a vow never to approach active politics again.

I respected that sentiment, envied it, felt slightly shamed by it, but didn’t share it. My new work seemed too thrilling to renounce, and I was a natural at the game of politics: at knowing who knew what I needed to know, at absorbing the rhythms of legislative life by walking the halls, at preparing committee hearing questions for my boss that might get picked up by the press, at learning to anticipate his political needs and to use his position to advance my issues too, at succumbing to the lure of the closed room and the subtle power rush that comes from hearing words I wrote come out of someone else’s mouth.

A democracy needs people like Izzy on the outside to keep it honest, but it also needs people on the inside to make it work – people who will play the game for the sake of getting good things done. But you have to be careful. Your first deal is like your first scotch. It burns, might make you feel nauseous. If you’re like Izzy, once is enough. If you’re like me, you get to like it. Then to need it.

George Stephanopoulos
All Too Human
pages 17-18