Posts Tagged ‘Vince Foster’

The Populist Right Isn’t a Political Movement. (cont.)

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Thesis #1: There is a glaring discrepancy between:

  • the populist right’s rhetorical opposition to all domestic government action on the grounds that it is incompetent, ineffective, and a threat to liberty; and
  • the populist right’s support for apparently unlimited government power on national security and law enforcement matters on the grounds that it is highly competent, effective, and the defender of liberty.

(Initial post on the subject.)

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These contradictory views of the state have been a part of the populist right since its modern inception — you can see it in Barry Goldwater, in Ronald Reagan, in George W. Bush. In fact, despite the rhetorical agitprop that has accompanied every surge in the populist right, it is impossible to understand the inflows of energy into and out of it, or to understand how it has acted when entrusted with power, while taking seriously the anti-government views it constantly invokes.

Thesis #2: Populist right wing movements have not been historically anti-government despite their rhetoric; they have been anti-minority. They have supported the expansion of government power to check the threats from minorities and opposed the expansion of government power to benefit any minorities.

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Rather than opposing “government” as a whole, the populist right has gained its energy and support from opposing liberal government and especially from opposing liberal government support for the rights of individuals who are members of minority groups. They have also supported programs in which the government is seen to strongly take on the interests of individuals who are members of minority groups.

Given the rhetoric in recent days from Virgina Governor Bob McDonnell and the geographical concentration of the Republican Party and populist right in the Southern states that rebelled in the Civil War, it’s worth pointing out that that conflict was described by the Confederacy at the time, and by McDonnell today, in anti-government terms — as about “states’ rights” rather than slavery.

The populist right was decimated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency but finally began to become energized in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement as the South quickly flipped to the Republican Party; it further was energized by the feminist revolution and the rise of the counterculture in the late 1960s. Then Nixon became president and the populist right quieted down as he expanded government in every direction and the Supreme Court legalized abortion. After 2 terms of Republican rule, a liberal became president, was accused of being weak and not loving America enough, and the pro-life movement began to gather strength; and once again, the party of limited government and cheery jingoism  made a comeback with evangelical fervor. Ronald Reagan also expanded government, but reduced it’s role in helping minorities and the middle class, reduced regulations on corporations, and lowered the tax burden on everyone a little and the rich a lot. Once again, the populist right was quiet. The first Bush was never comfortable with the populist right and a splinter group broke away from his electoral coalition causing him to lose the 1992 election to a young, fresh-faced liberal. Once again, the populist right was called to arms with the militia and white supremacist movements thriving (encouraged by Ron Paul who saw them as a necessary evil). With welfare reform, budget surpluses, tax cuts for the middle class, and a humming economy, Clinton managed to quiet the populist right’s rage at government. But the right wing elites still despised the man, convinced he was somehow not a legitimate president. They fostered various conspiracy theories about his murder of Vince Foster, about drug running in Arizona, and about hundreds of women. Later, a second Bush was elected and once again trimmed regulations protecting consumers but expanded government involvement in security, in education, in helping the elderly further — but the populist right rallied to him as he invoked mythical Democrats endorsing therapy for terrorists and expanded the government’s powers to go after terrorists.

The populist right finally broke with Bush when he tried to push through immigration reform in 2006. Meanwhile, a massive investment bubble was growing under the hands-off policy of Bush and as it popped in the late summer and early fall of 2008, with the election looming, he oversaw the first steps of the cleanup of the mess — the infamous bailouts. The populist right (along with the populist left, the populist center, and most everyone) was angered and invigorated by this bailout. The populist right was further motivated by a personal animus towards Obama, as they were told that he wasn’t American in the way the rest of us were, that he was foreign, that he would “stand with the Muslims,” that he was sympathetic to terrorists.

After a brief lull after their defeat in the election, the populist right was once again galvanized by the health care debate and Obama’s treatment of suspected terrorist detainees. After some early talk of the health care bill as a secret conspiracy to give reparations to black Americans for slavery (it wasn’t) and controversy over covering illegal immigrants (it doesn’t), the attacks on the bill from the populist right centered on the idea that it was a government takeover of 1/6th of the American economy (it isn’t). Meanwhile, regarding the treatment of detainees, Obama has largely continued Bush’s policies with some attempts to… Yet despite this, the populist right has rallied to the idea that  Obama is engaged in various treasonous activities and of endangering American lives.

What you see is a Republican Party that exists to expand and use government to benefit large corporations, the military-industrial complex, the rich, and the elderly at the expense of everyone else. At the same time, the populist right loudly objects to the government being used to benefit anyone but them. “Them,” meaning the elderly, the rich, the white Southerners. Which is why Republicans and the populist right are in favor of Medicare — and against Obamacare. Which is why they don’t mind when people that they would never be mistaken for are held without trial, tortured, or killed — and it’s why they are so outraged when people they might be mistaken for are. Which is why they rally when a liberal is in charge and are calm when a Republican is.

The populist right has been inherently about opposition — and about cultural alienation. It is about ressentiment and anger at how the world is changing. It has indisputably been invigorated by racial tensions — from opposition to the Civil Rights Movement to absurd claims of “welfare queens driving Cadillacs” to the militia movement of the 1990s. It is about feeling shafted by the powers that be. It is a very white movement, with resentment being driven against government rights and benefits being given to different groups that are stereotypically associated with minority groups: Latinos (illegal immigrants), blacks (criminals and welfare queens), and Muslims/Arabs (terrorists).

Conclusion: Resentment of minority groups (broadly construed) makes sense of the populist right’s contradictory views on government in ways that opposition to the government cannot and explains its historical rises and falls.

N.B. I am not claiming all right wingers are racist. Or Republicans or conservatives. I am merely pointing out the fact that the populist right has historically been empowered during times of racial tensions and that it’s positions are coherent and do make sense if understood in these terms while they do not if one interprets these rises and falls from an ideology opposed to big government.

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The Price You Pay to Lead

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

A few months ago, I wrote a post called “Before we came here, we thought of ourselves as good people” using the words of Vince Foster to encapsulate the uncommon corruptions of the Clinton years. I was thinking of and looking for the video below when writing, from the conclusion of the film Primary Colors. Both the film and the book were intended to portray barely fictional representations of the Clintons. I believe that movie (slightly more so than the book) captured in a profound way both the appeal and the darker side of the Clintons. (See the trailer here).

The conclusion to the movie is pregnant with meaning given today’s current stand-off between a Clinton and a black man, especially given the arguments made at that time.

There are many issues to tease out of this clip.

Governor Jack Stanton, the clear stand-in for Bill Clinton, is trying to convince an idealistic young black man (of about the same age was Barack Obama in 1992 when the events of the novel happen) to support him as he justifies his use of scandals, smears, dirty politics to win a brutal primary against a candidate who is riding a public groundswell of support from people fed up with politics-as-usual. The governor explains why he needed to use every item in his disposal to take down the opposing candidate, despite their shared values – because the other candidate wouldn’t be able to win in November. The logic used then by candidate Clinton and his stand-in here, Jack Stanton, is the same as the logic used by Ms. Clinton to justify her tactics and continued presence in the race today.

It goes something like this:

1. The only way to win is to win dirty. (“Lincoln had to be a whore in order to call on the ‘better angels of our nature!’ “)

2. The Democrat opposing me won’t be able to win in November. (Because he isn’t willing to play dirty enough and/or because he has some other issues or scandals in his past.)

3. No one else with a chance to win would push the issues and care about the people the Clinton/Stanton candidate would.

4. Therefore, the Clinton/Stanton has a responsibility to save the Democratic party by taking down the candidate(s) opposing them by whatever means they can – because only they can win and push forward the liberal agenda.

Various news agencies have reported that this is exactly the argument that Ms. Clinton and her surrogates have been pushing in private calls to the superdelegates. It’s worth remembering that this is not the first time they have pushed this idea and used it to justify doing whatever they needed to win.

The Clintons seem to truly believe that they alone can win and save America – and that they are justified in doing whatever needs to be done to get them power. This has been their justification to the party for every betrayal, every time they have sold out their values, for every time they have taken out an intra-party opponent.

And if they can continue to make this argument to themselves, it is going to be a long summer.

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Hillary: Stay in this Race!

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

A few weeks ago, when the electoral math began to indicate that Senator Hillary Clinton had little no chance of catching Senator Barack Obama, the voices of the Democratic establishment who had remained mainly neutral began to push a new meme. These establishment voices clearly wanted to send a message to the Clintons: “Stay in the race as long as you want. But keep it clean.”

Bob Shrum wrote in the New York Times two weeks ago:

She has very little chance of winning, but Hillary Clinton has no reason to get out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination — for now. A long shot isn’t the same as no chance at all. And an extended campaign doesn’t have to wound the nominee, assuming a measure of self-restraint on both sides…

The degree of aggression on each side may not be comparable, as both sides argue on their own behalf. But the Democratic nomination may not be worth winning if the victor is lacerated as unready, unfit to hold the office, or un-American — not, as expected, by the vast right-wing conspiracy but by a Democratic rival.

The editors of The New Republic wrote:

[C]alls for Hillary to withdraw – calls that invariably rest on the mathematical case against her candidacy – are premature. By winning Ohio and Texas, Hillary won the right to continue in this race.

… [But] it’s imperative that, as Hillary Clinton continues her campaign, she conduct it in a certain manner: She can’t run the type of campaign she ran in the lead-up to Ohio and Texas. For weeks, Clinton attacked Obama with a relish not previously seen in this race. But it wasn’t the fact she was attacking Obama that was problematic, it was how she was attacking him–namely, in a way that will make it more difficult for Obama should he, as is still likely, be the Democratic nominee in November. For instance, it would have been fine for Hillary to argue that she’d make a better commander-in-chief than Obama; but it was wrong for her to essentially argue, as she did on more than one occasion, that she and John McCain would make better commanders-in-chief than Obama. Similarly, her strange hedging on “60 Minutes” about whether she believes Obama isn’t a Muslim only added fuel to the unfounded rumors that are already circulating about his faith. Frankly, Clinton’s chances are slim enough that a win-at-all-costs mentality from her campaign is not worth the risk of doing irreparable damage to the candidate who will likely be her party’s nominee.

Yet – for whatever reason, despite the fact that she has little chance of winning – Ms. Clinton has continued to attack Obama using Rovian tactics of guilt-by-association, character assassination, the questioning of patriotism, and divisive identity politics. Barack Obama’s campaign has not been pure – from the beginning, he made it clear that he was willing to fight when challenged, as the hiring of David Axelrod as his campaign manager demonstrated. But the restraint he has shown has been truly remarkable. Just a taste of the topics he hasn’t brought up: cattle futures; Travelgate; Filegate; her own pastor; pardons by her husband of terrorists that were intended to help her 2000 Senate campaign according to internal documents; the many shady deals her husband has made since leaving the presidency, often acting against his wife’s public positions. All of these directly relate to the kind of president she might be. We’re not even touching on Monica Lewinsky, on Whitewater, on Vince Foster, and the dozen other scandals of her husband’s administration as well as the persistent rumors of his continued infidelities and disconcerting business deals.

If Mr. Obama’s campaign has showed great restraint, Obama personally has shown even more restraint. Ms. Clinton has not – and her campaign has been worse. Last night, she demonstrated – in front of over ten million viewers – that she has no shame.

Perhaps that is why, today, without any significant event to move him except Ms. Clinton’s unconscionable performance at last night’s debate, Howard Dean demanded that superdelegates make their decisions “now.”

The Democratic party is worried about the damage Ms. Clinton is doing; as a co-worker of mine listens to hard-right talk radio through much of the day, I can hear the memes starting to spread – I can hear them gaining traction. Ms. Clinton is damaging herself, her party, and Obama – and she is attacking him using the very tactics she abhorred and laying the same groundwork for the “conservative” attacks on Obama that the right launched at Al Gore, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Max Cleeland, and many more Democrats (and a few Republicans).

That’s why I want Ms. Clinton to stay in the race. As I wrote almost two months ago:

If Ms. Clinton wants to help her party win the White House this November, she can give Mr. Obama the “vetting” she claims he lacks, and with ever increasing histrionics, throw every smear, every false allegation, every innuendo at him. She can make her name synonymous with the sleaze she throws at him; she has proven that she is capable of a viciousness reminiscent of a Karl Rove. And by playing the villain, she can discredit and de-fang the many attacks that are sure to come at Mr. Obama after he secures the nomination.

It is better for these attacks on Obama to come out now than in September or October before the election. And Mr. Obama must overcome this type of politics if he is to win in November. Perhaps it is best if these attacks come from a source reviled on the right, so they can be more easily dismissed as time goes on. Though I doubt that Ms. Clinton is thinking in these times, I am trying to determine the best way Ms. Clinton’s destructive course could be used to benefit Mr. Obama.

Most observers thought that Mr. Obama looked weary last night. He wasn’t able to – and didn’t seem to even try to – launch the “knockout punch” that would end the race. Some quip, some throwaway line that would undermine the basis of Ms. Clinton’s candidacy, as Lloyd Bentsen’s response to Dan Quayle:

What Obama did – again and again – was to respond to the allegations and pivot back to the issues. Mr. Obama was tired and off of his game, and Ms. Clinton was on point – yet, my gut feeling is that Mr. Obama won more votes last night than he lost, because a weary Obama was far more compelling and far more presidential than an invigorated, desperate, and affected Clinton.

Ms. Clinton is playing the villain well so far. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like an act last night.

Here’s my proposition: the Pennsylvania primary is less than 10 days away. Let Ms. Clinton bring everything she has to this – which is to say, let her throw all the mud she can. We’ll see in 10 days who the mud is sticking to – and if Mr. Obama survives these Rovian, Atwater-style attacks, he will be a significantly stronger candidate. If he can rise above them, then he will be a truly great candidate.

I say let Ms. Clinton play the villain – because she is not giving us a choice. She is staying in this race. Obama has bet his candidacy on the fundamental decency and good sense of the American people. And he’s gotten this far. I have hope that he can make it a bit farther.

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