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Between the Lines: The Clinton Effect

Even the Democrats ain't Democrats anymore.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

I never really intended to watch the Democratic National Convention. I generally loathe all the self-congratulatory, aggrandizing nonsense of both parties' outings. Thing is, every time I tuned into the DNC for a minute, someone or other was delivering an impressive speech.

And Bill Clinton? Dude's a diva. He delivered a stemwinder that did everything right. He was folksy, presidential, Arkansan, relaxed, and devastating in his takedown of the GOP platform. Think what you will of Bill, he possesses astounding oratorial powers. He's also clearly identified as having fostered an era of remarkable prosperity.

For a few minutes, I felt a little surge of almost partisan pride as he laid out in stark terms the broad-scale state of affairs: "We Democrats, we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. You see, we believe that 'We're all in this together' is a far better philosophy than 'You're on your own.'"

Bracing stuff. Here's the rub—I'm not really a Democrat, though I've never once voted Republican. I am, like many people, stuck with the Democrats. Few are the times when I feel a sense of togetherness with a party that's long been a bunch of namy-pamby, hand-wringing incompetents, endlessly playing defense instead of stating their beliefs and sticking to them. To hear Clinton throwing such stout punches and doing so in grand style made me feel good.

That good feeling can be dangerous, delusional. Luckily, before the adrenaline surge dumbed me down, I remembered a few things. The man on stage, whipping up a frenzy of righteous agreement, was central to the transforming of the Democratic Party to said bunch of incompetents. Bright and engaging though he is, I don't like Clinton politically. He is, after all, the guy who led the Democrats into becoming GOP Lite.

And now look—the Republicans are quite, quite mad in their pursuit of a brighter yesterday, and the Democrats are equally deluded. They embrace and defend against Republicans what used to be a Republican healthcare plan. Thankfully, they hold sane positions on social issues, and offer economic policy that consists of more than "Give the rich more and maybe they'll save us." Two out of three wouldn't be bad.

But the creature that Clinton begat, the so-called "centrist Democrat," has become something every bit as dangerous as a Republican in certain important ways. Of the many reasons I despised the Bush administration, two overshadowed the rest: Bush and his cronies oversaw an all-out assault on our sacred civil liberties, and they lowered us as a nation to the same barbarism we were supposedly fighting when they endorsed torture.

When Barack Obama took office, I was relieved. Those things would stop. As far as any of us knows, the torture did stop. All the same, the Obama Department of Justice has protected from prosecution those who are guilty of torturing. And civil liberties? Obama has continued the assault on civil liberties that Bush began, in some cases one-upping the most reprehensible American policies in modern memory.

The true believers at the DNC, teary-eyed and transfixed by Clinton and Obama alike, seemed perfectly willing to dismiss what Obama has done. And what he's done includes asserting the right to assassinate American citizens far from the field of battle (where different rules would, naturally, reign). In at least one known case, that of American Anwar al-Awlaki, Obama really did approve such killing. It's an inconvenience, but a central pillar of Western democracy, that even those clearly guilty of treason must be given due process, even if they have Muslim names. Only tyrants would kill their own people without a trial. At least we used to think so.

With all that in mind, I just couldn't get into all the flag-waving and self-congratulation on view at the DNC. End of the day, I like Barack Obama. I wouldn't dream of pulling the lever for Romney and the other guy. The two-party system is a closed loop that just keeps rolling further and further to the right, and many of us have little choice but to cling to whatever's left of the left. The Democratic glass, it seems, remains stubbornly half empty.

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