(WARNING: The following is in direct violation of my “No Politics” policy.)
The nice thing about self-imposed policies, like my “no political discussion here” rule, is that I can violate it whenever I wish, pretty much with impunity. The occasion today is this interesting article in which Eric Raymond details the top ten reasons why he is not a liberal and the top ten reasons why he is not a conservative. I disagree with a lot of the assertions here (primarily the ones about liberals), but the one that really gives me pause is Number Nine, his assessment of Bill Clinton. In Raymond’s words:
“Sociopathic liar, perjurer, sexual predator. There was nothing but a sucking narcissistic vacuum where his principles should have been. Liberals worship him.” (italics mine)
There’s a lot to process here, and I’m not going to comment on all of it. Clinton is an amazingly dishonest man, but frankly that’s to be expected. Honesty in politics has never been in large supply. The legal question of whether or not he actually committed perjury is simply not as clear-cut as many would like to believe. And I have difficulty calling Clinton a “sexual predator”, especially given the shenanigans that a depressingly large number of Catholic priests have apparently been perpetrating. Clinton’s morality, with regard to marital fidelity, is certainly questionable (“nonexistent” might be a better term), but using such hyperbole as “predatory” to characterize behavior that was, in every instance, committed between two consensual (if stupid) adults seems to minimize the amount of outrage we can therefore claim for the pedophile priests and such. But that isn’t what gives me pause here, either. It’s Raymond’s last clause: “Liberals worship him.”
Which liberals would those be?
I have read a great deal of liberal commentary on Clinton, both during and after his Presidency. This includes authors like Molly Ivins, Joe Klein, Helen Thomas, Michael Moore, George Stephanopolous, Michael Kinsley, the editorial department of The New York Times, and so on. Many of these commentators defended Clinton against what they saw to be personally motivated attacks on him, up to and including the impeachment trial; many of them argue that Clinton accomplished a fair number of substantive goals while in office; many of them are thankful that he was able to block many of the Republican more draconian measures and policy goals once that party took control of Congress in 1994; and many of them admire Clinton’s political skill and ability to survive setbacks that would have crippled other presidents. If that were the only tone present in these people’s writings — and to my mind, these people constitute much of the prevailing opinion amongst the American left — then Raymond’s charge that “liberals worship Bill Clinton” might be well-taken.
But that’s not the only tone present. Also notable is a keen sense of disappointment in Clinton, both as President and as a man. Just about every liberal commentator and writer I’ve ever encountered has expressed sadness that Clinton achieved much of his success by relentlessly moving to the center, in many cases co-opting issues that had for years been safe, Republican issues. They are disappointed by Clinton’s pro-death penalty stance. They are disappointed that Clinton’s work on the environment basically amounted to creating a large number of national monuments by using the Antiquities Act, and they suspect that he did this more to gall the Republicans and frustrate his successor than out of any real concern for the environment. They are disappointed that Clinton allowed the Kyoto protocols to twist in the wind. They are disappointed in his bungling of the health care plan. They are disappointed in Clinton’s renegging on many of his original campaign promises, most notably his backtracking on gays in the military. They were keenly disappointed by his version of welfare reform. They were galled when Clinton turned his back on the liberal base and instead adopted the “triangulation” strategy formed by Dick Morris, a man who is not near-and-dear to anyone of a liberal persuasion. They were disillusioned when the last two-and-a-half years of Clinton’s Presidency was consumed with the spectacle of impeachment and a disgraced President trying to salvage something of a historical legacy. It was liberal dissatisfaction with the Clinton years that made Ralph Nader a force to be reckoned with in 2000. If liberals really worshipped Clinton, Al Gore would be in the White House.
As far as I can tell, the prevailing liberal view on Bill Clinton is this: “He did OK, and if he hadn’t been there things might have been a lot worse, but he could have done so much more.” That, frankly, doesn’t sound like “worship” to me. If you want to see “worship”, look at the conservative love affair with Ronald Reagan. As far as I know, no liberal has suggested putting Clinton on Mount Rushmore — a suggestion which has seriously been advanced on Reagan’s behalf. No liberal has said of Clinton, “The nation owes this man a debt that it can never repay” — which Rush Limbaugh has said of Reagan. Liberal books on Clinton tend to be almost apologetic; contrast that with the fauning tone of Peggy Noonan’s When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan.
William Jefferson Clinton is many things, but an object of “liberal worship” is not one of them.