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Commentary | COLUMN LEFT / ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Scandal Brings Out the Worst in Everyone

Some are going off the deep end, blaming Clinton for the failure of a 'progressive' agenda.

October 01, 1998|ALEXANDER COCKBURN | Alexander Cockburn writes for the Nation, the New York Press and other publications

The frolicking White House sex scandal is making fools of many, starting with Ken Starr and the House Republicans and continuing on through Democrats, pundits and parlor moralists of every description. Also included in this idiots' gallery are the Democratic "progressives" who often marshal their sentiments in such journals as the Nation and the American Prospect.

We speak here of folk like Bob Borosage, a mover and shaker in Washington's liberal public interest sector, whose life mission has been to persuade the world of the validity of the proposition that the Democratic Party not only has a "soul," but this same "soul" is progressive in nature. Borosage-type liberals offer Clinton as a man who has destroyed the possibility of radical advance. If it wasn't for his sexdrive, they charge, Congress would be seeing a possibly triumphant struggle for "a progressive agenda."

This is only a slight twist on the myth they have been promoting for the past six years, to wit that there is a profound, radical impulse in the Democratic Party, even that Clinton has been its secret leader, waiting only for the moment to spring into a telephone booth and emerge in the pink jumpsuit of radicalism. You would have thought that after six years of watching Clinton and the Democratic Party doing exactly what the bankers told them, this myth would fade. But no. They are now bleating that Clinton must resign to prevent further damage to the radical impulse noted above.

This bunch has never argued for any political merit in Clinton. Nation writer Doug Ireland in particular has written energetic political denunciations of the Lively Lad from Little Rock for as long as the Lively Lad has been in public view. But now he and his colleagues are taking the "radical impulse" nonsense seriously, to judge from a very odd statement in the Nation by Ireland and two colleagues to the effect that Clinton has been "opportunistically eviscerating [the Democratic Party's] core values and spreading the conservative world view of his corporate donors." In contrast to Clinton's moral and political disgraces, they offer, with a straight face, this vision of a "left" that, with Clinton driven from office, can somehow reconstitute itself inside and outside the Democratic Party.

How amazing that at the moment one sees in the American popular soul a swelling against Puritan prosecutors and for privacy and sexual freedom, these liberals set their faces against these splendidly subversive popular sentiments because, they say, "this president is no longer 'politically viable.' "

There's nothing more touching than progressives mounting the moral pulpit; listen to Ireland and his pals: "We demanded public honesty and integrity from Lyndon Johnson and from Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and when they failed to deliver it we knew what to say. Bill Clinton should resign." My old friend Christopher Hitchens is taking this line, too.

Golly, we've never been fans of Clinton, but we will say one thing for Bill: Thus far, he hasn't killed a couple of million people. LBJ and Nixon destroyed what was once called Indochina, and Reagan destroyed Central America. Really, only two halfway decent orgasms and a few fibs against Vietnam and Central America--it doesn't match up. And look at the words these writers use to evoke the ideals of the left: "integrity and honesty." In the old days, we talked about seizing power in the name of the people. What a falling away, to the language of anniversary toasts at a Rotary banquet!

As poll after poll has been showing, ordinary people have been registering their disgust at what Clinton has been forced to go through. All this is in marked contrast to the opinion-forming elites, sex skeletons crammed in their closets, who pace the ramparts of moral outrage on an hourly basis. Ordinary Americans say what they really think in job approval ratings, which so confound the Republicans.

It's glorious to see Republicans like House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde, who have spent their lives invoking the feelings of the "heartland," of Joe Sixpack, now proclaiming virtuously that they give not a fig for polls and follow only the dictates of their own conscience--that same conscience which in Hyde's case issued no demurrer when he gazed upon the body of a woman not his wife, and found it goodly and pleasing and well worth getting to know more closely in the privacy of a motel room.

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