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Commentary | COLUMN LEFT/ WILLIAM BRADLEY

Clinton, Liberals and the Third Way

If the Democratic Party is to emerge from its present crucible intact, stop the lies.

September 27, 1998|WILLIAM BRADLEY | William Bradley writes on politics and other topics. E-mail: bill@brad.com

Most people associated with the Democratic Party have long denied that the Clinton scandal would seriously affect its prospects in the 1998 elections. Now they are scrambling, with William Jefferson Clinton having become William Westmoreland Clinton, leading them into a quagmire. Some talk of "censure-plus," "contrition-plus," fantasies in the inexorable dynamic of this election year.

Even if America's most famous liar manages, after a long struggle, to hang onto the presidency by further debasing the concept of truth, he will have put us all through a nightmarish experience.

Unfortunately, while it's obvious that Clinton should resign in favor of the more substantive Al Gore in order to save darkened Democratic prospects in California and elsewhere, he has no intention of doing so. It's also obvious that a predicted anti-Starr backlash is just "spinlash," part of an endless round of invention intended to distract from reality. The Clinton scandals are energizing Republican voters, depressing some Democrats, turning off independents, smothering what had been a pro-Democratic message environment.

Which makes the leading role of some liberals in defending Clinton a major oddity. They act like he's Bobby Kennedy, when in fact he presided over the triumph of the money culture and ended welfare for even the most incapable. They are free to ignore Clinton's devastation of their politics, but fools to ignore his fundamental lack of integrity. Worse than Clinton's smashing of the politics of useful idiot defenders is the intellectual fraudulence of his new cerebral path. Like Monicagate, the "third way"--celebrated this week by the Clintons at a ballyhooed New York City forum--is clever and bankrupt. It's the deeper deception of Clintonism.

We need a progressive course beyond the conventional liberalism of the New Deal. But the third way is something else, a pseudo-futuristic cover that entrenches ossified and increasingly ineffectual public sector forces, sanctifies the Cold War national security state and places a smiley face on radical capitalism.

Third-way advocates proceed from the bedrock assumption that class-based politics is over and that the goal of economic policy should be, as Democratic Leadership Council chief Al From puts it, to "expand the winner's circle." This is elitist nonsense, the Panglossian burblings of those who follow the Tao of the limitless Dow. It doesn't get better.

On education, the third way talks up charter schools and standards while avoiding the real work of reforming teacher training and instilling basic skills development in curriculum, positions threatening to teachers unions and educrats.

On defense, the third way is to maintain the George Bush budget and retain Cold War strategic doctrine, emphasizing massively expensive weapons systems and large conventional forces perfectly suited to fight unfought battles of the past quite unlike the ones popping up today.

On international trade, the third way is to promote regional and global trade agreements to accelerate transnational economic integration while trumpeting toothless, unenforced "side agreements" on labor and environmental issues.

On capital flows, the third way is to bail out Wall Street's bad calls and ignore the need to slow the flight of money from economies left reeling by the International Monetary Fund's austerity measures.

On huge gaps of incomes and wealth here at home during what have been the good old days, the third way is to talk about education and training as the key to everything.

On privacy, a personal concern of the president's, the third way is to push a national ID card.

On political reform, the third way is to talk of new laws while effectively dismantling the ones already in place.

On the environment, perhaps worst of all, there is no sense in "third wayism" of the urgent need to transform our technology base to deal with the reality of climate change, pointing up its essentially temporizing rather than future-oriented nature.

In this era of "legally accurate" lies, these are the most profound fraudulencies of Clintonism, the ones that must be rooted out if the Democratic Party is to emerge from its present crucible as a vibrant vehicle for American aspirations and ideals.

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