Quote of the day--department of dubious comparisons edition

>> Monday, September 26, 2011

President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans—from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now. I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation. His record is, at the very least, comparable to that of President Clinton, who was enthusiastically re-elected. The 2012 election is a test of whether Obama will be held to standards never before imposed on an incumbent. If he is, it may be possible to read that result as the triumph of a more subtle form of racism.
-Melissa Harris-Perry, "Black President, Double Standard:
Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama"
,
The Nation, September 21st, 2011


There's a bit more in that vein at the link. And there's pretty solid demolishment of Harris-Perry's arguments from the obnoxious (but right this time) David Sirota here and the generally wonderful Joan Walsh here, both at Salon. Basically, in short: Harris-Perry says that white liberals are abandoning the President because they unfairly hold a black liberal leader to a higher standard than they'd hold a white liberal leader and uses Bill Clinton as a basis for comparison; Sirota points out that Harris-Perry's analysis of Clinton's reelection numbers is dubious and lots of liberals (including most of the ones at The Nation) were roasting Clinton alive for his centrist policies; Walsh wonders where Harris-Perry is getting her numbers on white liberals (as opposed to whites generally) from, and points out the many respects in which progressive politics, organization and media these days are quite different from the way they were ca. 1996 (particularly salient is Walsh's point that disappointment in Bill Clinton's presidency is in fact a likely reason progressives are less-willing to settle for less these days).

What I'd add is something that none of the three talk about but is, I think, also relevant, and that is the idea that the 2000 presidential election was, to a great degree, a referendum on the Clinton presidency, and to the extent that Ralph Nader was able to supposedly siphon votes away from Al Gore in places where it could supposedly have made a difference, Nader's success was very much due to liberals seeking a progressive alternative to the Clinton/Gore/Democratic Leadership Council corporatist, neoconservative agenda.

Truth is, I really don't remember who I voted for in 1996. I have to make a confession: in '96 I was bogged down in law school and all over the place in terms of residency and so on, and I'm not sure if I voted at all in 1996. But if I voted for Bill Clinton that year, and not some write-in or third-party candidate, it wasn't "enthusiastically"; if I voted and if I voted for Bill Clinton, it was only because Bob Dole was, sorry, kind of a creep.

(I do remember that in '96 I used to amuse myself doing an impersonation of Bob Dole at a Shoney's: "Bob Dole wants the Big Boy Burger. Bob Dole wants fries. Bob Dole doesn't want pickles on his burger. Bob Dole wants to know if he can get extra special sauce on the side. Bob Dole." Sometimes I'd make it calling a pizza place, instead: "Bob Dole doesn't want anchovies. Bob Dole likes pepperonis, but Bob Dole wants to know if he can get them only on half and Bob Dole would like sausage on the other half." What was up with that son-of-a-bitch and always talking in the third-person, anyway?)

What I also remember is that I spent much of the late '90s telling conservative friends and coworkers that I didn't give a rat's ass about who Bill Clinton got blowjobs from, but I wasn't happy that he sold out the gays and fucked up healthcare reform. I remember getting into an argument with my Dad over the timing of the administration's cruise missile strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan which (I thought at the time) had a wag-the-doggish quality, considering the events going on in the President's emerging sex scandal; in retrospect, I agree the timing was almost certainly coincidental, but at the time it bugged the hell out of me. Times when I had to defend Clinton from relatively irrelevant charges of sexual misfeasance and financial shadiness tended to annoy the hell out of me, because all-in-all I thought they were distractions from much worse things President Clinton could have been accused of doing. Ironically, about the only thing I can think of that President Clinton actually accomplished that I supported at the time was NAFTA, and I was wrong about that, so pffft (hey, I grew up on Star Trek and anything that brings countries together politically and economically so we're one step closer to being One Big Earth will always touch a soft spot in my globalist, one world is enough heart).

Clinton, for all the insane vitriol he inspired in the American right, was practically a Republican-in-all-but-name; he was Nelson Rockefeller with a zipper problem

In 2000, voting for Ralph Nader had a lot to do with being sick of the Clintons and Clintonism. To be fair, Al Gore had tried in this really weird, ineffectual way to distance himself from the Clintons even when that meant distancing himself from things the Clinton administration could consider laurels--the smashingly good economy, for instance. Under Clinton's leadership, anyway, the Democrats had distanced themselves from the progressive politics of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson to such a degree that asking whether there was a substantive difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore seemed a reasonable enough question at the time. In retrospect, of course, that seems pretty silly.

And I would go so far as to say that Clinton exhaustion was a factor in the 2008 Democratic primaries. Maybe it isn't fair to saddle Hillary Clinton with her husband's transgressions against liberal politics and all the rest of the baggage Bill ended up carrying, but I can't be the only one in America who, right or wrong, tended to view Hillary Clinton as a suspect leftist, yet another product of the DLC style her husband blazed trails for: pro-business; soft on liberal touchstones like the environment, equal rights for minority groups, freedom of reproductive choice, and welfare; slightly hostile to organized labor; hawkish on foreign policy. While I, as an independent, didn't vote in the primaries, I was the kind of liberal who created electability problems for Mrs. Clinton if she faced the general election; I was the kind of independent showing support for Obama as he emerged as the most viable not-a-Clinton candidate. (By the way, Clinton has been an excellent Secretary Of State so far, and much is forgiven: I could probably support a 2016 presidential bid from her at this point in time if she were so inclined.)

Now, there is this: that I'm less hostile about Bill Clinton's performance as President than I was when he was actually in office, making gay people's lives miserable, screwing up healthcare reform, shooting rockets into southwest Asia and ruining women's clothing. The reason? It took George W. Bush to rehabilitate Bill Clinton. Best thing that ever happened to Clinton, seriously: Bush made Bill Clinton look like Teddy Freakin' Roosevelt by comparison. Hell, George W. Bush made his dad look like Abraham Lincoln by comparison, and I remember when the Elder Bush had to pick a pointless fight with a TV news anchor before he could engage in the act of sweet, rough coitus with the Bush Matron (or something along those lines). Basically, Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman were well on their way to being more memorable and beloved American presidents than H.W. and Bill Clinton, until G.W. post-9/11 administration made the two of 'em look like historical titans whose visages ought to be blown into the living rock of Mount Rushmore, a fact which may prove to be a slide in any future historian's Power Point demonstration that G.W. Bush was the worst President in American history. (For the record, I think James Buchanan still has G.W. beat and always will, but time will tell, won't it?)

Finally, this: that dwindling liberal support for Obama doesn't necessarily translate into dwindling liberal support for Obama, if you know what I mean, and this is a further reason for a raised eyebrow over any kind of assertions about liberals fleeing Obama (including Harris-Perry's). If you ask me if I'm happy with the President, the honest answer is that I'm ambivalent about Obama for many of the same reasons I disliked Bill Clinton; that I'm ambivalent and not hostile has much to do with a changed political climate in which the Republican party has largely gotten younger and stupider than it was in the 1990s--we're talking about a party in which the incorrigible, unchanged and unrepentant Newt Gingrich is now a relatively meek fringe candidate in comparison to the people in his party who have somehow managed to out-goon him, by which I mean that Newt does not drag his knuckles (as often) and has less drool on his shoes than some of his fellow-Republicans. At any rate, I'm disappointed in Obama as a liberal, and I don't imagine there will be any bumper stickers on my car, nor will I be putting any of my hard-earned money in his war chest; but I'll be voting for him in 2012 because, you know, what the hell kind of choice am I being given?

Anyway, I could be wrong about myself, but I don't think I'm applying a different standard to President Obama than I would to any other ostensibly, roughly, more-or-less liberal-ish Democrat. Maybe I'm deluding myself. But comparing my feelings about Bill Clinton to my feelings about President Obama doesn't make the case Ms. Harris-Perry might think.


4 comments:

Dr. Phil (Physics) Monday, September 26, 2011 at 9:00:00 PM EDT  

For the record, I did NOT vote for James Buchanan.

Dr. Phil

Eric Monday, September 26, 2011 at 9:08:00 PM EDT  

Bumper sticker seen on a wagon during the Kansas Border War: Don't Blame Me, I Voted For Frémont.

Anonymous,  Monday, September 26, 2011 at 9:27:00 PM EDT  

I don't know. The fact that W comes in second in the list of all-time-worst isn't that surprising. Kinda more o' the same, near as I can tell.

Warner Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 12:51:00 PM EDT  

Don't Ask Don't Tell wasn't good, but it far exceeded what it replaced.

When I was in homosexaulity was technically a court martial offense and could result in a Dishonorable Discharge. In practice it meant a General Discharge (Undesirable) and once in a while a BCD.

In WWII it could be 20 years of hard labor.

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