Thursday, May 03, 2007

Andrew Levine and the lesser of two evils

Philosophy professor Andrew Levine has a new blog on party politics (mad props to Crooked Timber). I don't agree with everything he says—in fact I disagree with most of it—but it's literate, interesting and well-argued.

I disagree with his fundamental point though. He correctly identifies the problem with the Democratic party (that it has become "Republicanism Lite"), but misidentifies the problem as "Clintonism", as if this tendency were peculiar or idiosyncratic to Bill Clinton himself. But Clinton is as much a creation of this tendency in the Democratic party and the Democratic electorate. It's clear that he's using the term in this sense, because his analysis of the 2008 Presidential election is based almost exclusively on a comparison of the candidates' Clintonism.
Leaving Dennis Kucinich aside as a non-starter... John Edwards now seems the least Clintonite of the party’s likely candidates. His stump speech and the positions he has staked out recall New Deal and Great Society themes.
But Kucinich is a non-starter precisely because he's not a "Clintonite". Edwards is probably the most similar to Clinton the man: superficially charming while just as fundamentally committed to American Exceptionalism, globalization and "Republicanism Lite". Remember that Clinton's stump speeches recalled exactly the same New Deal and Great Society themes... even as he sold out American labor and the independent media. It's telling that Levine dismisses Edwards support of Israel and his aggressive language towards Iran as mere "pandering". Perhaps it is just pandering, but it's crucial: To be a "starter", you have to support some kind of American Exceptionalism.

And it precisely this Exceptionalism that is the danger. On the one hand, the Democrats are clearly the lesser of two evils. On the other hand, the lesser of two evils is still evil. On the gripping hand, the fundamental problem has nothing to do with either the Democrats or the Republicans. The fundamental problem is that American society has been almost absolutely corrupted by almost absolute power. No nation, no culture, no society has ever voluntarily ceded their power; all that can be done is wait until the inevitable corruption weakens the society until it can no longer physically retain power.

I think a Democrat will win the presidency in 2008, and I think the Democratic party will retain its hold on congress. But it just doesn't matter. The corruption of absolute power will still be present. In 2012, Giuliani will defeat a corrupt Democratic party, fatally weakened by its inability to end the war in Iraq (and Iran) without making the American people feel like losers. (The Democratic party does not, strictly speaking, deserve the blame; the American people have set their leaders an impossible task. It would take real leadership—which the Democratic party shows absolutely no signs of developing—to push through an end to the war in spite of the psychological consequences.) And then we will know the true meaning of American fascism.


  1. The main problem with Clintonism is that it was an appropriate electoral response for the Democrats in the 1990s, when political and social skepticism of the safety net, lack of fear, and a bullish confidence in the economy were all high. It was tack center for the Democrats or lose to moderate Republicans. Thus, Clintonism, with its corporate-friendly image, welfare reform, and social-values friendly (that is, until ol' Bill got caught with the zipper down) message became an electoral success story. With the loss of the social values message, Clintonism made "compassionate conservatism" palatable to the majority of the electorate.

    Now, the political tides have shifted. Americans are a-skeared of the Big Bad Islamofascistiterrorabs, but, from a liberal point of view, the polity is ripe for the picking: increased social tolerance, insecurity about the economy, and a return to support for the safety net. Unfortunately, Clintonism turned out to be such a juggernaut within the Democratic Party, and its message is so palatable to the corporations that fund elections these days, that we can't get rid of it.

  2. One of the things I dislike about Democrats is their abandonment of principle for temporary political gain. The Republicans have, I think, realized the long-term negatives of this sort of strategy: They're willing to lose one election today rather than compromise their principles—such as they are—and lose a dozen elections tomorrow.

    Clintonism is such a juggernaught precisely because, having compromised liberal, progressive principles, the Democratic party has nothing to return to.

  3. One of the things I dislike about Democrats...

    should read

    One of the things I dislike about the Democratic party apparatus...


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