. . . Wednesday November 10, 2004

The Clinton Convictions

Bill Clinton is the latest to chime in on what went wrong during the election and how Dems can attract religious voters.

“[Dems] cannot be nationally competitive when we don’t feel comfortable talking about our convictions. I do not believe either party has a monopoly on morality or truth … I think the current divisions are partly the fault of the people in my party for not engaging the Christian evangelical community in a serious discussion of what it would take to promote a real culture of life … If we let people believe that our party doesn’t believe in faith and family, doesn’t believe in work and freedom, that’s our fault.”

What Clinton doesn’t mention is that the left’s unwavering support of him during the Lewinsky saga is core to what evangelicals and other religious and Southern voters see as the problem with his party.

The Clinton era was essentially an era of lost convictions. Why? Because his was a personality-driven era. The Democratic platform became Bill Clinton. And personality-driven programs are almost impossible to replicate.

And I don’t think that Dems should underestimate the broader impact that the Lewisnky scandal had on our own party. There was, of course, a right wing effort to destroy Clinton (the guys at Fox are still obsessed with him). And his private life was “blown” way out of proportion. Everything wrong with the right wing and the morality movement was on full display during Clinton’s second term.

And nothing about the Lewinsky scandal compares with, say, distorting intelligence and sending kids to an optional war or suggesting that a vote for your opponent will result in a terrorist attack.

Of course, Clinton is the far lesser of these two evils.

But arguing that your guy is not as bad as their guy is not really a discussion of convictions.

And arguing that Clinton’s offense was not impeachable or that the right was out to get him or that his personality defects are between him and his wife does not get us all the way out of the morality woods.

I am a left-leaning Democrat and I am as nauseated as anyone by the values voting block. I think that the crimes of Kenneth Starr far outweigh those of Bill Clinton. The impeachment nonsense helped one party at the expense of America.

And honestly, I don’t know how the Dems could’ve played the situation any differently.

But I also think that Clinton’s behavior was reprehensible on just about every level. First, I would lose respect for any person in a position of power who would have an affair with a young intern. There are easier ways to get off that don’t involve ruining a young girl’s life. Second, Clinton knew that the right was after him. When he sat in the Oval Office, cigar in hand, he was betting his own political future. But he was also running the risk of humiliating and hurting the causes of millions who fought for him during two elections. Third, he lost all pretense of loyalty. He told all of his closest aids and cabinet members that the charges were false. He allowed those most dedicated to him to make fools of themselves.

This stuff is simply not ok. And in our justified rush to protect the privacy of sexual behavior and to defend the president against the onslaught of the rabid right, the Democrats lost sight of the fact that Clinton really isn’t all that great of a guy. Yes, he’s charismatic and a great speaker. Yes, he did a good job throughout much of his presidency. But we were too quick to forgive and forget his secular sins of disloyalty and wanton narcisism.

We were, after all, the primary victims of those sins.

And we sort of know this on a gut level. That’s why we cringe when Clinton gives a speech about getting in touch with our values.

Now don’t get me wrong. I want to make it perfectly clear that we should offer no relief to the right wing psychos. My point is merely that during the Clinton era, Dems lost their political and ethical footing. It was about personality, not parties.

Clinton is right when he says we “cannot be nationally competitive when we don’t feel comfortable talking about our convictions.” He’s also, in so many ways, at the center of that feeling of discomfort.

Concentration is important!