Only Politicians


I read Matt Bai's article on how we can understand the current Democratic primary as a referendum on Bill Clinton's tenure in office and Ed Kilgore's remarks on it as well. On one level, I'm not entirely sure this is true. Paul Krugman's complaints about Barack Obama amount to accusing him of being unduly Clintonian, whereas he sees the actual Clinton in the race as possessed of a bold, populist fighting spirit. On the other hand, given that Bill Clinton was in office very recently and that his wife is the front-runner in this race and she's running primarily on her experience as a first lady, it's natural for thoughts on the Clinton administration to enter into things.

It struck me contemplating this that I don't have any particularly strong feelings about the Clinton administration.

It seems to me that people who write about politics for a living are supposed to decide that he was either the Great Innovator Who Saves Democrats From the Hippies or else the Evil Destroyer Who Ruined Everything. In truth, he was a politician. Like all politician, his views on the merits of things drifted around over time and he responded a lot to the prevailing political pressures. And that's not to say he was a Soulless Calculating Flip-Flopper. Rather, he was a politician and that's how politicians do.

So anyways, I do actually see the Democratic primary through that lens. I'm not sure how the future will unfold for American public policy, but if a Democrat wins the primary difference-maker will be the environment in which he or she operates -- the state of public opinion, the state of the congress, the strength of progressive civil society groups, etc. The structure of the campaign tends to obscure that, but that's how it is. Any of these people would happily become much more conservative in office than the game they're talking now if they thought that was the savvy move, and any of them would shift left as well. It still matters who wins, of course, but it's only one of a million things that matter.