Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Clinton Legacy?

With the US primaries race generating so much angst, I would like to explore some of the myths that seem to be underlying perceptions. One concerns some strange notions on left Vs right; liberal Vs conservative; progressive Vs regressive.

A second myth set concerns the enormous, almost superhuman gifts imbued on the holder of the presidency.

The comparative political leanings

Most informed people around the world would recognise US citizens have little real concept of what constitutes the left, even to the extremes of socialism and communism. I have argued for some time that a traditional liberal is not some bleeding heart philanthropist. Liberalism is essentially a self serving notion of the owners of production. Softer than conservatism, liberalism recognises that weary, hungry workers do not perform well. It holds that workers should have sufficient comfort to be able to work efficiently.

I use regressive as the opposing concept to progressive. But rather than simply bandy words we need to look at realities.

The economics

"Reaganomics," were similar to of supply-side economics and advocated free markets. Along with Britain’s Thatcher, Reagan’s administration championed capital against wider society. But neither the Iron Lady nor the Old Ham could have driven these incredibly divisive economic programs on there own, they were only flesh and blood after all.

Both were happily steered by powerful commercial interests, aided by powerful treasury officials and organisations like the World Bank and IMF.

Meanwhile here in Australia the leftist Labor Party came to power, the new Prime Minister was Bob Hawk, the former leader of the country’s trade union movement. Local economists had labeled this new economic direction ‘economic rationalism’ and Hawk and his treasurer Paul Keating adopted it with gusto. So much for the left wing concept…

Like the US, Britain and other western economies we saw major corporations taking jobs and industries off shore, chasing cheaper labour. Thatcher’s Conservatives were eventually replaced by Britain’s leftist Labour Party, under Tony Blair, the Republicans were eventually replaced by Democrat Clinton. But the supply-side economic approach did not waver.

Many years of regressive policy existed under both notional left and right wing governments. The big corporations continued their dominance as countries were progressively stripped of manufacturing and agricultural industries. In fact it is only now that cracks are starting to show in this long held economic dynamic.

On Clinton

Bill Clinton was right in the middle of this economic paradigm and showed no great desire to wind back to a more progressive stance. Sure he was honey tongued, but we really need to focus on the actions rather than the words.

From my memory any forays into progressive policies were passed to Hilary and invariably were doomed to failure. I’m not suggesting that she might have had some passion for the various measures she was advocating as First Lady. But I would suggest we have not seen the same level of passion for issues since, merely a passion for office.

I am willing to be corrected on fact in any of this, as always. But I will hold to the main point; we cannot simply hide behind labels and shallow perceptions. I suspect the willingness to be duped in this way has led to many of the problems we now face. When we get beyond name calling I find that many I debate on the blogs hold pretty much the same aspirations and beliefs I do. We just get tied up in the perceptions and language.


NYC Educator said...

The only progressive policy I recall Hillary taking charge of was the ill-fated drive for universal health care. The insurance companies did a great job protecting Americans from that.

Jokes were made at the time asking the difference between Clinton and Elvis. "Elvis is alive," went the punchline.

Then Clinton exploded into "triangulation," co-opting right wing ideas, the welfare bill, NAFTA, and I don't recall what else--in fact, I saw a commentator state that Clinton lowered the highest tax bracket twice as much as GW Bush did.

Cart said...

Great to see you, I must get back to the old circuit. Great comment, and you fill some of the gaps. Thanks.

TomCat said...

Bill Clinton was not a progressive. He was a corporate dominated centrist. At the time, I was not pleased with his presidency. The only reason I and (I trust) others, remember him so fondly now is that he gets the benefit of comparison with the worst pResident in US history.

Unfortunately, today's left in the US is skewed well to the right of the 1960s Republicans. Forty years of informat6ion deprivation by a corporate-dominated media tend to do that to a politically lazy culture.

Cart said...

Tom, it seems to be the simplistic right who want to paint Clinton with all the sins. Regardless of anything he was a victim of history and supply-side economics was well entrenched.
Not excusing Clinton, but it is a continuum stretching from Reagan, and I expect would continue under another Clinton.

D.K. Raed said...

Hey Cart, I just left a comment here that disappeared when I tried to publish it. I HATE it when that happens. Well (sigh), here’s the distilled & much less enthusiastic version:

I think Liberal and Conservative still have meaning here. But the labels don’t preclude individuals from holding some views of either camp. We use Left and Right as shorthand. If you count yourself in the Left wing, you are generally hold liberal, progressive, and (dare I say it) socialist views.

Any way you cut it, Bill Clinton was not Liberal or Leftist. He walked the middle ground & represented the “third way”. This is why he was such a popular prez, even when he was under seige by the right wing morality police. Most people do not identify totally with one side or the other. But looking back now, I think the best thing I can say is that he gave us breathing room between the two bushf*cks.

Funny you had a Leftist named Hawk (which seems such a good rightist name). And you also had a Keating who was involved with money (Treasury). But as far as I know, your Keating wasn’t a bank scandal involving our shameless prez candidate McCain (I’m sure you’ll correct me if he was).

I like the terms “Trickle Down Economics” and “Voo Doo Economics” better than Raygun & Thatcher’s Supply Side Economics. Trickle Down, as in grab your umbrella, the wealthy are about to take a group piss on your head. Voo Doo, as in middle class money is abra!cadabra!poof! transferred to the wealthy class.

And of course, the term “Free Market” is a total misnomer. If the markets were truly free, we wouldn’t have huge tax subsidies and legislative favoritism for big corporations. They just like to fling the word “Free” around because it sounds positive.

Cart said...

Distilled or otherwise the insights are good. Thanks DK
Not the same Keating as far as I know.

TomCat said...

Cart, the rabid-right historically blames the effects of their own failures on whatever target shows, as long as they can evade responsibility for their actions. I think you're right that Hillary would follow in Bill's footsteps, but bad as that would be, it would be far better than what we'd get with McConJob.

Cart said...

Tom, I'm enjoying some passionate debate with some of the more lucid wingers.
To give them credit, when I remind them of the basic rules of argument they let go of the rant and try to justify with argument.
It must be difficult debating with progressives who concede points on their own side and ask others to be as gracious.

TomCat said...

I've been known to concede a point or three in my time. On most issues, however, when arguing with the right, the deck is stacked in my favor.