September 12, 2006
Return Engagement: Clinton Spin Away from Party RootsBy Christopher Chantrill
The flap over ABC's mini—series The Path to 9/11 is a beautiful thing to behold. It reminds us of the glory years of the Clinton Spin Ballet, Balanchine—like in its exquisite choreography. The principals, Clinton and Clinton, dance a sorrowful adagio about the truth, loyally backed by by second—string soloists like Albright and Berger. Aging retainers like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (age 88) hobble on to pronounce on inaccuracies as "dangerous and disingenuous." And a muscular corps de ballet of Democratic committee chairmen—in—waiting issue naked threats about broadcast licenses.
Talk about censorship! But hey, we knew that, apart from a few aging Democrats of the old school, real Democrats believe in political power first, and the First Amendment a distant second.
If you don't understand that, the postmodernists have laid it all out for you with their doctrine of "narrative," "marginalization," and "overdetermining." Never mind peace and justice, it's all about power, they say, and it's the job of journalists, intellectuals, and historians to construct a convincing narrative to justify the power of their ideological masters.
It took a generation for conservatives to grasp what the postmodernists were talking about: Liberals.
But while the Clintons are reviving their ballet "The War Room" the other partner in the Third Way project is facing the end of the smash hit "New Labour", a performance that played to sell—out audiences for years on the other side of the Atlantic.
While the Clintons manipulate us to think of them as doughty fighters in the war against terror, Tony Blair's plan for a farewell tour is turning into a danse macabre.
Meanwhile The Illusionist is playing at local multiplexes across America.
You might think that the all—consuming spin obsession of Third Way politics was designed to mislead us about Blair and Clinton. But no, they really were centrists. The spin was designed for another purpose. It kept our attention away from the political parties they led.
When Tony Blair told Matthew d'Ancona way back in 1996,
he was saying: Don't look at the Labour Party, look at me. Last week as several junior ministers resigned from the Blair government the follow spot on Blair sputtered out to reveal on—stage the same Old Labour Party, leftist to the core.
Bill Clinton used the same tactics. To distract our attention from the Democratic Party which was in 1992 and is now a left—liberal party, he maintained a 24/7 War Room operation to make Clinton the face of the Democratic Party and keep the Blame America First Democrats out of sight.
But the center wouldn't hold. Clinton wasn't even out of the White House before Vice President Gore ran for president as a populist of the old school fighting for the people against the powerful.
Just to prove that Gore's campaign was no aberration the "netroots" have emerged to push the Democratic Party relentlessly leftwards to old—style progressive politics, where Democratic voters get free education, affordable housing, universal health care, peace, and justice, and Democratic cadre get budgets and tenure and power.
Republicans get to pay for it all.
On the morning after the Third Way we can all agree that it was a memorable experience. It had a good choreography, the astonishing charisma and stage presence of Clinton and Blair, and the superb production values put out by their spinmeisters, true professionals every one. Now the performance is over. It was just a night at the theater.
Serious politics uses political theater for serious reasons.
President Reagan played the harmless old buffer while he transformed the US economy and won the Cold War. Margaret Thatcher played the Iron Lady that was not for turning so that she could defeat the coal miners' union and transform the economy of Britain.
The political theater of Clinton and Blair seems, in retrospect, not to have had a strategic purpose. All that spin was a masking operation, designed to hide the Democratic Party and the Labour Party from our eyes. Now that the performance is over we can see that nothing has changed.
But the Clintons aren't quite finished yet. They need us to forget about their fecklessness in the 1990s and think of them as terror warriors. What's the point, we complain? Couldn't the Clintons do the unthinkable? Couldn't they tell the truth and admit that they were asleep at the switch along with everyone else? Let's face it: before 9/11 nobody was paying much attention to the Islamist threat except a few obsessed bureaucrats and authors with books to sell—cranks who turned out to be right.
The point is that as the Clintons ramp up for Hillary's run in 2008 they still need to make the voters forget they are Democrats.