And so an increasingly shameful Democratic Party drifts toward the anointment of a shameless candidate. —Murray Kempton, New York Newsday, February 23, 1992, before the Democratic Party nominated William Jefferson Clinton for the presidency
I think Democrats are without a politics if they’re not bold and honest for the things they think are right. —Senator Paul Wellstone, New York Post, February 11, 2002
I don’t think either party centers their policies on going after corporations or going after CEOs. —Democratic consultant and former chief Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg, The Washington Post, February 6, 2002
Anybody who dismisses Bill Clinton’s presence or power in the American political scene is making a big mistake. . . . Clinton will be a powerful, visible, influential presence in the Democratic Party and an effective campaigner for Democrats far into the future. —Robert Shrum, The American Prospect, February 25, 2002
Sam Smith edits the Progressive Review, which appears as a bimonthly in print, and five days a week on the Web at http://prorev.com. The most accurate description of Sam Smith is by an equally independent journalist, Colman McCarthy, formerly with The Washington Post:
“Smith offers a community-based, participatory politics that’s neither left nor right wing but the whole bird. . . . His work is not different from what quality journalism ought to be: truth-seeking, independent, fair-minded, and debunking.”
In the January issue of the Progressive Review, Smith writes, “With the end of the Great Society, liberal Democrats began a steady retreat from liberalism climaxing in the Clinton administration’s systematic dismantling of liberal programs and paradigms. The two greatest victims of this retreat were social democracy and civil liberties. . . .
“Most striking was the disappearing interest in those at the bottom. . . . The Clinton administration attacked welfare in a manner once typical of the Republican right; prison populations soared without a murmur from the liberals. . . .
“And now it has happened,” Smith continues. “Only one liberal Democrat in the Senate [Russ Feingold] opposed vast new police powers. . . . In the end, the liberal elite will not only have betrayed its own constituency, it won’t even have saved itself.” Senate Democratic majority leader Tom Daschle told the liberals to keep quiet.
Have you heard any protest, since the USA Patriot Act, from Tom Daschle or House Democratic minority leader Dick Gephardt about the Bush-Ashcroft uprooting of parts of the Bill of Rights?
Sam Smith might also have mentioned the degree to which Bill Clinton helped provide a foundation for sections of Ashcroft’s raid on the Bill of Rights—and there was no significant dissent from most Democrats at the time. It wasn’t Ashcroft who instituted roving wiretaps, though he takes credit for it. Clinton signed the bill authorizing that assault on the Fourth Amendment—a one-stop warrant for a wiretap anywhere in the country—in October 1998.
And before George W. Bush tried to do away with habeas corpus in his original order setting up military tribunals, Clinton severely weakened that fundamental right of judicial review—especially in capital punishment cases—in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
That same Clinton law—supported by both Republicans and most Democrats—also presaged Ashcroft’s contempt for due process in immigration cases by allowing the government to deport suspected terrorists without showing the suspects or their lawyers the evidence against them.
And as Anthony Lewis pointed out in the March 2000 American Lawyer, in addition to writing the use of secret evidence into the anti-terrorism law, Clinton and a bipartisan Congress were responsible for the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. As Lewis reported:
“The 1996 law requires detention of many asylum applicants and aliens who have been marked for deportation while their cases are pending. A large number are held in state and local jails—mixed in with convicted criminals—far from their homes and from their lawyers.”
John Ashcroft, who has magnified that abuse of due process, should thank Bill Clinton for the precedent.
I don’t always agree with Sam Smith. Contrary to what he says about the Mideast, for example, whatever Sharon’s wrongs, they do not equate with the sending and glorification of suicide bombers. In a remarkable declaration in the February issue of The Progressive magazine, Hanan Ashwari—long the most ubiquitous advocate of full-scale Palestinian independence and a fierce critic of Israeli actions—writes of the current intifada:
“Why and when did we [Palestinians] allow a few from our midst to interpret Israeli military attacks on innocent Palestinian lives as license to do the same to their civilians? . . . When and why did our elected [Palestinian] legislative council become a political instrument for the few, or a self-negating powerless body for the many?” The article is titled “Where We Went Wrong.” But Ashwari hasn’t repeated any of this since.
Sam Smith is right when he points out that the liberal establishment in the Democratic Party—which includes the current congressional leaders of the party—”yawned as the Clintons disassembled their own cause and became incensed when Ralph Nader dared to defend it.”
Moreover, the policies and the forces in the Democratic Leadership Council—epitomized by presidential aspirant Joe Lieberman—continue to control the Democratic Party’s increasing centrism. What do the Democrats fundamentally stand for except winning elections? (Clinton was a founder of the Democratic Leadership Council.)
In his new book, Why Bother? Getting Life in a Locked-Down Land (Feral House), Sam Smith writes: “John Adams described well the real nature of change. He wrote that the American Revolution was ‘effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people. . . . This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.’ ”
But now, Smith continues, “we are taught to respect power rather than conscience.”
If Bob Shrum, the sempiternal, slippery tactician and strategist for Clinton and his heirs, is right that Clinton will rise again to be the tin soul of the Democratic Party “far into the future,” what are the rest of us to do? I welcome answers on the future of the “real American revolution.”
As Sam Smith says, “The first rule of staying free is to act free.”