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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Netroots and Clintonism

The discussion at TPMCafe on the netroots took a strange turn yesterday, when Scott Winship of Democratic Strategist, a rare post-Clintonian self-described New Democrat, did a post that immediately got demonized and dismissed in a way that failed to come to grips with what he was trying to say.Best I could tell, Scott was suggesting that Netroots Progressives had bought into a revisionist take on Clintonism that was, well, inaccurate and strategically misleading. But partly because Scott plunged into a discussion that had earlier been skewed by Max Sawicky’s blunt argument that the Internet Left was ignorant and ideologically empty, he got definitively bashed, not just at TPMCafe, but over at MyDD, by Chris Bowers, for suggesting that Netroots Lefties didn’t know their history.But in skewering Scott for his alleged disrespecting of netroots intelligence and knowledge, Chris and others didn’t come to grips with Scott’s underlying argument about the anti-Clinton worldview of the Netroots Left. And that’s a shame.There’s little question that many if not most Left Netroots folk buy into the some variation on the following take on the Clinton legacy:1) Bill Clinton got elected by accident (a combination of Bush 41’s political stupidity, and Ross Perot’s third-party candidacy), and then spent much of his first term betraying his core progressive constituency by focusing on deficit reduction, supporting free trade, and refusing to fight for single-payer universal health care;2) After his first-term record discouraged the Democratic base and created a Republican landslide, Clinton got re-elected by “triangulating,” caving into Republicans on welfare reform in particular.3) Clinton’s apostasy from progressive principles led to a meltdown of the Democratic Party in Congress and in the states.4) Clinton’s political guidance snuffed Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, and his “centrist DLC” acolytes led Democrats into an appeasement strategy that killed the party in 2002 and 2004. Moreover, it became obvious that Clintonism represented not just appeasement of the political Right, but a subservience to corporate interests that Clintonites relied on for campaign contributions.5) The revival of the Left and of the Democratic Party in 2006 involved an implicit repudiation of Clintonism.I won’t go into a refutation of these contentions until someone in the Left Netroots openly admits to them. But as Scott suggests, this isn’t a distinctive Netroots take.Throughout and beyond the Clinton years, there persisted an enduring hostility to Clintonism in the establishment DC Democratic Party. It was evident in congressional (especially in the House) Democratic opposition to many of Clinton’s signature initiatives; it got traction in Al Gore’s rejection of Clintonism and everyone connected with it in his 2000 campaign; and reached fruition in 2002, when Democrats went forward with the anti-Clinton, Bob Shrum-driven message that we were “fighting” for prescription drug benefits at a time when the country was absorbed with national security concerns.Indeed, the primacy of Shrum–the only major Democratic strategist with no involvement in either of Clinton’s’ campaigns–in the 2000, 2002, and 2004 Democratic campaigns, is a good example of how the hated DC Democratic Establishment hasn’t been Clintonian for a good while.So: let’s talk more about Clintonism, the Left, the Democratic establishment, and the netroots.Scott Winship is onto something important here, and dissing his views because he seems to be dissing the intelligence or historical knowledge of netroots folk is no excuse for refusing to talk about it.

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