My acquaintances on either end of the political spectrum have been remarkably quiet in the wake of Sunday’s passage of the health insurance bill. It may be that the losers are too somber, and the winners are refraining from public jubilation out of fear that some right-wing “friend” will launch into a tirade about socialism, and who has the time or energy for that? Yes, I am talking about Facebook. Where else do ordinarily friendly people start fighting with family members and perfect strangers about politics?
Myself, I have nothing to say. Not really. As far as politics goes, I prefer to blog about what is lame and inconsequential. I feel that I do that better than just about anyone else out there. As for the substantive commentary on consequential matters, what would be the point? There are plenty of people who can do that better than I can, and anyway, it is my considered opinion–after ten years or so of considering–that there is an unbridgeable gap between those who believe government is the most effective tool for solving most human problems and those who believe that government tends to create more human misery as it grows larger. Sure, there are miraculous stories of conversion–like mine, for example!–but for the most part, elections and our collective political fate are decided by people with less-entrenched views. Such folks are by necessity not that invested in any particular political philosophy, and they quickly lose patience with those of us who are. So whatevs.
I was thinking about my own political transformation last night as I was listening to an interview with Ken Gormley, author of Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr. In 1998 I was still a Democrat. I had become a fairly left-leaning Democrat in college, and I had enthusiastically supported Bill Clinton–not because he was as left-leaning a politician as I would have preferred, but because like most people who care about (actually) changing the direction of the country, I wanted a politician who could win. I was not one of those pie-in-the-sky Nader-voter types who throw elections to the opposition for the sake of ideological purity. (Much as I appreciate such voters when they work to my advantage, I can’t deny a deep-seated contempt for their misguided idealism.)
So yes, in 1998 I was still a Democrat, and I was still more or less satisfied with Pres. Clinton’s performance in office. (Hm. I just realized what a loaded statement that was. But there’s no time for editing; I must move forward.) I mean, he was no Jerry Brown (ha!), but he was better than a kick in the head, or Bob Dole or whoever. Anyway, I knew from the outset that he was probably a womanizer and I didn’t really care because that was none of my business, and I still don’t care because it still isn’t. I thought it was stupid that the press focused on that, and I thought Paula Jones’s lawsuit was stupid, and I still do. The relatively-minor, warm-up scandals such as Whitewater didn’t disturb me too much because it was clear to me then (as it is now) that Bill Clinton had powerful enemies who, for some reason, really were just out to get him. Actually, the reason is quite clear in retrospect. Conservatives didn’t hate Bill Clinton because he was so liberal (he wasn’t); they hated him for winning. But that’s neither here nor there.
If it had been up to me, the Jones lawsuit would have died an early death, and Bill Clinton could have been serviced by White House interns in peace for the remainder of his (presidential) days, (most likely) never having the opportunity to lie under oath about stuff that was really nobody else’s freaking business. But that was not how life worked out for Bill Clinton or me. When Pres. Clinton wagged his finger at the American people and insisted that he did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky, I did not feel personally betrayed. I was not even particularly shocked–shocked!–that he was carrying on with women half his age in the Oval Office. I mean, it was tacky, sure, but again, really none of my business and nothing I had any desire to know. I didn’t follow the Starr investigation closely because–quite honestly? Ew. I felt sorry for Pres. Clinton’s family–kind of hard at the time to feel sorry for the incontinent rascal himself, but I wasn’t entirely unsympathetic to his plight. Who wants to answer these questions at all, let alone truthfully?
However, there remained a tiny flicker of idealism in me, and that was the part of me that thought that despite how trivial this all seemed in the grand scheme of things, perjury and subornation of perjury were serious crimes. Ordinary people, after all, go to prison for this sort of thing. (Really. Even in a sexual harassment case.) Was it appropriate or wise for the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to impeach Pres. Clinton? Well, in retrospect it was certainly not wise, but even hindsight will not let me call it inappropriate. As much as it hurt my eyes, rolling them back so far in my head at the notion of Republicans suddenly giving a crap about sexual harassment, it hurt my youthful idealism even more to see feminists and liberals defending perjury because it was their guy who did it. I’d watched Democrats nail Clarence Thomas and Bob Packwood to the wall on much flimsier evidence of less serious offenses, and I confess I was naive enough to think that it was actual moral indignation that inspired them (even though I uncharacteristically-for-a-liberal-feminist didn’t agree with their actions at the time). Don’t worry, I haven’t made the same mistake since.
Which brings me back to the interview with Ken Gormley. It was interesting, and somewhat heartbreaking, to hear about how all these random twists of fate conspired to create the perfect storm for the Starr investigation of the Lewinsky scandal and the subsequent impeachment. If I hadn’t been in such a profound state of disillusionment during the same year that I started owing money on my tax returns, I might still be a Democrat today. I jest. No, it was more that I was profoundly disillusioned, and I was also stuck at home with a new baby and no television and no car and nothing to entertain me but news talk radio, and probably that was why I was susceptible to reasonable arguments from a political perspective I’d previously disdained. My ideological colleagues had failed me, but I was a natural-born ideologue; I couldn’t live ideology-free for long.
I am grossly oversimplifying, of course, and there’s no coherent theme to this post, so I apologize. It’s just on my mind right now because the thing that actually most disturbs me about this health insurance bill is not the bill itself (though there’s plenty in there for an extreme-right-winger like myself to hate), but the way it was passed. It disturbs me that more Democrats aren’t disturbed by the fact that they’ve set a precedent that’s 100 percent guaranteed to bite them in the posterior once the Republicans are in power again. They can’t possibly believe that Republicans are too principled to use reconciliation to their own advantage, to get around the same rules and ethical niceties that too often stand in the way of passing major pieces of legislation that entirely lack bipartisan support. Can they? Or are they just hoping that the Democratic party maintains its majority indefinitely, and all other parties just quietly wither away in the face of all this government largesse that Americans are destined to love as soon as they figure out what’s best for them?
Well, whichever it is, I’m sorry that they’ve removed yet another obstacle to Republican abuse of power, when the time eventually comes (which it must, regardless of how popular Pres. Obama is–unless they’re planning to repeal the twenty-second amendment and keep him cryogenically frozen in the Oval Office forever). At least this time when my ideological colleagues let me down, I won’t be so naive to let it devastate me.