Sunday, January 20, 2008
Style vs. Substance
What is that I dislike most about the Clintons? The rank hypocrisy? The grandiose sense of entitlement? The brittle pettiness? The shameless self-promotion? The calculating cynicism? The pandering and sweaty-palm glad-handing? The barely disguised contempt for the intelligence of their audience?

It is a matter of style vs. substance — indeed the essential question in my mind is not about substance at all. The substantive difference between all the democratic candidates are minimal. To suggest, as Clinton does, that Obama is somehow anti-choice, or anti-labor, or anti-medicare is simply disingenuous. It is perfectly reasonable there should be differences in particulars even if there is agreement in general. Such points should be discussed, but not on postcards and in sound-bites. But if this is turned into a mere a game of political point-scoring, aiming to embarrass one's opponent and Rah-Rah the own camp, as Clinton tried to do regarding Obama's Reagan remarks — then by what right can the political class expect the people no to dismiss them as mere players, and the political process as a corrupt sport?

How can a broad contempt for the political process and political actors bode well for the machinery of democratic self-government? This is the essential problem with the Clintons' style of politics. The circumstances surrounding every important political consideration — war, peace, justice, economics, welfare — are enormously complicated. It is perfectly possible for two moral, reasonable persons to come to two opposing views regarding many issues. It is important to recognize the existence of such complications, and recognize opposition to our principled views do not mean our opponent is evil, heartless, unpatriotic, foolish, &c. Yet it seems the Clintons' approach to politics is exactly the denial of such complication, to distill such complications into a set of actuarial tables which will score them the most points and propel them to ever great political success. If the Athenians took politics as the great moral duty of a proper citizen, the Clintons seemed to have took it on as an thrilling game, with fantastic prizes, played against enemies at once basely motivated and dangerous, with votes as points to be won, traded-off, or neutralized. Bill Clinton certainly enjoyed being President and I'm sure Hillary would too. Of course what is exciting & great for the players is not necessarily so for the spectators. If the politics is played like a game, then we cannot take its as other than a circus; if every political discourse turns into an attack on the moral quality of our enemies, then we can only conclude all politicians are equally contemptible.

I don't want to single out the Clintons here, since Bush, Cheney, &c., have been successfully playing this very dirty game. The point is Hilary Clinton clearly do not understand what changes there must be, if she thinks "change" means playing the game with a center-left agenda of policy items instead. Really, the substance of the policy is besides the point here. Even the best player must one day exit the game. But the Republic will still stand long after the president is gone, and what is needed is something more enduring. The Clintons are very good at what is that they do, but theirs is an experience this country can ill-afford to experience again.

What the candidates are seeking is the office once held by Washington and Lincoln. They cannot hope to ever become so great, but they must all strive to be worthy.