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A Requiem for Clintonism By: Chris Weinkopf
FrontPageMagazine.com | Sunday, December 17, 2000


TO PARAPHRASE Shakespeare's Marc Antony: Friends, Angelenos, countrymen, lend me your eyes. I come not to praise Clintonism but to bury it.

A requiem for Clintonism is in order.

Clintonism, we knew, would never die a quick and easy death. It would hang on until the very end, kicking, dissembling and litigating all the way to the last breath.

In that respect, Clintonism died as it lived. Its last five weeks were a fitting epilogue to eight years of Clintonian politics -- a microcosmic reminder of all to which we now bid farewell.

Naturally, Clintonism's final chapter began with a flip-flop: Al Gore's telephoned retraction of his election-night concession.

It was, in the grand scheme of Clinton-Gore flip-flops, a minor one, compared to say, Bill Clinton's evolving position on China or Gore's journey from pro-lifer to ardent abortion defender. It was even an understandable shift, given Florida's legally mandated machine recount. Still, it was reminiscent of the many flip-flops that preceded it, and a political class whose final word was never, truly, its final word -- and whose word could never be taken at face value.

The last days of Clintonism were marked by its most enduring legacy -- the guileful practice of pretending that words don't really mean what everyone thinks they do. In 1998, it was terms like "sex" and "is," and in 2000, it was "every vote should be counted" -- Al Gore's euphemism for a scheme to ratchet up his electoral tally with a selective recount.

Sometimes, though, dissembling didn't cut it, at which point Clinton and Gore were never above turning to the outright lie. So as the country began to tire of his attempt to undo the election, Gore claimed "thousands of votes still have not been counted," even after they had been counted two, three, sometimes four times.

When lying failed, team Clinton-Gore reliably resorted to the smear, casting aspersions on anyone who stood in its way -- Billy Dale, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey. In Florida, that meant trashing the name of Theresa LePore, the Democrat who designed the infamous butterfly ballot, and maligning Secretary of State Katherine Harris with third-grade sophistication -- making fun of her wardrobe and makeup.

There was no person, no institution, no principle that Clintonism would not destroy in order to preserve power. During impeachment, former White House aide George Stephanopoulos presciently warned that "some around (Clinton) are willing to take everyone down with him."

In the post-election aftermath, Clintonism was willing to take down American democracy itself. Gore's insistence that not every vote was counted -- and its implicit suggestion that the election was being stolen -- served only to undermine the public's faith in the legitimacy of its government.

But the ugliest attacks, as usual, were left to Gore's surrogates.

Just as James Carville and Larry Flynt played the role of Democratic pit bulls during the impeachment campaign, Jesse Jackson sought to impugn the election with threats of a "civil-rights explosion."

Gore, to be sure, never made any such inflammatory charges himself but boasted to the press that "I talk with (Jackson) regularly, of course. And I work, I have worked with him closely."

Up until the last moments, Al Gore was very much his mentor's protege. Yet by sounding a more gracious tone during his concession, one hopes that just maybe his defeat liberated not only the country, but also himself from Clintonism's hold.

The end of an era brings with it the hope of a better future.

Democrats now face the challenge of restoring their party to its nobler days, when ideals mattered more than always winning. Republicans, in turn, get the opportunity to disprove the moral equivalence that Clintonism's defenders have espoused for the last eight years, the argument that "everyone does it."

George W. Bush based his campaign on a pledge to be a leader who "upholds the dignity and honor of his office." When it comes time to eulogize his administration, his ability to deliver on that promise will speak to his success -- or his failure.

In the same way, Clinton's 1992 campaign vow to create "the most ethical administration in history" will be the laughable epitaph for the political philosophy that bears his name.

So let's bury Clintonism with haste, dumping shovels of dirt onto the grave. It may yet rise again -- especially if New York's junior senator-elect ever seeks higher office -- a prospect that demands watching.

Shakespeare's Antony observed that "the evil that men do lives after them." In this case of Clintonism, we can only hope that's not so.


Chris Weinkopf is an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. To read his weekly Daily News column, click here. E-mail him at chris.weinkopf@dailynews.com.


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