Whenever I debate with a Republican or conservative friend or family member about politics, I never have a problem pointing out just how awful GOP leadership has been in the Bush era. But where I always get stymied is when my sparring partner finally pulls out their trump card: “Well, all the Dems and progressives ever do is point out what everyone else is doing wrong. What’s their plan?”
I’m typically forced to admit that Dems and progressives have not really offered any plan, that they’ve simply offered opposition as opposed to alternatives. This, to me, has been the most frustrating point in what’s passed for the national debate for the past 5 years, as well as the biggest obstacle to ousting the GOP. Everyone was pointing fingers, but no one was offering alternatives.
No matter how much Dems and progressives rightly point out the many faults of the current administration and the sycophantic disgrace of a yes-man GOP congress currently occupying Capitol Hill, unless Dems and progressives are offering some kind of viable alternative plans or strategies there’s no reason why anyone should vote for them instead of the GOP. Sure, dissatisfaction with the incompetent and avaricious bunglers who have hijacked our federal government may be enough to defeat the incumbents, but do we really want to rely on that? More importantly, can we afford to?
Given the fact that Dems are all-too-often thoroughly tepid in their criticism—especially in the sense that they continually debate the GOPers on the terms set by the neo-conservatives and the Christian Right, whose agenda has permeated and poisoned our national debate for the past half decade, rather than reframing the debate in a way that demonstrates how horribly skewed and dangerous the neo-con/Christian Right/GOP agenda truly is—there’s no reason to expect dissatisfaction will lead to the ousting of the incumbent congress and/or administration.
That’s why I’m so thoroughly heartened (and, honestly, so pleasantly surprised) by the actions of the Clintons in the past week. I’m not saying Bill and Hillary are immune from criticism–obviously they’ve got their share of flaws. All Dems have really failed to capitalize on the weakness of the GOP heading in to this election cycle, but if they follow the leads of Bill and Hillary they could mop the floor with these Republican thugs. First you’ve got Bill tearing Chris Wallace of Fox News a new one. Clinton defends his actions against the criticisms that he didn’t do enough to capture bin Laden, saying “at least I tried” and pointing out that the Bush administration had 8 months before 9/11 to prevent terrorist attacks on our soil and did nothing. By not sitting back and admitting defeat but actually taking the fight to the propaganda machine, Bill sparked off a debate that has been long in coming and has been covered extensively in the national press. What I find particularly inspiring—but under-reported—is that Bill puts Wallace in his place for parroting GOP talking points in asking why, as president, he didn’t do more to put bin Laden and al Qaeda “out of business.” Clinton tells Wallace: “you didn’t formulate [the question] in an honest way” and argues that the question in and of itself is a perfect example of Fox News’ partisan bias. “You people ask me questions you don’t ask the other side,” Bill tells Wallace. He also asserts that the “right-wingers” who now criticize him for not doing enough criticized him during his presidency for the measures he did take to pursue bin Laden, claiming he was “wagging the dog” over a non-issue. It’s about time someone as visible as Clinton voices frustration—on a national news service—with the fact that the Current GOP administration has gotten a pass from the media. Bill even goes a step further and calls Wallace out for not doing his job as a member of the mainstream media and thus, in theory, a watchdog of the public interest. It’s also nice to have the hypocrisy of the current administration and congress being pointed out: They’re not nearly as interested in fighting terror as they are in doing whatever is politically expedient at the time.
Which brings us to the statement Hillary read at a press conference on Tuesday (9/26). Hillary says what is apparent to everyone whose interests are more vested in the well-being of the world than the fortunes of the GOP: the Bush administration and the incumbent GOP congress “may not have a plan to complete, successfully, the mission in Iraq, but they do have a plan to win elections here at home.” She goes on to point out that “the Bush-Cheney administration has stretched our military to the brink, stretched the facts to fit their ideology and stretched the patience of the American people with rhetoric instead of results,” and that “the Republican-led Congress has failed to engage in meaningful oversight of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy.” Her statement was occasioned by the meeting of the Democratic Policy Committee that sought to craft a new strategy for conducting the Iraq quagmire. It’s about time a highly-visible Dem—as well as presidential contender—comes out against the diversionary tactics of the Bush administration and holds the do-nothing-but-rubber-stamp GOP congress responsible for enabling the most disastrous foreign policy ever implemented. It’s scary how short-sighted and self-serving the Republican party has become. “The stakes are too high to let them take such a low road,” Hillary says, referring to the incumbent administration’s attempts to wag their show-dogs through the November elections while failing to come up with any substantive or effective policy in the current legislative term. The failed policies of the Bush administration have jeopardized the safety of the entire world, not just our country, and not just the political fortunes of incumbent legislators. We need to elect real leadership in November of 2006 and November of 2008, and until now there has been no one even having a real debate in which that leadership could emerge.
Thank you, the Clintons, for finally starting a real debate, the first one we’ve had in more than 5 years. And thank you Democratic Policy Committee for finally making moves to craft substantial alternatives, rather than just shooting the fish in the leaky barrel that is the Bush administration and the congress that has become little better than a propaganda apparatus for that administration. I’m no Democrat, but it is very encouraging to see any Dem finally fighting back, not just with talk but with plans and strategies, too. But speaking of talk, let’s hope Bill’s fiery refusal to let Wallace’s conservative talking points frame their discussion gives the rest of the Democratic party a kick in the ass, because there’s still a lot they need to do and not a whole lot of time left to do it in. Let’s hope Bill’s tough talk and the DPC’s hearing on Iraq leads to actual, substantive policy positions and a progressive agenda for the Democratic Party.