Inspired in part by the return of much of Team Clinton to the Obama White House (nominations which prove Obama not to be the bomb-throwing radical McCain partisans wished to paint him as*, but rather the not-so-left-wing representative of the War Party), and in part by my post on the liberal police state, named “Clintonia” after its Master Builder, I have been revisiting the nineties through several books. I have just finished Christopher Hitchens‘* No One Left to Lie To, a brief but delicious piece of muckraking that not only confirms my suspicions about the fascist contours of Clintonia, but many other libertarian insights on the nature of the State as well.
The best part of Hitchens’ book is that he mounts a righteous smackdown of the Clintons (yes, both of them) from a left-liberal rather than right-wing perspective. His book reminds us that before the Lewinski affair and impeachment, Clinton and his whole neo-liberal approach was actually despised by much of the Left, and still would be if the Republicans hadn’t bungled their attempts to depose him. They raised the (mostly imagined) specter of a “sexual McCarthyism” and puritan hysteria, causing liberals everywhere to circle the wagons and stick their fingers in their ears to shut out the white noise of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy if they were to ever catch so much as a hint of the incredible corruption and criminality emanating from the White House in the age of Clinton. (Reminding me that another virtue of Hitchens’ book is that he is a well-known name who writes for mainstream publications like Vanity Fair, which insulates him somewhat from the inevitable “conspiracy theorist” accusation, and allows him to get away with more severe allegations- the worst I am not even discussing here- than more proletarian writers could, even though, as he says, “no Clinton apologist can dare, after the victim cult sponsored by both the president and the First Lady, to ridicule the idea of ‘conspiracy’, vast or otherwise.”) Never mind that the Clintons were horrible even when you evaluate them based on their own professed values! Without Monica-gate, only the most fawning and epicene of Clintonistas and most shameless Democratic party hacks (and of course, the ever-present neocons) would now be apologizing for Clinton. Thanks, Republicans!
About the prurience and puritanism of the Starr inquisition, I think Hitchens dispatches this liberal bugaboo pretty handily:
Those who claim to detect, in the widespread loathing of Clinton, an aggressive “culture war” against the freedom-loving sixties should be forced to ask themselves if Clinton, with his almost sexless conquests and his eerie affectless claim that the female felt no pleasure, represents the erotic freedom they have in mind.
Indeed, and apart from the enormous hypocrisies of claims by the architects of the most petulant and overbearing nanny-state that the government should “stay out of their bedroom”- which was owned by the American taxpayer anyway- as well as self-identified “feminists” defending the honor of a man who never went anywhere without leaving a trail of quite credible allegations of sexual harassment and rape by women who he then defamed as nuts and sluts in his wake (behavior which would cause those with a much-publicized bout of sexual hysteria and puritanism themselves to burn him in effigy, if only he had been a Republican), it’s clear that the real sexual inquisition was coming from the White House. Hitchens describes callous interrogations of military personnel about potential adultery and homosexuality, stating that “Such persecutions increased during the Clinton era, with discharges for sexual incorrectness reaching an all-time high in 1998.”
Hitchens doesn’t even have to get into Waco and Janet Reno or Kosovo and Madeline Albright to see in Clinton’s foreign and domestic policies as just to the right of Mussolini. (Remember that this book came out before 9/11.)
Mr. Clinton can also claim credit for warrantless searches of public housing and the innovation of the “roving wiretap”. If any successor to Arthur Miller [Hitchens had just quoted, and eviscerated, a ludicrous Miller op-ed painting poor Bill as the victim of- what else- a witch hunt] wanted depict a modern Salem , he would do better to investigate the hysteria of the war on drugs, where to be suspected is to be guilty [and to have your property confiscated, and quite possibly be murdered with no recompense to your family]. In 1995, arrests for drug offenses that involved no violence were numbered 1.5 million per annum, having climbed 31 percent in Mr. Clinton’s first three years of tenure. The crime and terrorism statutes enacted in the same period caused even his most dogmatic apologists- Anthony Lewis, most notably- to wince.
And on the foreign front:
. . . the Clinton White House took no step of any kind to acknowledge, much less take take advantage of this new reality [of the end of the Cold War] and always acted as if the most paranoid predictions of John Foster Dulles were about to be fulfilled.
The budget of the Central Intelligence Agency was increased, while democratic “oversight” of its activity was held to a myopic level . . .
No matter how fanciful or budget-busting the concept, from the B-1 bomber upwards, Clinton always relaxed his commitment to government spending, and invariably advocated not only a welfare “safety net” for the likes of General Dynamics and Boeing, but a handout free and clear.
Bill Clinton sometimes did find the strength and the nerve to disagree with his military chiefs. He overruled them when they expressed doubts on the rocketing of Khartoum [the supposed “chemical weapons plant” that turned out to be a pharmaceutical plant making medicine for the abysmally poor Sudan- oops, guess we got some bad intelligence!] and Afghanistan in August 1998. [I should note that Noam Chomsky has also written about and condemned these attacks.]
Now, note that I have said Clinton was bad even from the liberals’ own standards, and I am fully aware how low a concern the war on drugs and the military-industrial complex are for the average liberal (those are more New Left type worries), so how about the Clinton record on health care and welfare? Didn’t Hillary at least try? It wasn’t that the Republicans thwarted her plan, or even that her plan was too complicated even if well-intentioned. Hitchens’ reveals it to be a ruse pure and simple. Attacking an ad that criticized her scheme, Hillary said in a speech, “What you don’t get told in the ad is that it is paid for by the insurance companies. It is time for every American to stand up and say to the insurance industry: ‘Enough is enough, we want our health-care system back!'”
Hillary standing up for the poor un- and-under-insured against the Capitalist fat-cats? Not so fast.
Had the masses risen up against the insurance companies, they would have discovered that the four largest of them- Aetna, Prudential, Met Life, and Cigna- had helped finance and design the “managed competition” scheme which the Clintons and their Jackson Hole Group had put forward in the first place.
But wait, it gets better. The aforementioned advertisement was indeed paid for by insurance companies- the many small ones trying to compete with the Big Four, who were spending even more trying to get Clinton’s plan passed, a plan which would insure (no pun intended) that they would be running the show. “The Clintons demagogically campaigned against the ‘insurance industry’ while backing- and with the backing of- those large fish those large fish that were preparing to swallow the minnows.”
And here is where we approach the weakest part of Hitchens’ analysis. He views the Clinton health plan, along with his welfare “reform”, as a betrayal of the New Deal and Roosevelt’s legacy. Actually, this was Rooseveltian fake-populism and patrician liberalism all over again. Clinton just didn’t have the Great Depression to blind everybody to the mere voodoo of his system; he had no crisis to put everybody into a state of mind readily susceptible to hero-worship that demagogues always rise up amidst- until Ms. Lewinski, that is. (Oh yeah, and the Oklahoma City bombing, but I don’t even want to get into a cui bono analysis of that one, except to note that Clinton’s approval rating soared immediately after, just as Bush II’s did after 9/11, and that, more anecdotally, journalist and Feral House publisher Adam Parfrey noted of Bill’s post-bombing speech, “His righteous anger reflects Mussolini-like vitality rather than his usual wan, comforting equivocations.” Mussolini? Well, that’s a bit high a balcony to place Slick Willie on perhaps, but the event did apparently help him tap into his inner Merle Haggard, as he told and audience at Michigan University, “You have the right to say what you please in this country, but that doesn’t give people the right to tear down this country.” That would be even a bit too rednecky for my grandpa! This guy is supposed to be a liberal?)
If Hitchens were aware of the libertarian analysis of the New Deal (or the New Left revisionists like Gabriel Kolko, for that matter), he would know that it, too, was partially written by corporations to cartelize the economy and drive their small-fish competitors out. A good deal of it was simply cribbed from a plan drawn up by one Gerard Swope, president of GE, and the scheme was much admired from abroad by Hitler and Mussolini. All with anti-plutocrat and pro-working man rhetoric, of course (and as always, the conservatives were dumb enough to believe it). The New Deal was against the free market, no doubt, but it was also for the corporations (This is the real meaning of the well-trod truism that FDR “saved Capitalism”- sure, for Capitalists). The Clinton plan “embodied the worst of bureaucracy and the worst of ‘free enterprise'”: that’s the New Deal to a T, right down to the free enterprise in quotation marks. Hitchens describes the “Clintonian style of populism for the poor and reassurance for the rich or, if you prefer, big pieces of the pie for the fat cats and ‘good government’ for the rest.” Who does this sound like more than ol’ magnanimous papa himself, FDR? Oh, and you might want to check out who funded Obama’s campaign too, just so you know who’ll be left out when Obama rolls out his “anti-big business” legislation. (Not that Republican’s are the slightest bit better. They just tend to be less hypocritical about their coziness with robber barons, if only because nobody would believe it if they claimed otherwise.)
You can usually find that big business heartily endorses certain types of “socialist” legislation. The irony is that this is when they are acting most fully as predatory capitalists, and yet it is also precisely when they are praised by intellectuals as setting their own greedy self-interest aside and acting for the public good. It’s a shell game. And if you don’t know who the mark is. . .
So also with the Clinton welfare reform, the prime beneficiaries of which Hitchens sees as being government-favored businesses such as Tyson Foods, which “uses the Direct Job Placement scheme as its taxpayer-funded recruiting sergreant.” The analysis is perfectly in accord with that of left-libertarians like Kevin Carson, who sees in the expansion of so-called “services” such as the public school system an enormous boon for big business since it helps to manufacture and manage obedient worker-bees (or cannon fodder in the case of those restless souls who aren’t fit to wear a blue collar and need to learn how to “respect authority” more) for the corporate-therapeutic state, all while externalizing their operating costs onto the hapless and eternally bamboozled taxpayer. And then what little security net there is left is ruthlessly pulled away by a man who “feels your pain”. Hitchens sums up the Clinton plan to move people from “welfare to work”: the state bureaucracy mutates itself into a hiring wall for cheap labor in junk-nutrition conglomerates such as Tyson Foods. Welfare recipients are told to sign on and gut fifty chickens a minute, or be wiped from the rolls of the new Poor Law. (I don’t support the welfare state per se, but I do recognize that it is perverse to create the conditions which make it necessary, and then take it way- such is the philosophy of neoliberalism – and then go on to preach about the insufficient morals of the exploited class- such is neoconservativism. Cut welfare for the rich first! Welfare for the poor is only an evil insofar as it is used as an ideological tool to justify the existence of an ever-expanding state apparatus. It doesn’t help the poor, it helps keep them under control. )
Can you see now why the Left hated the pre-Monica Clinton? And let’s not forget Hillary, since she’s back with a vengeance. She, too, fails to live up to the image portrayed by either liberal hagiographers or conservative demonologists.
She is a dogged attender at church and a frequent waffler at prayer breakfasts and similar spectacles. She is for sexual abstinence, law and order, and the war on drugs [boy is she ever!] She stands by her man. She is for a woman’s right to “choose”, but so are most Republican ladies these days. She used to be a Goldwater girl and a preachy miss, and it shows. She once assured Larry King that “there is no Left in the Clinton White House.”
And there is none now. I just hope Obama knows what he is getting into by bringing a Clinton back to the throne. Or maybe I don’t. I still have some respect for the guy.
* Although, in a way most of our presidents have been bomb-throwing radicals. Harry Truman, for instance, was a greater terrorist by several orders of magnitude then anybody who was in the Weather Underground.
* Obviously, I don’t agree with everything, or even most things, that Hitchens has written. He is way wrong on the Iraq war, and seems to have become a bit of a neocon like so many ex-Trotskyites, after a brief, superficial flirtation with libertarianism. During this latter period, he wrote the introduction to the Reason Magazine anthology, Choice, which was particularly galling since this book also contained an interview with Hitchens that revealed how little he knew about libertarianism. Look, you can not get the whole of libertarian philosophy just by reading Reason. At any rate, he remains a witty, literate contrarian and intellectual pugilist and there simply aren’t enough journalists like that out there. You read good writers for the good writing, not to swallow all of their opinions whole. (Although, I should point out that Hitchens admires all the right people- Paine, Jefferson, Orwell- and hates all the right people- Kissinger, the Clintons, Mother Theresa, God.) George Bernard Shaw was an excellent writer, and he was wrong about almost everything.