Friday, July 14, 2006

What Could Have Been...

The last week or so must have looked good to the "end of days" Revelation crowd. You've got a major bombing in India, North Korea on the verge of going nuclear, Israel bombing Lebanon and potentially starting a major regional war, Iran not only on the edge of going nuclear but being whispered about in terms of the Israel/Lebanon situation, low grade civil war threatening to turn into the real deal in Iraq, and then Bush's press conference in Germany once again illustrating to the world that where there once was a superpower capable of keeping something of a lid on chaos, now there's a cartoon.

I know that you can't tell what would have happened if one thing would have been different because life has so many complex, interdependent variables, but I can't help but think that the world would be so much better if things had been different in the Democratic Presidential primary and we had gotten the best candidate. I'm not talking about the mugging of Howard Dean, although that one still hurts too. No, I know how to hold a real grudge; I'm talking the 1992 primary where Paul Tsongas should have been the man.

He was the model of nerdy competence. Yes, he was a centrist and more conservative than I am. But he was a fiscal centrist, social liberal like Howard Dean and the man who beat him, Bill Clinton, especially in his second term under the influence of Dick Morris, not only became the Uber-centrist, but the touchstone for the unfalsifiable claims of the DLC. Conservative Democrats often sound like creationists where every failure in the party while they have had control of it (like, say, losing control of ALL THREE BRANCHES) is really the fault of those liberals who don't want to be Republican enough. If the Dems win it justifies their position and if the Dems lose it is because of the liberals which justifies their position. It set the stage for the rise of the Seinfeld Democrats, the party poweful about nothing.

I doubt Tsongas would have signed the defense of marriage act, he just really wanted a balanced budget. Clinton sold out our party for a second term. He allowed the Liebermans to think they were entitled to power and could sell out our core principles. What the conservative Democrats need to realize is that Clinton was successful, not because of his conservative shift, but because he was a master politician. And it was his political skills that changed the world, both for good and, ultimately, I would argue, bad.

With Tsongas, there never would have been a Monica Lewinsky. No way. The Monica nonsense was the confluence of several factors -- only one of which was a blowjob. It was also about having a rock star for a president (Tsongas was more like Air Supply). Further, it was about having the right-wing media machine in place and that requires having someone to demonize. Of course, they would have hammered on any Democratic president, but if it weren't for Clinton's personality, his politician's slime layer, Rush Limbaugh never would have caught fire. It was the right's visceral reaction to the flash and arrogance of Clinton that caused them to have apoplectic fits. Tsongas would have only given them mild heartburn and that possibly would not have set the ground for the rise of FOX news.

I am convinced that the only reason we now have George W. Bush as president is that the right so hated Clinton that they were convinced that by putting someone -- even a moron -- named "George Bush" in the White House, it would repudiate Clinton's victory over the first Bush. They could claim that it was the people trying to erase from the cultural mind the entire Clinton era. If Tsongas had won, we'd have seen politics remain on the level of moderate ideas and we would have most likely had a subsequent Republican in the Bob Dole mode. (How many wouldn't, right now, trade W for Dole?) The rise of the neocons required the vacating of the usual moderate Republicans from power, an opportunity afforded by the vacuum that is George W. Bush.

Clinton is a very, very smart man. I have nothing but respect for his intellect. But he did turn politics into showbiz in a way that has done deep damage to the Democratic party. His flash allowed him to step away in his second term from everything that it means to be a Democrat and as a result, we have a party that stands for nothing. If Tsongas had been president, we would have still have the image of the wonks who knew what they stood for and what they were doing. We would not have to deal with Carville, Begala, or little Stephacutie on Sunday mornings as the annoyingly arrogant face of Democratic politics.

Maybe I have a soft spot for nerds because, well, ok, I guess everyone thinks that folks like them are uniquely well equipped to take power. And maybe he would, maybe he wouldn't have been effective. Maybe we'd have seen another Carter presidency. But a man can dream...