Friday, November 30, 2007

John Edwards: Bring Back the Old School

- DKos diary 11/30/07

The invasion of Iraq was fully enabled by the weak leadership, benign attention and implicit support of the most important and influential Democrats, especially President Clinton and Senator Clinton, who then and now had the greatest impact on public opinion among Democrats.

Today President Clinton says in the WaPost that he ". . . opposed Iraq from the beginning."

The issue is well reported on at Raising Kaine. Among quotes to the contrary, these from June 23, 2004 (CNN):

"I have repeatedly defended President Bush against the left on Iraq, even though I think he should have waited until the U.N. inspections were over."

"That's why I supported the Iraq thing. There was a lot of stuff unaccounted for."

Here in northern New Hampshire I've been working as a volunteer for Barack Obama who, like Jim Webb, the new Senator from Virginia, and Robert C. Byrd, the old one from West Virginia, opposed the invasion of Iraq from the start. But I was disappointed to read this morning in the Time magazine piece that Obama would consider including President Clinton in his cabinet. That makes two of the leading Democrats who would include President Clinton in their cabinets. Might have to go back to John Edwards and Mudcat Saunders.

I think the most important thing that has to happen between now and 2012 is that the generations need to shift. Both the Democrats and the Republicans have to leave it behind. And for the Democrats, that means leaving the Clintons behind.

I first went to Mark Warner several years ago because I saw the new century opening up from either Mark Warner or Mitt Romney. I still do. This I gleaned from the annual Governor's Council meeting in '05, I think, where Warner and Romney both brought forth their long-term visions. Both were sound visions of encouraging youth education and training and both were primarily management-based perspectives by two of the best managers of important states. They presented new paradigms and Warner especially promised to work "across the isle" has he had done as Governor of Virginia. They were both new voices. They both wanted to be President.

Generational dynamics demand that the paradigms shift entirely between generations. You can’t make your kids like Perry Como if they are already listening to Bob Dylan. Generational dynamics demand that the old be left behind so the new can rise. For example, today in the NYTs and in the LA Times yesterday, the great quarterback Brett Favre was referred to as "the last American hero" (LA) and Texas quarterback Tony Romo referred to as "The new Brett Favre" (NYTs). These are end-game comments - they mark the end of a generation of action of passion. They come because the New England quarterback, Tom Brady, was referred to as "God" on the cover of last months' Sports Illustrated, and because Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker have entirely changed the game of football. In football, an old era and an old generation is ending and a new era and a new generation has started.

Likewise, generational dynamics can be seen as the difference between Perry Como, Jimmy Durante and kind and the rise of Bob Dylan and The Beatles. Seasons pass. In fact, Dylan’s record company initially resisted playing Like a Rolling Stone because they knew it would change the season and their old list would recede. Dylan surreptitiously had it played in a famous New York disco to get it to radio stations.

Today we are directly between seasons again. Mark Warner and Jim Webb start a new season for the Democrats. It is not that the previous season was "bad" - just that new generations need to define themselves on their own terms. The problem for the Democrats today is that Elvis – and his relatives – won’t leave the building. But sending up kin or relative to do the job – Elisabeth Dole, Hillary, George W. Bush – is always the sign that the generational season is in late November, early December.

When I was writing about Warner and Webb two years ago Markos of DKos had an important and influential piece in the WaPost declaring a division in the Democrats and mentioning Mark Warner and Howard Dean as "new Democrats" or representative of a new generation of Democrats. These divisions need to happen. In that same period he had a post on DKos asking "Won't these Clinton-era Democrats ever go away?" This is a representative voice of the new generation. The question has to be asked again today if Obama is going to bring Clinton-era Democrats into his cabinet.

The Democrats can define a completely new generation today with Warner, Webb, and others - I would include Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and possibly John Lynch of New Hampshire who has defined his Governorship as "across-the-isle" like Mark Warner's and who has long admired Warner as Governor.

Jim Webb diametrically opposed the "Rubin Democrats" and their purpose in his rebuttal to Bush's State of the Union speech last February. This was implicit criticism of the Clinton-era Democrats who detached Wall St. and the financial markets from the actual performance of the economy in the traditional Republican fashion. Webb was of course referring to Robert Rubin, the Clinton Secretary of Treasury, when he used the phrase "Rubin Democrats" although these might be considered "Jerry Rubin Democrats" since Sixties-radical-turned-Wall-St.-mogul Jerry Rubin first proposed this shift.

But this new direction from Webb, embraced by John Edwards as well, is not in opposition to all Democrats. It is Old School and pre-Clinton. And William Strauss and Neil Howe, who write about generational shifts in history, make the point that it is characteristic of the new generation to jump over the last to grandmother’s and grandfather’s generation.

The Clinton administration directly and intentionally opposed the older and wiser voices of their own party and followed instead the likes of Jerry Rubin who in the mid-Sixties advised his generation to go home and kill their parents and in the next decade told them that " . . . wealth creation is the real American revolution."

John Kenneth Galbraith, a venerable Nobel laureate and party icon from the Kennedy days, wrote a book in 1992, The Culture of Contentment, in direct opposition to Clinton's attachment to the rich and his economic policies which created a new class of the wealthy among people almost exclusively of his own generation. (Galbraith wrote late in life that he only briefly met Clinton and co. They basically had no use for him and he suggested that the feeling was mutual.)

They opposed George Kennan as well, possibly America’s greatest diplomat since Franklin, who opposed the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders when Russia was considered weak and broken after the fall of the Soviets. This incursion was first proposed by Newt Gingrich in his Contract for America but was vigorously advanced by the Clinton administration. Kennan called it "a mistake of historic proportions." Today, as President Putin cancels an arms treaty with the West and promises to push military forces to that same region, the chickens are coming home to roost.

Webb and Edwards honor the Old School and the old traditions. I had hoped that Obama would as well, because that will be the path of the new generation.

In August, I interviewed the chief-of-staff of possibly the wisest and most venerable of the Old School, Sam Nunn of Georgia. He and Senator Lugar had just returned from Russia to mark the 15th anniversary of Nunn-Lugar work with Russia and the former Soviet Union to secure nuclear weapons and materials. Nunn, a retired Democratic Senator, has worked tirelessly to reduce the threat of nuclear warfare and in 2001 joined Ted Turner to found the Nuclear Threat Initiative. I was told that he is so dissatisfied with the line up of both parties on these issues that he may enter as a third party candidate in January.

What a Democrat needs to do - and now it should be Edwards if Obama is going to bring Bill Clinton into his cabinet - is to reaffirm the old traditions which Galbraith, Kennan and Nunn represented. To bring back the character of the Old School and leave the Clinton-era behind.


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