EDITORIAL: Kerry: The New Clinton?

Becky O’Malley
Tuesday June 29, 2004

The back page cartoon in a recent New Yorker showed a Kerry campaign rally. The candidate was standing at a flag-draped podium with Kerry banners above. In the foreground, also at the podium and looming large enough to dwarf the candidate, who was reduce d to peeking out from behind, was a grinning Bill Clinton. 

The triumphal Clinton book tour is scheduled to hit Berkeley today (Tuesday). Cody’s Books is being very coy about tickets, annoying a few patrons who have complained to us, not that we cut any i ce at Cody’s, which didn’t even advertise the event in the Planet. There’s a palpable aura of fond nostalgia for the Clinton era in Bay Area coverage to date. 

In Berkeley some people are indeed excited to think that the great man will be among us. Others are not. Berkeleyans are proud that we’re the home of MoveOn.org, one of the few sensible voices during Clinton’s impeachment melodrama. The basic MoveOn stance was that Clinton deserved censure, and after that the country needed to move on to other matt ers. No flash, no posturing, just get on with it.  

Many of us think “move on” is still a good way of dealing with Clinton and his legacy. We get edgy when we read that Kerry seems to be returning to the ineffectual politics of the Democratic Leadership C ouncil, which Clinton originally fronted for. For example, Robin Toner in the DLC’s favorite mouthpiece, the New York Times, said this in a front page article last week: “Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council and a longtime Clinton ai de, fretted openly during the heyday of Howard Dean last year that the party was moving to the left. Today, Mr. Reed describes Mr. Kerry approvingly as ‘a pragmatic centrist in the Clinton mode.’” 

In Berkeley, home of major support for Dean and even Kuci nich and (god forbid) Nader, this is not the good news. We held our collective nose during the impeachment proceedings because the alternative seemed worse, but in the long run we got a worse alternative anyway, George W. Bush. It doesn’t help that Al Gor e, the DLC’s anointed successor to Clinton, won the election but couldn’t manage to fight for the presidency, partly because his DLC-type supporters were muttering in the background that it’s dangerous to make waves.  

Still, Kerry is not Gore, and not Cl inton, and thank goodness. He’s probably as much of a stick as Gore, but those of us who remember both of them during the Vietnam War still admire Kerry’s stiff-necked courage. He denounced the government’s policy in a way that Gore, also a veteran who kn ew things were going wrong, never did.  

Kerry certainly lacks Clinton’s sex-tinged charisma, which in the current climate is no loss at all. The bad timing of Clinton’s book tour is a characteristically unattractive manifestation of the still insecure po orboy’s lust for attention, which (not sex) is really what got him into bed with Lewinsky and her predecessors in the first place. Lust for money—old-fashioned greed—might also play a part in his decision to tour now. We hope that perhaps Kerry doesn’t ne ed to be so greedy, given his enormous personal wealth, though wealth hasn’t prevented Bush and Cheney from wanting more. 

But really, how do we know who these men are, or what they stand for? Political commentary in America today is not a comparison of t he policy positions of would-be leaders, because it’s increasing difficult to know what they stand for, even after the fact. We’re reduced to amateur psychologizing with little data. Our images of candidates are little more than magic lantern slides, pict ures painted on glass and faintly projected on walls. About all we can do is evaluate the image of himself that Kerry chooses to display: an upright New England Yankee-Catholic, no nonsense, no fooling around. But at least that image, these days, contrast s favorably with the residual image of the loud, randy good-ol’-boy which is still the shadow Bill Clinton casts on the wall. It seems to have been too much to ask, but the country would have been better served if Clinton had been able to wait until after the election to do his self-promotion.  


—Becky O’Malley›