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Thursday, August 22, 1996

The Long Goodbye

It's fitting that the Democrats are going into Chicago again. Twenty-eight years after their fabled wince they're all set to officially lay down for the count. Next week when the hollow man from Hope receives the party's imprimatur all the smelling salts in the land will be of no avail. End of metaphor.

It's appropriate that the death knell of the former party of Roosevelt should have Bill Clinton presiding, and that Chicago should be the setting. In 1968 the youthful Clinton reportedly shared the concerns of those pummeled in Grant Park and on the street outside the Hilton. Clinton knew who the bad guys were then, and during his years at Oxford frequently demonstrated against them. But for all his avowed hatred of the war in Vietnam, he calibrated his responses with the utmost calculation. He most admired one of his American classmates at Oxford who had become a draft resister, but said he himself could not risk prison. We've learned how he finagled a continual student-deferred draft status -- no dishonor to one ostensibly opposed to contributing to the carnage -- although he also expressed a willingness to join the military at some later date. The travail of carefully shaping a resume when you anoint yourself as a President-in-waiting must have been arduous.

Muddle around in an attempt to offend no one and you end up pleasing no one. Subsequent Clintonian ambition has thus proceeded with a dialectic of numbing familiarity: Postulate. Back off. Reassert in an illusory attempt to ameliorate all differences. Under the synthesizing hand of Dick Morris it has become an exercise in unparalleled political cynicism. Historians will correctly mark the party's pitiable demise at the moment today when the ever-amiable Clinton ceremoniously signed off on the welfare bill under sunny Rose Garden skies. The convention that followed, they will note, was merely the postmortem.


For the fortunate who have long been clear-eyed, the only level on which the enduring symbolism of Chicago merits our attention is the streets and neighborhoods where real lives play out. One million jobs have left the city's neighborhoods since the mid-1950s, vanishing under the accommodating eyes of Democratic and Republican politicians alike. And in the main, those lost jobs have predominantly affected inner-city blacks. The decimation of urban manufacturing -- in which blacks have been disproportionately represented -- through the globalization of production and the internationalization of competition, has impacted Chicago's black workers to a greater extent than those of any other American city.

As the voluminous data compiled over the past eight years by Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson and Loic J.D. Wacquant of the University of Chicago illustrates, the physical and social deterioration of the inner city is a direct consequence of American capitalism's structural transformation.

As a boy Clinton witnessed the South rid itself of much of its black population by encouraging migration to the industrial North. As President, Clinton's Nafta accord has accelerated the corporations' systematic attack on wages, unions and conditions of employment throughout those rustbelt cities. Keeping the applause meter readings high has necessitated his transformation into membership in William Bennett's corps of easy virtue, blaming the inner city's economic plight and the decline of social cohesion on residents' moral deficiencies. That view, fully translated, holds that urban blacks blithely and solely of their own volition created and revel in the conditions in which they now find themselves.

You'll pardon me if I demur from such zeitgeist puke. You know, we might resolve the issue rather quickly by taking the $10 in welfare which corporations receive for every $1 that goes to poor people -- and reverse the ratio. Six months later -- no need to wait four decades -- we could compare respective pathologies.


There may be some minor dissent this time around over delegates' misgivings about the welfare bill, but, as in 1968, the convention will ignore the underlying cataclysm and second the administration's policies. Certainly the parrot Gore will offer a fine mimicry of Hubert Humphrey's beggarly subservience to the momentum his own boss unleashed.

The White House has hinted that Clinton will present an array of new programs. Expect him to throw out a few sops to placate his left flank. Should Ralph Nader qualify for the ballot in the 30 states he's canvassing, Nader's inclusion in the presidential debates is probably assured. California, Ohio and New York then become quite problematic for Clinton as Nader draws off traditional Democratic sympathies.

As expected, for months Democratic operatives have peppered Naderites with horror stories about how much worse Dole would be. How many years is it now we've heard the warnings to stick with Tweedledum ("because we care") in order to deny Tweedledee?

You probably recall the song from the late 1960s that had the refrain, We won't get fooled again. It's likely that Bill and Al, in their previous incarnations, even hummed it to themselves.

So long, Lyndon. Bye-bye, Hubert.

Copyright John Hutchison 1996
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