I saw the (somewhat) glorious past and the rather dubious future of the Democratic Party last week in Little Rock, Ark. Not the sort of place you’d expect to see progressive politics clash with hard reality, but there we were: a few hundred members of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies — many of us charter members of the left wing of the party — listening to a pair of native-son Dems, Gen. Wesley Clark and former president Bill Clinton, lecturing on the state of the nation and the future of the White House.
Clark, who didn’t even bother to deny that he’s seriously considering running for president (“I haven’t decided not to run”), decried the loss of national purpose in what sounded an awful lot like a stump speech. The retired military man seemed to long for the days of the cold war, when Americans were Americans and commies were commies, and we all knew who the enemy was. In those days, he said, Democrats and Republicans joined together in common cause to defeat the red menace. (Oh, there were differences: Republicans wanted to bomb first and ask questions later, and Democrats wanted to try to talk and make nice before summoning the Marines. But that was just the sort of difference you see between men and women, he suggested, implying in a really weird way that all cold war Democrats were actually female.) But overall, we were, well, united.
Clinton, who spoke and took questions for an amazing two hours or so (and charged us not a nickel), picked up the unity theme and encouraged the press to understand the nuances between hard-line partisan positions. He was critical of Bush’s foreign policy (“You can’t kill, jail, or occupy all your enemies) and talked Jimmy Carter–like of what good Americans could do for the world, but said he liked Bush personally (“He’s a man of great will and … intuitive intelligence”).
When I asked him about same-sex marriage, he ducked beautifully, saying it should be left to the states — but made a point of disagreeing with my premise, which is that some issues aren’t nuanced at all. Some things are just right and wrong.
And in the end, he had a message for the Democratic left: Get with the program. “I am,” he said, “about winning.”
I dunno. Maybe sometimes I’m not. SFBG