The Bad Old Days

The American Prospect, April 2008 | Go to article overview

The Bad Old Days


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NOSTALGIA HAS ITS PURPOSES, BUT WHAT ON EARTH were the organizers of demonstrations being planned for this summer--s national political conventions thinking when they named their group "Re-Create '68?" Bemoaning the "apathy in our community," they proclaimed their intention "to re-create that revolutionary feeling and pick up where our predecessors left off."

Would consciousness--not to mention, history--were so malleable! 1968, in fact, was a calamitous year for left and liberal ideals; what created much of that year's "revolutionary feeling" were the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy and the defeat of the anti-war forces in the Democratic Party. This year, thankfully, hasn't seen any such disasters, and "apathy" doesn't seem a very apt description of young people's political mood, if the Obama campaign is any measure of that. Happily, the organizers and the convention cities' leaders do seem to have learned something from yesteryear's debacles: Re-create '68 is working with the Denver and St. Paul city governments to ensure that things stay cool.

But the winner of this year's Dubious Nostalgia on the Left Award has to be Ralph Nader, who, in announcing yet again his run for president, seems bent on re-creating his triumphal (for Republicans) intervention of 2000. Still holding himself blameless for George W. Bush's election, Nader, like the Bourbons, has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. It's one thing not to learn from history, quite another to condemn us--as Nader quadrennially endeavors--to repeat it.

DEMOCRATIC UNITY

At this moment of tension and division within the Democratic Party, it's worth remembering that there are things that even the most sharp-elbowed insiders within the Clinton and Obama campaigns still agree on. Chiefly, they all loathe Mark Penn.

Hillary Clinton's chief strategist and pollster is hated and derided in the Obama camp and across a much broader swath of party leaders for his insistence on micro-triangulating policies and politics, his high-dollar arrogance, his (odd in a pollster) tone-deafness to public opinion. According to a story in The Washington Post, however, it turns out he's hated throughout Clinton's circle of friends and advisers for the very same things. James Carville, Paul Begala, Rahm Emanuel, John Podesta, Harold Ickes, and Mandy Grunwald, the Post reports, can't stand him. Hillaryistas have repeatedly tried to persuade Hillary to fire Penn for, among other things, his unwillingness to embrace the idea that this is a change election. To elucidate the working relationship Penn has with his colleagues, the Post quoted the following conference-call colloquy between senior campaign adviser Ickes and Penn: Ickes: "[Expletive] you!" Penn: "[Expletive] you!" Ickes: "[Expletive] you!"

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So if, at this summer's Democratic convention, tensions between the Clinton and Obama camps reach fever pitch, convention chair Nancy Pelosi might want to entertain a motion that says, simply, "We hate Mark Penn." Nothing, apparently, could so quickly unify the party. …

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