Sunday, May 25, 2008
The World I Knew
Like a lot of Americans, I've never considered Al Gore to be a particularly dynamic speaker. Even taking into account the recent and somewhat involuntary injection of pathos he's received via some very favorable conventional wisdom, he's still a bit of a dud. Honestly, when you think of the most inspirational, stirring addresses you've heard in your lifetime -- the kinds of thunderous calls-to-arms that leave audiences weak-kneed and fully prepared to mobilize for that potentially suicidal offensive into the depths of hell -- the guy who used to joke that his version of the Macarena involved standing completely still and who once called Joe Lieberman "passionate" just doesn't immediately come to mind.
That said, I do remember a series of speeches, delivered by then Vice Presidential Candidate Gore and culminating at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, which seemed to hit all the right notes and make for a bold and powerful statement against what at that time were the beginnings of a political dynasty -- one that had clearly lost touch not only with the American people but, quite possibly, with reality. Gore's familiar refrain during the '92 campaign -- those who were ready and willing to usher in a new revolution in U.S. politics will remember it as a sort of battle cry -- was only seven words long, yet spoke volumes: "It is time for them to go."
Ironically, 16 years ago, Al Gore's dismissive declaration -- the reckoning for which he was calling -- was aimed at a Bush administation. And ironically, 16 years ago, the logical cure for such a political and cultural cancer, at least in the opinion of Gore, was a Clinton presidency.
I was only 22 at the time, just starting out in the world, and yet my memories of the Clinton campaign -- the way it made me feel not just about the potentially bright future for my country but about my own importance in the electoral process -- are as vivid as if they were only a few days old. Put simply, Bill Clinton made me believe that I mattered; that the course the nation would take depended on me and those my age; that I indeed had a voice and a responsibility to use it; that there was -- dare I say it now -- hope.
It was time for my generation to stand up, be counted and help take charge. It was time for them to go.
And a Clinton would lead the way.
It's almost incomprehensible to me, 16 years later, that the name which was once so closely associated with faith in the future of this country and in the power of those who haven't yet been thoroughly contaminated by the astringency of the process has now become synonymous with the worst kind of Machiavellian, win-at-all-costs cynicism. To put a finer point on it, I may have wisened over the years and accepted the reality that the Clintons, like most politicians, are opportunists above all else -- but I never thought I'd see the day that Hillary Clinton so absolutely obliterated every last vestige of waning decency attributed to the Clinton name and legacy by invoking an event as horrific as the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in an effort to win an election. Over the past several months, it's true that we've occasionally seen the worst the Clintons have to offer the political landscape. We've witnessed innuendo atop gossip atop baseless accusation atop outright lie atop sickening bedfellow atop jaw-dropping proclamation atop unadulterated bullshit. We've watched Hillary Clinton straddle the sometimes razor-thin line separating admirable tenacity from self-obsessed, destructive folly. By this time, we thought we'd seen it all -- that at the very least her expanding army of skeptics would be deprived of any sort of final Hollywood-esque surprise twist.
Then, through either blatant underhandedness or negligent stupidity, she actually insinuated that her opponent for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama, just might be felled by an assassin's bullet in the coming month. "Hey, you know, anything can happen -- just sayin'," she seemed to be offering up, during last week's interview with a newspaper in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She's since gone on to "apologize" for the galactically ill-advised comment -- something I feel the need to clarify because Clinton didn't, in fact, say she was sorry for even bringing the word "assassination" into the current political discourse as much as she argued semantics, attempting to justify the meaning behind her statement while tossing out an anemically half-assed mea culpa to anyone who may have misconstrued her point. In other words, Hillary Clinton doesn't seem to understand that raising, even for a moment, the specter of that most grisly and epochal of possibilities has zero place within a political campaign, any campaign -- no matter the rationale.
Which is why Hillary Clinton should not be president.
Which is why it is time for her to go.
I've never believed that Clinton should heed the calls of those attempting to hector her into dropping out of the race. True, I haven't been an outspoken fan of Clinton during this campaign, but at no point have I thought that she should simply step aside and let Barack Obama and his supporters roll over her and the historic feat she hopes to accomplish. At no point have I honestly succumbed to the notion that Hillary Clinton would make a bad president.
I now believe that Hillary Clinton should withdraw from the race for the White House not because she stands defiantly, some say futilely, in the way of the Obama phenomenon which so many think represents the most noble way forward for the Democratic party. I believe that she should withdraw because no one who even offhandedly implies that the last, best hope for his or her candidacy might involve the ultimate snuffing-out not only of an opponent but of the dream that he represents has no place being the leader of the free world. Not now, especially. Not after all this country has been through over the past eight years. Anyone dumb enough to not understand how invoking the assassination of Bobby Kennedy would be interpreted during this particular campaign -- or barbaric enough to, in fact, understand exactly how it would be interpreted -- is not fit to become the President of the United States.
And so, once again -- it is time for her to go.
The sad irony that in my eyes -- the eyes of someone for whom the Clintons once represented a stand against politics-as-usual -- Hillary Clinton has become the very thing she purported to stand against so many years ago certainly isn't lost on me. The fact that the Clintons' notorious narcissism and sense of entitlement has reached such a level of insurmountability that Mrs. Clinton can assail not simply her opponent but the Kennedy-esque legacy of hope she believes he represents is repugnant in ways I'm not sure I can properly express. I knew Hillary Clinton could be a political monster when she deemed it necessary; I had no idea she could allow herself to become Grendel -- forfeiting her principles so handily that those of us who once believed in her and her husband's future for the country are now left to wonder whether there were ever principles there at all.
It is time for her to go.
Last Tuesday night, during the final showdown on American Idol, David Cook -- a 25-year-old bartender from just outside Kansas City -- sang a stunning version of a song that was released in 1995, coincidentally when I was 25: Collective Soul's The World I Know. As I watched, I was reminded of that time when I had faith in the Clintons and their vision for America. I listened to Cook sing, "Has our conscience shown? Has the sweet breeze blown? Has all kindness gone? Hope still lingers on," and I just shook my head, feeling more than a painful twinge of nostalgia -- remembering the world I used to know, and would very much like to know again.
I honestly can't say whether Barack Obama is the best hope for this country, even though he inspires the new generation the way the Clintons once inspired me. Regardless, I know this: Hillary Clinton absolutely is not. She doesn't even believe in hope anymore.
It is time for her to go.