Dividers, Not Uniters

In a new book, Steve Kornacki looks back at the 1990s — and finds the roots of today’s polarization in the Clintons’ ascent.

..  the 1990s was until recently an invisible decade. “The holiday from history,” it was called, a “lull” where nothing much really happened, a candy-colored coma between the Berlin Wall’s fall on 11/9 and the 9/11 attacks less than a dozen years later.

.. The Red and the Blue, is a political procedural that sets out to explain how we went from giga-landslides in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s to Electoral College squeakers today, how Republicans disappeared from the coasts and Democrats died their final deaths in the South and Midwest.

.. it benefits from the context provided by Trump’s ascent, which has clarified that one big reason we’re seemingly reliving the 1930s today is because both the Left and Right spent the 1990s and early 2000s rehashing the culture wars of the 1960s and early ’70s.

.. Because cable and the Internet have so completely transformed American culture over the past two or three decades, it’s easy to forget (and younger people can’t even remember) just how norm-shattering Bill Clinton was, compared to the Greatest and Silent Generation leaders who came before him. To social conservatives and foreign-policy hawks, Clinton’s election was downright triggering, and deserved nothing less than full-on #Resistance. Historian Steven Gillon famously interviewed one who succinctly fumed that Clinton was “a womanizing, Elvis-loving, non-inhaling, truth-shading, draft-dodging, war-protesting, abortion-protecting, gay-promoting, gun-hating Baby Boomer!”

.. aside from Gary Hart, whose ill-fated career was recently reexamined in the Jason Reitman movie The Front Runner, America hadn’t had a youthful, truly sexualized major-party presidential nominee since JFK — until Clinton came along.

  • .. The Federal Reserve’s preference for financialization and neoliberalism was at its very peak under the influence of Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan.
  • Nearly half of Americans still thought “sodomy” — never mind same-sex marriage or civil unions — should be illegal.
  • And while America was pro-choice, huge percentages of voters demanded restrictions to abortion-on-demand.

The Red and the Blue gives an excellent Gen-X-plaining of just how systemically, institutionally, and culturally impossible it would have been for Democrats to move even farther leftward than they did back then — of how much damage their “too far left” brand had done to the party in the ’80s and of the disastrous political consequences of Bill Clinton’s attempts to govern from the left in 1993–94, as epitomized by Hillary’s attempt at health-care reform. He reminds his readers with his trademark aptitude for facts and figures that America in the 1990s was still very much living in what Sean Wilentz called The Age of Reagan.

.. He manages, for example, to nail the most salient point of the abusive relationship between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich: that it was at heart a love story, and/or a co-dependency worthy of Dr. Phil. One man could simply not have managed to stay in office without the other.

.. It was Clinton hatred on the social right that gave us Gingrich, and it was Gingrich’s surefire ability to trigger the libs that protected Clinton year in and year out. “Do you want him – or me?” became the basic campaign pitch of both men.

.. his Officer Friendly approach to the media is just too naïve by half, especially for someone who is a cable-news host with considerable experience in online journalism. In Kornacki’s telling, reporters merely report, offering just the facts or serving as quickie Greek choruses and footnote sources. This might work for a tenth-grade term paper, but for a book that seeks to illuminate the decade that saw the rise of the Internet, the birth of Fox News, unprecedented media consolidation, and what Eric Alterman called “the punditocracy” at the height of its influence, it’s entirely inadequate.

From highly influential anti-Great Society “Atari Democrats” like
  • Michael Kinsley,
  • Joe Klein,
  • Sidney Blumenthal, and
  • Robert Samuelson and proudly un-PC pundits like
  • Camille Paglia,
  • Ben Wattenberg,
  • Bill Maher, and
  • Andrew Sullivan to donor-funded think tanks like
  • Heritage and
  • Cato, an entire intellectual infrastructure was shaping the national narrative for what became Third Way Clintonism well before the Clinton era began. Yet most of these people and institutions do not even appear in Kornacki’s index, or if they do, they’re curtly dispensed with in one or two lines.

.. It’s possible that with Donald Trump’s attacks on the press (and with some people using criticism of “the media” as an anti-Semitic dog whistle), Kornacki didn’t want to even go there.

.. But a book on 1990s polarization that omits Steve Jobs, Roger Ailes, and Bill Gates from its index? One that effectively ignores the O.J. trial, Maureen Dowd’s gendered, campy, sexist (certainly by today’s standards), Pulitzer-winning coverage of Monicagate, and Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill?

.. writers as far apart as Ann Coulter and Eric Alterman blamed Al Gore’s loss in 2000 on the media’s hatred of him (and his hatred of them)?

.. Limbaugh’s pioneering tactic (soon perfected by Gingrich, Coulter, and Karl Rove) of branding anyone whose politics were even slightly to the left of, say, Sandra Day O’Connor or Dianne Feinstein, as a Loony Liberal, Radical Leftist, or Femi-Nazi. From Clinton and Dubya well into the Obama years, red-meat conservatives intentionally fuzzed the line between corporate social-liberals and the true hard left of Michael Moore, Pacifica Radio, and Thomas Frank, and Kornacki captures their strategy perfectly.

.. Aside from the Obamas themselves, no other politician would even remotely disrupt or challenge Clintonistas’ hold on the Democratic party for another ten or 15 years. But Clintonism could only continue as long as the true far-left remained repressed, and as long as the economy kept humming.
.. When a fist-shaking socialist senator from Vermont lined up an army of Millennials in formation behind him eight years after the dawn of the Great Recession caused in no small part by Clinton-era financial policy, it became crystal clear that Newt Gingrich had won the war.
.. When they exited the White House, the Clintons left behind a Democratic party that working class, rural, and/or religious whites had become almost allergic to, one more dependent on African-American and Latino voters than ever.
.. Donald Trump cruised to triumph in 2016 using all of the dog whistles and wedge issues that Gingrich, Rove, Buchanan, and Ross Perot had refined to perfection.
.. And just as education-conscious, socially liberal white professionals reacted against Gingrich’s and Buchanan’s reactionary rhetoric in the late ’90s, Trump’s Republican party has now been effectively evicted from places as once-synonymous with the GOP as Long Island, Maine, New Jersey, San Diego, and Orange County.

Michael Avenatti Is the 1990s-Style Celebrity Lawyer of the Trump Age

The bombastic legal adviser to Stormy Daniels is taking cues from the era of O.J. Simpson and Monica Lewinsky.

All of the elements have worked in Avenatti’s favor: the missteps of President Trump’s lawyers and media defenders, the desire in Resistance America for a counterpoint to Trump’s dominance, and the eagerness of cable news to amplify and obsess over people who cause a spectacle.

.. Of course, this has long ceased to be just about Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and her legal dealings with the president with whom she says she had an affair. Daniels says Trump bought her silence—for a while—through his lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen for $130,000. The saga has taken on a life of its own, with Avenatti treating it like an episodic television show, teasing information reveals, getting into all-out scraps with critics, and generally making it a capital-T Thing.

.. “I’m the lawyer for Stormy Daniels in the first instance and I’m the lawyer for the truth in the second instance,” he said on MSNBC last week.

..  It’s a field in which lawyers often operate as “lone wolves,”

.. Avenatti is not the first lawyer to rely heavily on media attention to litigate his case, nor is he the first to do this in a case involving the president. There are examples in the not-so-distant past: Monica Lewinsky’s lawyer William Ginsburg, famous for inventing the “full Ginsburg” maneuver of doing all of the Sunday talk shows the same day, and the lawyers for Paula Jones, who sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment in 1994.

Joseph Camaratta, one of Jones’s lawyers, said he saw similarities in what Avenatti was doing “in the sense that you wanted to move the case along, keep the president on his heels, and, to the extent permitted, use the media as a tool in the toolbox.”

.. Camaratta said Avenatti had done a “masterful job” getting Daniels out from under the NDA. “He wants to invalidate the arbitration, he wants to take the president’s deposition. These are all things I’d be doing. These are all the right things to do for an aggressive trial lawyer.”

.. Alan Dershowitz, who worked on O.J. Simpson’s defense team and who has become a Trump confidant, said that Avenatti’s approach is the right one if he’s truly doing it for Daniels’s benefit and not just for himself.

.. “Here the object is not just to win the lawsuit, it’s to destroy the presidency. It’s to create problems for Trump.”

.. whereas the Simpson case unfolded during the early rise of cable news, the Daniels case is playing out in a landscape dominated by social media. Everything is faster, and there are more news cycles per day.

.. Ken White has criticized Avenatti’s threatening reporters who have written about him—something that has happened several times. An email he sent to Daily Caller reporters threatening to sue them, for example, was in White’s view poorly executed because it failed on a number of levels to be a credible threat, neglecting to list specific complaints and identifying itself as off the record, a demand for secrecy that makes the substance of Avenatti’s complaint seem specious.

..  On Twitter, White coined a term—“Avenattos”—for Avenatti’s adoring followers, whom he sees as analogous to Trump’s

.. Avenatti, he said, is “beating Trump at his own game.”

.. Avenatti, who briefly changed his Twitter avatar to a version of Shepard Fairey’s famous Barack Obama poster but with his image instead of Obama’s and his catchphrase “Basta”—meaning “enough” in Spanish or Italian—instead of “Hope,”

.. Avenatti has said he would like to face off against Giuliani on Fox and Friends.

..  “He’s out-lawyered them and out-media’d them. It’s an easier job because he has an easier client.”

.. Turley said. He added that the NDA had been poorly constructed, giving an opening for Avenatti to argue that his client shouldn’t be bound by it.

.. Trump’s lawyers, Turley said, had “tripped every wire that Avenatti has put in front of them.”

.. agent Jay Sures had pitched television executives on a Crossfire-style show starring Avenatti opposite Anthony Scaramucci

.. There’s also been interest in his personal life; he filed for divorce against his wife Lisa Storie Avenatti in December 2017

.. Avenatti also defaulted on back taxes he agreed to pay the government.

The Best Era for Working Women Was 20 Years Ago

Things seem to have changed around the 2001 recession. Until then, women tended to keep their onward march into employment steady even when the economy faltered. If their employment dipped, it quickly recovered. But this was the first time that the share of working women dropped without bouncing back.

.. Husbands’ wages grew faster than wives’ in the 1990s, which may have eventually discouraged married women from staying at work.

.. For lower-wage women, work itself has also gotten worse. Research by Robert Moffitt, a Johns Hopkins economist, has found that the decline in women’s labor force participation, especially among lower-educated women, mirrors that of their male peers.

.. The low-wage jobs these laid-off workers found are more likely to come with variable schedules that make it difficult to arrange child care. Work hours have also stretched later and later, which hurts women more.
..  the United States has done almost nothing to help make it easier for parents to work and raise a family at the same time. Unlike all other developed countries, the United States doesn’t guarantee parents any paid time off when they have children.
.. If the United States were to spend more on helping parents get child care, ensure they can take paid time off work and protect those who want or need to work flexible schedules, it would almost certainly tap into this pool of women who have stepped away from work.
.. the economy would have been 11 percent smaller if women’s labor force participation had remained at the levels of the late 1970s.
.. President Trump has said he wants to reach 3 percent G.D.P. growth. He would do well to focus on increasing how many women work.
.. This is a man who said in the 1990s — that same decade when working women reached their zenith — that “putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing.”

He’ll find out how dangerous it is for the economy when the government doesn’t help put all women, married or not, to work.