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.
A consequence of the increased power of campaign consultants was a blurring of the line between campaigning and governing, creating the titular “permanent campaign” dynamic. The decline of industrial-era bosses and rise of poll-driven consultants, Blumenthal argued, mirrored the broader transition in the economy from manufacturing to computing and information technology, “where white-collar workers outnumber blue-collar, computers are the archetypal machines, knowledge is a vital form of capital, much heavy industry is exported to the more dynamic Third World countries, and America becomes the home office of the world.”
.. The basic argument of Rise of the Counter-Establishment is that the conservative movement emulated what it perceived as a loose but effective conspiracy of elite institutions — the Brookings Institution, the Ford Foundation, the New York Times editorial page — and so created a much more cohesive and effective counter-establishment — the American Enterprise Institute, the Olin Foundation, the Wall Street Journal editorial page — to combat it. “They imitated something they had imagined,” Blumenthal wrote, “but what they created was not imaginary.”
.. The book, the conservative writer Tevi Troy notes, “provided a blueprint for what would be called the vast right-wing conspiracy”
.. It laid out who, exactly, the enemy was that a new generation of Democratic politicians had to defeat.
.. Clinton, Blumenthal writes, was part of a group of Democrats interested in “rethinking … the future of liberalism and the Democratic Party”
.. [President Clinton] said, “Monica Lewinsky came at me and made a sexual demand on me.” He rebuffed her. He said, “I’ve gone down that road before. I’ve caused pain for a lot of people and I’m not going to do that again.” She threatened him. She said that she would tell people they’d had an affair, that she was known as the stalker among her peers, and that she hated it and if she had an affair or said she had an affair then she wouldn’t be the stalker any more.
.. the crux came when Blumenthal was questioned about whether he had been tasked by the White House with spreading rumors about Lewinsky being a “stalker.” He had already told the grand jury that Clinton told him Lewinsky was known as a stalker among her peers and resented the label. The question was whether Blumenthal spread this further in the press... Christopher Hitchens, signed a sworn affidavit saying that Blumenthal had called Lewinsky a stalker repeatedly in a March 19, 1998, lunch with Hitchens and his wife, seemingly contradicting the claim that he’d never called her a stalker in conversations with reporters... a motion from Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), who would vote against Clinton’s conviction, to have the Senate investigate “possible fraud on the Senate by alleged perjury in the deposition testimony of Mr. Sidney Blumenthal.” Nothing came of the matter, and Hitchens eventually promised to withdraw his affidavit if Blumenthal were ever put on trial. The two remained distant for years, but reportedly reestablished contact shortly before Hitchens’s death from cancer in 2011... Blumenthal was also a central figure in recruiting the unlikeliest Clinton loyalist to date: David Brock, the former American Spectator reporter and anti-Clinton muckraker who has since become a liberal stalwart, founding the media watchdog group Media Matters and the Democratic Super PAC American Bridge... learned how Drudge had been prompted by a small group of right-wingers to post the libel about me on his website.” They became friends, and Blumenthal became a counselor to Brock as he broke from the right, a move announced in a 1997 Esquire article titled “Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man.”Politico’s Thrush calls Brock’s conversion “Blumenthal’s greatest coup — and the one that cemented his standing as a Clinton loyalist.” Blumenthal.. Blumenthal had helped flip a key member of the counter-establishment he had chronicled a decade prior. He was putting his analysis of the right into practice, and getting major results... he was caught driving 70 miles an hour, drunk, in a 30 mph zone in Nashua, New Hampshire. The serious charge — “aggravated drunken driving” — was pleaded down after the arresting officer was called up for service in Iraq, rendering a trial impossible... he was involved in spreading some of the most vicious, race-baiting attacks of the primaries... a hoax originated by ex-CIA officer and ardent Hillary supporter Larry Johnson claiming there was a videotape of Michelle Obama railing against “whitey”.. Blumenthal and Hillary alike were convinced the tape was real... reports surfaced that she was planning to bring him on as a counselor, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, “Hell no. If she hires him, I’m out of here.” Senior adviser David Axelrod added, “Me too.” Emanuel was left to deliver the bad news to Clinton, who accepted the verdict.
A man, filled with fear and insecurity, created a hatemongering character and followed it out the window. And a woman, filled with fear and insecurity, hunkered down and repeated bad patterns rather than reimagining herself in an open, bold way.
.. From Cohn, he learned about winning, without regard to right and wrong. And from Steinbrenner, he learned about indiscriminately grabbing the limelight.
.. “Donald was not a big night life person, except for Le Club,” said one former Steinbrenner staffer. “He was always very likable in those days. He had a big personality, but he was the youngest of the group. He was never arrogant or full of himself. He always was respectful and pleasant to everybody.”
.. Before he jumped into the presidential race, Trump was seen as bombastic, vulgar, a bit of a buffoon and a cave man, but there was also, as Tina Brown put it, “a cheeky brio.”
.. “he was set up as the Decider and a very discerning judge of character.”
.. If he had stuck with his judicious TV boss persona in a race that fused politics, social media and reality TV, who knows what would have happened?
.. But he created another character for the Republican primaries
.. “He saw the crowd’s adulation and it drove him. He started to get the biggest cheers for saying the most offensive things.
.. “He detached himself from himself. I don’t think he believes in the Muslim ban or half the things he’s saying. It was more, ‘If this gets applause, I do it,’ in a Pavlovian dog kind of way. He just got into this character.
.. And the irony of all this is, he didn’t have to. He could have run as an outsider with a populist message without all the evil and mean components.”
.. Hillary started as a young lawyer on the House Watergate committee, yet she never learned how paranoia can act as an acid on dreams. She couldn’t dismantle her wall of secrecy and defensiveness and level with the public and the press; instead, she built the wall higher and clung to attack dogs like David Brock and Sidney Blumenthal, needing to surround herself with people, no matter how dubious, who would walk the plank for her.
.. The Clintons have earned $230 million over the last 15 years, and if Hillary becomes the first woman president and Bill becomes the first first lad, they will reap many tens of millions more in book money and speeches afterward. So why buckrake on the eve of her campaign with Goldman Sachs speeches?
.. The problem with Donald Trump is: We don’t know which of the characters he has created he would bring to the Oval Office.
The trouble with Hillary Clinton is: We do know. Nobody gets less paranoid in the White House.
a string of self-inflicted controversies that were starting to resonate in polls showing him slipping further behind Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, and Manafort warned his boss that things were about to get worse.
.. The stories, Manafort argued to Trump, were being coordinated by Clinton’s allies, and they were going to continue for the remainder of the election cycle as long as Manafort remained at the helm.
.. That’s despite what the associates characterize as Manafort’s growing frustration with Trump’s unwillingness to embrace advice for a more scripted, measured tone and a greater reliance on more traditional campaign tactics.
.. his longtime deputy Rick Gates (who had followed Manafort onto the Trump campaign) had in 2012 secretly steered $2.2 million to a pair of Washington lobbying firms to boost Yanukovych’s pro-Kremlin government in a manner intended to circumvent disclosure requirements.
.. working with a former Russian army linguist allegedly linked to the country’s intelligence service — had continued through late last year to advise the Russia-friendly Ukrainian party that arose from the ashes of Yanukovych’s government.
.. They had pushed to elevate Conway to campaign manager, in part, because Ivanka Trump believed the campaign was too much of an all-boys club to begin with, sources said. Also, she liked the way Conway was able to manage her father.
.. “Kellyanne is not a campaign manager in the traditional sense of the word. She got the title as part of combat pay,” said one source involved with the discussions. “She’s the candidate manager, which considering how tough it is to manage someone like Donald — who has the temperament of a 12-year-old who always gets what he wants — is a far harder job.
.. Family members also were unhappy about changes made to a GOP platform provision that were seen as slighting Ukraine to Russia’s benefit
.. Manafort supporters suggested that they would work to prove that the stories were being fed by Clinton confidant Sid Blumenthal, and allege that the documents released by Ukrainian investigators were fabricated.
.. mainstream Republicans who back Trump’s campaign worry that Manafort’s departure will hurt the nominee with the GOP donor class.
.. Trump has no intention of getting rid of Gates. “Donald accepted Paul’s resignation. He had to. But Donald isn’t stupid. Rick gets shit done,” said the person. “Nobody else gets it done like Rick.”