Columns » John Brummett

Clinton beholds our angry amnesia


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Say what you will about Bill Clinton. It has surely been said already.

One assertion I made about him nearly two decades ago applies for today's purpose. I called him either the "great synthesizer," meaning one who can outdo all others in forging a coherent whole from diverse parts, or the "synthetic man," meaning false or bogus or fabricated.

That either-or posed a false choice, of course. Clinton can be both and has been both.

It was that knack for synthesizing that interested me as he came through his home state of Arkansas last week to raise money for beleaguered Democratic friends. No one can match Clinton in assessing and articulating a political climate, a rather dark and stormy version of which we currently confront in America.

So Clinton came out of a restaurant and onto a Little Rock sidewalk after gracing a fundraiser for a Democratic congressional candidate who trails by 15 points for a seat being vacated by a Democrat. He ambled over to a gaggle of reporters and endeavored to explain the current mood portending a Republican tidal wave that may exceed even the one that drowned Clinton's Democrats after two years of his presidency.

One advantage Clinton holds in analyzing political mistakes, you will find, is that he probably has made them, perhaps famously.

He said it was all about the "three A's." Those would be anger, apathy and amnesia.

This raging public anger is, while justified, not a public policy, but an emotion. Allowing emotions to reign is foolish — as Clinton ought to know, having allowed them to overcome him time and again, most recently in his wife's presidential campaign.

He has come back from that, of course. He always comes back.

Emotions are used best, in politics and in life, in a contained and channeled way, mixed with logic and reason.

Apathy exists currently in two parts. It is found among new voters who came to the polls to elect Barack Obama but are now disengaged if not feeling betrayed. It also is found among independent-minded Americans who are sick of the political polarization and dysfunction.

With those groups either sitting out or dropped out, the dominant passion comes from the Republican base or on its rather extraordinary right flank.

Amnesia is the factor that Clinton seemed most to enjoy explaining. It is his word for the condition affecting voters who have decided they want to throw out Democrats because these Democrats have not had as much success as desired in repairing the mess they inherited. It is his word for the apparent intention of voters to reinstall those who made the mess in the first place, meaning the Republicans.

He used "amnesia" because "insanity" doesn't start with "a."

Clinton said Republicans would take us back to the unregulated business climate and fiscal profligacy that put us in the very mess through which the bailouts and stimulus have cushioned and sustained us. He contended the Democratic policies have been successful, to the extent that matters would have been much worse, wholly catastrophic, without them. That is less than ideal as a political message.

Still, I predict we will hear more along this line from Democrats — that anger is not a public policy and that people need to snap out of their apathy and amnesia to season their well-warranted anger with reason and remembrance. I do not think it will resonate. I simply think we will be hearing it.

Clinton knows the score. He admitted that the incumbent Democratic senator in Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln, is in big trouble. He said that if she got only one vote, it would be his.

Alas, she founders there as well. He actually votes in New York.


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