Jewish World Review July 6, 2001 / 15 Tamuz, 5761

Lewis A. Fein

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Memo to my fellow conservatives:
Time to get over Bill Clinton -- Of all the issues that confront conservatives perhaps the most pernicious and addictive is the Republican Party's inability to abandon Bill Clinton. Abandon his policies? Yes, conservatives neither endorse nor miss his tactical thievery or ideological vacuity. But it is Bill Clinton's symbolism as a treacherous figure -- a long list, indeed; one that includes accusations of rape, sexual harassment, perjury and obstruction of justice -- that remains a permanently inviting target. Yet these very temptations obscure conservatism's political agenda: that it is a political movement of ideas, not a euphemistic substitute for opposition against a disgraced and marginally exiled former president.

Admittedly, President George W. Bush's election is itself both a rebuke and departure from Clinton and the sundry policies associated with its namesake. That President Bush leads by example, accepting responsibility where the proverbial buck stops while eschewing the self-indulgent practices (both personal and professional) of his predecessor, would normally foreclose further obsession with Bill Clinton.

Unfortunately, Bush's election is irrelevant. The media will continue their love affair -- tempestuously, to be sure -- with Clinton, and the former president himself will begin the long process of actively editing if not wholly rewriting the history of his administration. Yet Clinton's power can only increase if conservatives use him as a crude effigy, both for political and financial purposes.

Thus what Bill Clinton demands, permanently, is what FDR enjoyed (and exploited) perpetually: enemies. Bill Clinton wants to brandish every noteworthy piece of conservative literature, as he surely will, during the forthcoming congressional elections; he wants what impeachment and Ken Starr only incompletely delivered - victimhood. Conservatives must not indulge Clinton's demands.

Make no mistake, impeachment is the ultimate sign of disapproval. That Mr. Clinton won acquittal is almost an historical asterisk - a point signifying little beyond the very real and damaging facts (conceded by several Democrats) that Bill Clinton is guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice. Fellow conservatives, consider Bill Clinton's acquittal the moral equivalent of O.J. Simpson's criminal court victory: a legal pronouncement unable to obscure or erase history.

Indeed, Bill Clinton is a bad person. But anti-Clintonism, at least in the personal sense of the word, is not an agenda. And, no matter how many times conservatives rightly credit George W. Bush with having restored "honor and dignity" to the Oval Office, this is not a successful political strategy. Elections are contests of ideas (or at least they should be), and there is an important distinction between substance and style. Consider the differences between Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, for example. Reagan enjoys the title the "Great Communicator" for an obvious reason: he energized his ideas powerfully and eloquently ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall"). Conversely, Bill Clinton is known as "Slick Willie," a man who uses words as a glorified means of escape ("It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is").

The challenge for conservatives is this avoidance of slickness. Conservatives need to squarely confront two important realities - that Bill Clinton is a disgraced private citizen, and that liberalism will neither honor nor include conservative principles. Fellow conservatives, we need an agenda!

Here in California, Democrats enjoy a virtual political monopoly. Yet conservatives maintain the hope - no, the delusion - that an amiable personality is also a political philosophy. Simply stated, conservatives cannot supplant gray (of the gubernatorial Davis variety) with mere light . . . even during an energy crisis.

Political success in the aftermath of Bill Clinton requires an agenda. Conservatives can no longer use Mr. Clinton as a political catchall, absolving themselves of any or all future responsibility. The return of honor and dignity also demands powerful leadership. True leaders neither apportion blame nor escape responsibility; they simply lead. Fellow conservatives, forget Bill Clinton.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles.Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Lewis A. Fein