Contributing to an incipient Democratic effort to articulate a politics of the common good, Bill Clinton spoke at Georgetown University yesterday. I was reading along, remembering why I liked a good bit of what he had to say (but never believing he actually meant it) when I came to this howler:
You have to oppose people who do things that are wrong, but it is very hard to say theres going to be one set of rules for me and another set for everyone else.
I think the "common good" approach on national security worked. It was a combination of carrots and sticks. We did have military encounters. We didnt succeed at everything we tried to do, but I think on balance, the world was safer when we stopped than when we started.
Read that last sentence again. The world in which al Qaeda, checked only symbolically by the Clinton Administration and emboldened by its feeble efforts, was well into preparations for 9-11 was safer than the world in 1992. Whats more, the context of this comment is suggestive: hes talking about nuclear proliferation. If we have nuclear weapons, we cant really tell the Iranians and North Koreans that they cant have them too.
Much of the speech is a defense of the Clinton Administrations record and an attack on what Republicans have done the past six years, framed by a wish that we can have deep and respectful philosophical arguments about politics and policy. That last part is the Clinton I remember liking, but not believing. The rest is the real Clinton, so to speak. In the course of this extremely long (is there ever any other description of a Clinton speech?) attack on the Bush Administration, he blames Republicans for the hyperpartisanship and name-calling that now marks Washington. Not a good way to open up a respectful airing of our philosophical differences.
Or as he put it at one point in the speech, "it is very hard to succeed in politics when youre telling people theyre ugly all the time." In Bill Clintons world, its a bad idea to criticize the North Koreans but O.K. to heap opprobrium upon Republicans. But wait, the Republicans have nukes....