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The Longest Goodbye: Why the Clintons Need to Leave the Stage

For 30 years, the Clintons have been the face of the Democratic Party. It is enough.

Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Bill Clinton speak onstage during the SeriousFun Children's Network Gala at Pier 60 on May 23, 2017, in New York City.

To the great confusion of many, Bill and Hillary Clinton will embark on a multi-city speaking tour beginning one scant week after the 2018 midterm elections. They will visit seven cities together, including Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and the immortal Wallingford, Connecticut, and will join Michelle Obama for another six engagements.

Without a clear purpose, the Clintons’ tour has the feel of some strange roadshow zoo. Come see the politicians! Only $375 a ticket! “Attendees will have the opportunity to hear one-of-a-kind conversations with the two leaders as they tell their stories from some of the most impactful moments in modern history,” explains Live Nation, which is promoting the tour.

Right, except when someone asks about the impeachment, Monica Lewinsky or Bill Clinton’s place in the constellation of #MeToo villains. Like as not, attendees will hear nothing of the sort; the itinerary for this journey only involves cities very friendly to the former First Family, and uncomfortable questions of any sort will probably be checked with the coats at the door.

The Clintons, for their part, are offering no public explanation for the timing or purpose of this road trip. They aren’t promoting a book like Obama is, and the midterm campaigns will all be over.

“Spokesmen for Bill and Hillary Clinton didn’t respond to questions about whom the ticket sales benefit,” reported the Boston Globe. “Or what, exactly, the message of the events would be. Or why the former two-term president and former secretary of state feel the need to hit the road now as a slice of the nation looks to future leaders to take on Trump.”

Pertinent question, that last bit there.

Thirty years after the Clintons first appeared on the national stage, the Democratic Party is in an astonishing state of disrepair. The midterm elections since 2010 have been lopsided wipeouts for the most part, with Republicans currently in control of both congressional chambers. Republicans have been running the table on state and local elections all across the country. Donald Trump is president of the United States of America, and has put a pair of far-right ideologues on the Supreme Court with the giddy help of Mitch McConnell and the Senate majority.

Blame gerrymandering, an unfair news media, money in politics, 9/11 or the man in the moon for these serial electoral calamities. All these are chapters in this book of failure, to be sure, but the book itself was written in large part by the policies and priorities of Bill and Hillary Clinton. So long as they fashion themselves as the reigning leaders of the Democratic Party, they will own much of the responsibility for its comprehensive collapse.

Bill Clinton was introduced to the country 30 years ago when he delivered a tragically poor opening night address to the 1988 Democratic National Convention. He became a candidate for president 27 years ago, won 26 years ago with the assistance of Ross Perot, won again outright 22 years ago and left office 18 years ago. In the intervening years, he has campaigned (grudgingly and sloppily at times) for candidates like Barack Obama, and delivered knockout convention speeches that all but erased his shabby 1988 showing. With the advent of the #MeToo movement, however, Bill Clinton has gone as dark and silent as a nuclear submarine … until this newest speaking tour.

Hillary Clinton – First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State and twice-failed presidential candidate – has arguably left a larger imprint on society than her husband over those three decades. At this point, however, her public presence is politically toxic, which is why she has also been virtually invisible during this midterm election season. Former candidates who lose to Donald Trump and poll at 36 percent don’t get invited to a lot of rallies.

While there is ample reason to disapprove of Hillary Clinton’s politics, a significant portion of that low approval rating can also be attributed to rank misogyny. The GOP took one look at Hillary Clinton 30 years ago, perceived her as a menace to its carefully constructed social order, and marked her for destruction. The higher her aspirations grew, the more gruesome the attacks against her became.

Hating the Clintons on a professional level has become a multi-million-dollar cottage industry. The garbage that has been thrown at Hillary Clinton over the last 30 years can only be explained by recognizing the shamelessness of her Republican enemies. From accusations that she had White House adviser Vince Foster murdered to claims she was running a pedophile ring out of a pizza shop, the bottom of the barrel has yet to be located.

In 2001, National Review columnist John Derbyshire argued that Bill and Hillary’s daughter Chelsea should be killed because her last name is Clinton. “Chelsea is a Clinton,” he wrote. “She bears the taint; and though not prosecutable in law, in custom and nature the taint cannot be ignored.” Derbyshire went on to favorably explain how Stalin, the Nazis and Imperial China murdered the family members of “objectionable citizens,” as he put it, often killing anyone else who happened to be nearby. “Neca eos omnes, deus suos agnoscet,” he concluded. “Let God sort ’em out.”

Derbyshire’s appalling statement wasn’t treated as some wild firework polluting the sky. It was, in fact, hardly noted simply because it was neither new nor particularly special. For the Clintons, the Derbyshire assault was just another Thursday, and therein lies the rub.

Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings are in the basement not because most people believe these preposterous stories, but because after 30 years a great many people are sick and tired of hearing them. Clinton’s enemies have not permanently damaged her political standing with facts, but with plodding duration. Quite simply, they wore everyone out.

Meanwhile, along with the Republican attacks are all the things Hillary Clinton actually did do – voted for the PATRIOT Act, voted for the Iraq War, cuddled up to Wall Street, promoted fracking across the globe while Secretary of State, lost a presidential election to Donald Fa Chrissakes Trump, to name a smattering few – that have made her name a poison word to significant segments of Democratic base. The story behind those decisions is the real reason why both Clintons need to step out of the limelight and find a truly worthy endeavor, like building houses with Jimmy Carter.

Bill and Hillary Clinton, along with the modern Democratic Party, were all created by the full-spectrum political dominance enjoyed by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. With the exception of Carter’s four years, the Republicans had claimed full ownership of the White House since 1968. Watergate blew that up for a bit, but Reagan and his far-right post-Vietnam rampage put them back on track again.

In 1990, Bill Clinton became a founding father of the New Democrats, a genuinely cowardly movement based on the premise that the only way for Democrats to win a national election was to become more like Republicans. This involved accepting the flawed trickle-down economic premise of tax cuts and deregulation combined with massive defense spending and disdain for the social safety net. In short, Bill Clinton and his New Democrats dragged the party away from Franklin Delano Roosevelt and toward Ronald Reagan, and Hillary Clinton was right there with him.

One of the ideas behind this generational disaster of a movement was that the Republicans would play nicer if the Democrats were more like them, and maybe then we could “get things done.” The New Democrats failed to recognize then, and continue to do so even now, that the GOP is only interested in the complete annihilation of the Democratic Party and the establishment of autocratic/theocratic one-party rule in the United States.

You don’t try to make friends with a house fire. You douse it. Imagine a football team letting its opponent start at the 50-yard line at the beginning of every drive, or a baseball team gifting second base to every opposing batter. They are halfway to scoring before you’ve even pulled your cleats on. The “New Democrat” strategy did not make sense 30 years ago, and makes even less sense today.

Beyond all this, there is the financial aspect of the politics. A central part of the New Democrats’ drive to be more like Republicans was, and remains, the establishment of deep ties between candidates, officeholders, the party and the worst people in the country. Wall Street brigands, petroleum barons and wealthy so-called “liberals” who only support candidates willing to preach the GOP’s “We Love Money” gospel are all welcome in the Clinton’s Democratic Party. As much as anything else the New Democrats have done, this embrace of high finance and Republican economic nonsense has damaged the entire country deeply, and perhaps permanently.

New and exciting progressive candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have not been invited to the fundraising banquet but managed to haul in unprecedented campaign donations anyway, another sign that the party is moving away from the failed Clinton/New Democrat model. The country is on the precipice of a potential political earthquake, with progressive candidates on the verge of securing historic victories virtually everywhere. If such a triumph is indeed secured, it will be the loudest possible signal to the Clinton faction of the party that its time has come to an end.

The Clinton Way has been with us for 30 years. Call it fair, call it unfair, call it a tomato sandwich for all I care. The brute fact of the matter is that the Democratic Party is badly damaged, the Clintons own a large slice of responsibility for the current state of affairs, and the time has come for new faces and better ideas to emerge. This will only happen if Bill and Hillary Clinton take a bow, say their thanks and exit the political stage.

It is my great hope that the two of them enjoy their upcoming speaking tour with quiet dignity and stay fully the hell out of the news cycle while the country digests the results of the midterm elections … and scene. They have ruled the Democratic Party roost for three decades. Their best possible final political act will be knowing when to quit.

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