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'Cause You Forgot About Bill

Democratic candidates should not be frontin'

By Eoghan W. Stafford

The president did what?

Oh man, hey, that’s all good, baby.

In these opening lines to the 1998 song “Playas’ Holiday,” rapper Too Short appears to be giving props to President Bill Clinton for his extra-marital escapades, which had dominated the news that year. But the true nature of Short’s tribute is revealed in the lines that follow:

He got rid of the player haters too?

Ah man, we need to declare this a national holiday.

We gon’ call this “Playas’ Holiday.”

Clearly the “player haters” alluded to are former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and his fellow Congressional Republicans. Short is lauding the president for having deftly defused the 1998 Republican impeachment attempt, thereby precipitating the resignation of hater-in-chief Gingrich. It is this Clintonian political prowess that prompts Too Short’s call for a “national holiday” and his suggestion that its title should indicate a commemoration of the nation’s “players.”

After two lost elections in a row, the question on every Democrat’s mind now is: Where are we going to find another badass like Bill Clinton?

But Clinton was not only known for his superhuman abilities to charm the nation’s voters. The other defining feature of the Clinton years, the Democratic Party’s turn to the right, is captured in the Geto Boys’ song, “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta,” released shortly after Clinton’s election in 1992.

In a verse that begins “And now, a word from the president,” the Geto Boys sardonically imagine Clinton rapping:

To all you Republicans that helped me win,

I’d sincerely like to thank ya’.

Cause now I got the world swingin’ from my n--s.

Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta.

A lot of Democratic politicians seem to think the world will be swinging in such a manner for them if they just court Republican voters with Clintonesque centrism. But was it really his centrism that made Clinton the smoothest player in Washington?

Governor Howard Dean debunked that notion in his recent visit to Harvard. “Bill Clinton won because he was Bill Clinton,” Dean said. “We ought to stop trying to be Clinton, because we ain’t Clinton.” Word.

And yet most aspiring Democratic candidates think that if they adopt Clinton’s centrism, they’ll be blessed with his charisma and the electoral love voters showered on him. These politicians are like the hordes of rappers obsessed with being the next Tupac. In his song “In Da Club,” Fifty Cent complains: “They like me; I want ‘em to love me like they loved Pac.” Substitute “Clinton” for “Pac,” and you’ve summed up what John Kerry has been thinking for the past year.

Like Gore before him, Kerry won the primary by promising to uphold “Clinton’s legacy.” But centrism minus the vision, the charisma and the conviction ended up equaling risk-free campaigning, which left voters decisively underwhelmed. On election day, he got served.

Kerry’s greatest campaign moment was his speech at New York University in September when he called the Iraq war a “colossal failure of judgment” and said he would not have invaded. But it was too late. He’d already hedged his bets, telling reporters at the side of the Grand Canyon that he would have authorized force against Iraq, even knowing everything he knew now. Kerry had achieved the fine art of simultaneously playing it safe and shooting himself in the foot.

As Dean reminded us in his recent speech at George Washington University, if Deomcrats keep being “Republican-lite,” we will keep losing. That’s not to say we should reject all moderate ideas and become dogmatic leftists. But we can’t abandon the progressive struggle for economic and social justice just because we’re afraid some Republican might call us “liberal”—Democrats could call for the invasion of France, and Republicans would still call us “liberal.” Somehow our party’s leaders still haven’t figured this trick out. The result? Time after time, we get schooled.

Instead of obsessively pandering to swing voters, Democrats must win more Americans over to our humane and common-sense vision. But we won’t convince anyone until we act like we actually believe in that vision. That means taking some risks. Dean captured people’s hearts with his candor and conviction. Sure, Democrats loved his opposition to the Iraq war, while his NRA-friendly views on gun control… not so much. But we respected him because he stood by his beliefs. He kept it real, and his straight talk inspired people who were turned off by politics-as-usual. He wasn’t Bill (or Tupac), but Dean drew rallies of ten to fifteen thousand people in the summer of 2003, six months before a primary election.

Instead of congratulatin’, fellow Democrats were hatin’. Kerry convinced primary voters that Dean was not only “Too Short” but also “Too Liberal.” Perhaps ironically, Senator Kerry wound up being branded a “Lib’ral Bow Wow” by Bush in the general election. No doubt the haters are going try to use the “liberal” stigma to bring Dean down in his bid to replace Terry McAuliffe as party chairman. But this time around, instead of frontin’ and pretending to be Republicans, Democrats better represent for the progressive cause. It’s time to drop this pandering to the right like it’s hot.

Eoghan W. Stafford ’06 is a social studies concentrator in Leverett House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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