Cuckoo in the Nest

Readers of these screeds will have noticed that we have been maintaining a discreet silence of late. The news, such as it is, has concentrated heavily on the presidential horse race: who, when the day after the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November dawns, will occupy the glittering alabaster throne of the American imperator? We, who have been scoffing at political hacks since Sherman Adams donned his Vicuna coat, have declined to be drawn into this unseemly business. The course of empire makes its way; to comment is tautological.

The saturation coverage afforded the presidential horse race, with all its vapid, soap-operaish attitudinizing about the petty personality traits of the candidates has become so overwhelming as to drown out the purpose and meaning of elections in a nominally constitutional republic. How many more election cycles before we descend to the level of Argentina or the Philippines, where ex-divas, beauty queens, or mistresses of dead dictators ascend the greasy pole of power on the strength of their tear-jerking karaoke numbers? Or like Russia, where the heir of Peter the Great appeared on the stage of a rock concert on election night with his designated successor, both of them garbed in studded leather jackets like a couple of skinheads?

Petty and melodramatic the squabbles of the campaign may be, but on rare occasions they afford us a glimpse at the Realpolitik the candidate is likely to implement upon election — indeed, they suggest what the whole campaign is about, win or lose. And perhaps winning is not the point; the higher objective is to shore up the status quo.

How else can one interpret Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s denigration of her Democratic primary opponent’s foreign policy experience, while at the same time she praised that of the putative Republican nominee, Senator John McCain? Objectively, the argument is bosh, since Senator McCain has no more meaningful executive command time under his belt than any of the other 99 Senators duly chosen and sworn. His foreign policy pronouncements as a senator are nothing but the expression of the aggressive, frustrated impulses of someone who needs desperately to vindicate his past life.*

But what is even odder is the fact that in praising Senator McCain, Senator Clinton is handing ammunition to her potential Republican opponent in the general election campaign. Sparse as Senator McCain’s foreign policy experience and judgment are, Senator Clinton is framing an issue that would work to her Republican rival’s advantage. A thorough reading of the United States Constitution would make one conclude that the office of the first lady had no constitutional basis or line authority in the chain of command from the president on down.

Then why did she make that comparison, to her Democratic rival’s disadvantage and her potential Republican rival’s benefit? Perhaps she got carried away in the heat of a tight primary campaign and said whatever sounded plausible to discredit her immediate opponent, figuring that she would deal with Senator McCain should she be fortunate enough (or cunning and devious enough) to secure the Democratic nomination. Perhaps. But imagining, a month or two ago, one of the Republican candidates denigrating his party confreres in comparison to a Democrat, shows how unlikely Ms. Clinton’s outburst was as an act of mere inadvertence.

Senator Clinton, and her husband before her, are a kind of flywheel that regulates the Democratic Party machinery. They embody the policy preferences of an oligarchy that has run this country more or less continuously since the Maine gurgled into the murk of Havana harbor. The oligarchy has two non-negotiable demands: first, that American finance at its apex must be run by a small cartel of monopolists mislabeling itself as proponents of the "free market"; and second, the care and feeding of the war machine must be attended to. Once those two demands have been met, it doesn’t really matter which party wins the presidency. The yokels can exercise themselves to their hearts’ content over religion in public life, "family values," or other distractions, as long as the oligarchs control the counting house and the arsenal.

The Republican primary process has long since winnowed down the possibilities to the most pro-war plausible candidate who ran in that series of contests. Therefore, it is not necessary that Senator Clinton should win the general election, merely that she should deny the nomination to someone, like Senator Obama, who is at least in a rhetorical sense unambiguously anti-war. She is, as was her husband in the previous decade, the cuckoo in the Democratic nest.



*As the first "crisis" over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions peaked in late 1994, Senator McCain advocated — almost alone — bombing the reactor sites. In 1999, he offered an amendment on the Senate floor to authorize the introduction of U.S. ground forces into Kosovo, something even the Clinton administration, with all its grandstanding about "humanitarian intervention," did not seek. This pattern of reckless foreign policy judgment persists to the present day.