"I Did Everything But Fart In His Face"

by: David Sirota

Tue Sep 29, 2009 at 10:00

As a writer myself, I'm baffled by Taylor Branch's decision to follow up his epic work on the truly historic Martin Luther King, Jr. with a book on a historical footnote like Bill Clinton. I just don't get how you go from such genuinely important subject matter to tabloid-level stuff. Call me crazy, but hey - he's Taylor Branch, so who am I to question him? Really, he can do whatever he wants - I just don't get the choice.

That said, from the excerpts, I see there's some telling - if not really "newsworthy" - snippets in the book. In particular, check this out:

Clinton exploded in rage during an interview with Rolling Stone's William Greider when the journalist confronted him about the economic impact of NAFTA on America's working class. He yelled at Greider, telling him "You are a faulty citizen. You don't mobilize or persuade, because you only worry about being doctrinaire and proud," and lumping him in with "bitchy and cynical" liberals." Clinton told Branch: "I did everything but fart in his face."

We know from John R. MacArthur's fantastic book "The Selling of Free Trade" that corporate CEOs were bragging that Clinton was deliberately using NAFTA to run "over the dead bodies" of workers and the environmental movement. So the revelation about Clinton's interaction with Greider isn't groundbreaking...but it is telling.

Greider is one of the best journalists in the last few decades - his body of work and his willingness to cover the forgotten stories puts him right up there with Bill Moyers. Similarly, NAFTA was one of the most consequential economic policies debated and passed in the last few decades. And yet, here we had a president being asked substantive questions by one of the best reporters about one of the most important policies, and here we had that president call that reporter "a faulty citizen" and later brag that he "did everything but fart in his face." Perhaps even worse, that same president insisted the concerns about millions of jobs lost and families crushed came out of some petty desire to be "doctrinaire."

That tells you everything you need to know about the inner workings of the Democratic Party in Washington, D.C. these days: Expressing concern for working people - or, godforbid, legislating on their behalf - is worthy of having your face farted on.

Maybe that attitude, expressed on so many other working-class issues, is why, as I said to start, Bill Clinton is such a historical footnote.

David Sirota :: "I Did Everything But Fart In His Face"

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i'm as frustrated as anybody about the Clinton years... but Clinton does have a right to be frustrated (0.00 / 0)
Progressives have done a poor job describing an alternative vision to NAFTA and globalization. Hence why we're so quickly to be dismissed as doctrinaire and proud -- and some of us ARE so doctrinaire as to advocate straight-up isolationism. (I hope not too many are this stupid.)

NAFTA has mainly been a positive for the uber-rich though. That much is true.

The whore is offended (4.00 / 3)
I can understand, really I can. Whores and gangsters didn't invent themselves; human weakness did it for them. You might say the same of all the service professions, politics included. We provide a service may not be a complete defense against letting things go to hell in a handbasket, but neither is it entirely irrational.

That said, the grifters' complaint against honest leftists has alway been something like you don't know how the world really works, or you never want to get your hands dirty, or you never had to meet a payroll. Self-serving bullshit, of course. Tell it to Big Bill Haywood, or Martin Luther King, or even Walter Reuther.

People who want to change things, who want to disrupt the easy commerce between whore and john, between gangster and tributary, in the interest of a more equitable distribution of things essential to a decent life for all, have always been accused of not being worldly enough. In fact, the exact opposite is true, which history is about to reveal -- once again -- to all the inhabitants of the Washington pigsty, Bill Clinton included.

[ Parent ]
sincerely though... the lack of alternative in that three paragraph tirade is kind of telling. (0.00 / 0)
nothing about fair trade. nothing about labor standards. nothing about environmental standards. nothing about NGOs.

i can't tell if you're just pissed, or "proud and doctrinaire". and therein lies our problem.

[ Parent ]
Alternatives were proposed (4.00 / 5)
Most or all of them were defeated or watered down, and a certain number of them were recognizable hoaxes.

If a bill is bad, a perfectly fine alternative is no bill at all. Only after you've accepted "free trade" as the primary goal is it necessary to providing alternatives. When you accept the necessity of "free trade" you've given away half the game.  


[ Parent ]
The larger question (4.00 / 5)
How do you address the global wage differential, the ease with which capital crosses national borders, the defenselessness of much of the world's population to the power of that capital? This isn't a problem which socialism in one country can solve.

Danthrax seems to think that progressives are isolationists. Jesus! If I had any hair left, I'd tear it out. Did he ever ask himself why Mexicans and Guatemalans risk everything to come to El Norte, why Somalis attack freighters off their coast, what seed patenting, and the laws which permit it, are doing to the farmers of Africa?

Yeah, NAFTA sucked, but a better bill, with protections for American workers considered in isolation from the rest of the world situation, would hardly be a progressive alternative.

[ Parent ]
Three paragraphs isn't a political program, true.... (4.00 / 6)
Then again, you didn't really expect to find one, did you? People who say that the left is bereft of an overall vision, or of specific ideas, or of effective political strategies, generally haven't spent any time looking for them, or think that history began in 1948.

This is a comments section, not a library, but take my word for it. Seek and ye shall find. God knows, the incentives are becoming more attractive by the hour.

[ Parent ]
I advocate smart protectionism (4.00 / 4)
It used to be, pre-globalization, normal practice for achieving broadly distributed and strong economic growth. An 'infant industries' policy is needed in this country, as is protection against competition based on race-to-the-bottom wages and environmental protection.

The alternative vision needed is mundane (maybe that's the problem), that we need simply to return to the developed world's economic policies of 1945-1970, which caused the strong and very broadly distributed growth all across the developed and semi-developed world.

We also could use an incomes policy, which was also standard issue during the 1945-1970 golden age.

[ Parent ]
Thanks for this (4.00 / 4)
It's a corrective to the emerging revisionism among liberals, by which Corporatist Clinton is recast a pretty-damn-good progressive who wanted to be more progressive than his context allowed. Branch himself, in interviews, is pushing this dishonest depiction of his longtime friend. Also contributing are the posts that grow out of Clinton's charm-offensive sessions with bloggers.  

I can believe… (4.00 / 2)
...that Clinton "wanted to be more progressive," but he governed like a guy cowed by "his context" rather than one with the power to shape it. That's why the presence of onetime Clinton-ites like Rahm Emanuel, Lawrence Summers and the like in Barack Obama's administration seems so troublesome, problematic.    

"This ain't for the underground. This here is for the sun." -Saul Williams

[ Parent ]
I Disagree Somewhat (4.00 / 5)
I think Clinton really didhave progressive impulses.  He ran a more overtly populist campaign than either Mondale or Dukakis, that's for sure.  But he had no real intellectual moorings--lots of data, vision not so much--so he was easily flipped by the likes of Rubin.  And he was often utterly clueless about what he was giving away.

What this shows is the importance of ideas.  Having good instincts only gets you so far.  And when you end up, via bad ideas, betraying your instincts, then you end up yelling at William Greider and looking like a fool.

Because you are one.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Best in last 40 years (0.00 / 0)
Say what you want, but Clinton was the best President we've had in the last 40 years.  Better than Carter, Better than all the Republicans.  We had job growth, even in manufacturing, without either a war or a big defense buildup.

Stretching back, LBJ was much better on the home front but there's Vietnam.  JFK is hard to grade because he's really an Incomplete.  Ike had a tendency to do undercover fixes that cost incredibly down the line: Iran and Lebanon and Cuba and lots in South and Central America.  

Truman was in some ways a man faced with the same path who chose to fight rather than compromise.  

FDR.  Are you kidding.  Certainly one of the two greatest with Lincoln and quite possibly number one.

The string of bad (mostly Republican) Presidents culminating in George W. Bush reminds me of the string of bad Presidents culminating in Buchanan.  One good one (not great).  In the first case Polk.  A lot of old fogies.

[ Parent ]
What a joke ... (0.00 / 0)
... I'd make the case that bush sr., who I don't think much of at all and didn't vote for in the '92 elections (I voted for billy boy) was a better president than clinton.  He facilitated less damage to this country than clinton did although he only had only one term and he was very flawed.  bush sr's greatest damage to this country was being a terrible father and creating dum-ien ... mind you that you can't do much more damage than that.  But at least he didn't play a large part in turning the democrat party into corporate whores, didn't put nafta into law (which clinton helped drive), didn't allow the mega-media mergers which has contributed to the terrible state of our corrupted media, didn't tear down the wall between the banks and brokerages, didn't allow the unregulated derivative market to begin to be so large that they practically blew up our economy (maybe did, the jury is still out on that), didn't let a bastard like robber rubin chase the manufacturing out of this country via the strong dollar policy, didn't kick away one of the legs of our social support structure thru weakening welfare, etc., etc., etc.

clinton was the fortunate recipient of an era of unhealthy delusional wealth that was essentially created by the initial stimulus of the cheap goods coming into this country due to free trade (before so many jobs were exported in return, which took longer), other pro free trade policies by his scumbag secretary of treasury rubin, the heady intoxication of the internet technological revolution, the beginning of an era of easy credit, and the dumbass in the federal reserve that believed robber rubin about the productivity miracle and inflated the money supply to reflect our new found "wealth" ... all of which also led to the false wealth of the stock market bubble and the beginning of our bubble economy.  Wages went up very little during clinton's reign ... and at the end of it, most were worse off although that didn't get fully exposed until the bubbles blew up.

clinton was a disgrace. His damage to the party is still being felt. He helped create this growing police state that we now live in ... something that many clinton lovers love to overlook.  His reign led to an acceleration of the financialization of our economy, free trade, deregulation, severely weakened labor, free market madness, a weakened safety net for the poor, and other corporate friendly policies for 8 years. And a lot of the corporate corruption that was exposed in '02 and '03 began during the clinton years.  Some would even blame him for bush II, but I won't go that far.

We had our two worst presidents ... our most immoral, selfish presidents ... in recent times, if not all time, back-to-back with bush being an order of magnitude worse than clinton.  We are experiencing the effects of suffering from 16 years of terrible presidents and we may never overcome it.  


[ Parent ]
And the jackass is still trying to help big business by tenderizing the trigger ... (0.00 / 0)
... to make it more palatable as they try to stuff it down our gullet (But I guess he's somehow being arm-twisted by the republicans into doing this so it's not his fault ...):


If their trigger-locked trigger passes along with the mandatory insurance, maybe the insurance companies will give some of the billions that they'll make from their legislation to clinton's charity foundation.  And then he'll sprinkle a little bit of it back on the people who got screwed by it and many clinton loving fools will self-righteously point to that as proof of what a great guy he is.  

What a sorry bunch ...  


[ Parent ]
Only Clinton could've passed NAFTA (4.00 / 3)
If Bush (or even Perot) would've won, there's no chance that bill goes anywhere.

It seems that Branch - like any good historian - is using Clinton's life to talk about much larger forces and processes like deindustrialization, job loss, and underemployment.    

As the guy who passed NAFTA and represented the culmination of DNC & DLC plotting and planning over the course of a couple decades, Bill Clinton is hardly a footnote, however much we wish he were.                      

Good Point, But... (4.00 / 2)
David's still right.  With his King books, Branch was dealing with an entirely different caliber of people (not just King) and ideas.  It is a comedown, any way you look at it.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I completely disagree (4.00 / 4)
Moving from King's context to Clinton's certainly represents a step down in terms of the ethical caliber of the respective subjects, as you say.  

But that in no way reflects on the real power - as good a reason as any to take on a topic - wielded by Clinton and the people around him.  The rise of neoliberal internationalism is every bit as worthy a subject for analysis as the Civil Rights movement and arguably far more important in terms of its global impact.        

[ Parent ]
Did I Say ANYTHING About Power? (4.00 / 2)
In adiditon to which, Clinton was hardly at the center of that story.  It started long before him.

All I'm saying here is that you have a valid point, but it doesn't really negate David's.  It just presents another side.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
You could say the same thing about King and Civil Rights (4.00 / 1)
for exactly the same reasons.  The Civil Rights movement started long before MLK came on the scene and involved a number of other equally and arguably more important figures once he became relevant.      

And when you use a phrase like "any way you look at it," particularly in relation to a public figure like the President of the United States, one can reasonably assume that you're talking about power too.  Indeed, how can you evaluate the fitness of a such a subject for biographical treatment - the point of David's post - without taking power into consideration.

I'm NOT merely presenting "another side": David said Clinton is a "historical footnote," which makes for a pretty silly statement for a number of what should be very obvious reasons, not the least of which is Branch's approach to biography.        

[ Parent ]
for your first sentence (4.00 / 1)
I loved the MLK books.  I'd say he had the tapes so he had to do a book sometime, and now that he knows Hillary Clinton won't be President (at least anytime soon) it is safe to publish them.

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

Sometimes it is easier (4.00 / 2)
to cast yourself as a "restrained would have been a hero if only" than to make the effort and have the courage to actually be one.  Problem is heroes die, politically, and sadly as with the Kennedys, literally for their courage.  Bill always wanted to be JFK, but never understood what it took to match a man who would swim miles to save a fellow sailor and destroy his back to do it.  That sort of self sacrifice never came easily to Bill, and I think he is ashamed of that.

[ Parent ]
It's definitively more personally profitable ... (4.00 / 1)
... to go with what the corporations and big money want.  bill could attest to that, but of course he won't.


[ Parent ]
Clinton's Guilty Conscience Speaking (4.00 / 4)
My take is that Clinton really did want to help the working class.  Despite his DLC background, he certainly ran a much more blatantly economically populist campaign than any of the more "doctrinaire" liberal Democrats who preceded him.

But then, precisely because he was so "non-doctrinaire" he got rolled so fast it would make your head spin.

Hence the anger at Greider for not getting with the program.  What emperor wants to be questioned over his new clothes?

Clinton's irrational anger shows how spot on Grieder was.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Guilty conscience? Maybe. (0.00 / 0)
But I don't think it's because he wanted to do anything good and found himself drawn to the evils of compromise.  No, it's because he wanted to screw people over and have them love him for it.  Why would the free traders who wanted NAFTA passed boast that Clinton wanted to 'run "over the dead bodies" of workers and the environmental movement' if the president didn't want to 'run "over the dead bodies" of workers and the environmental movement'?

Clinton's tirades are borne of the knowledge that he made horrendously bad decisions that cannot ever be justified or accepted, and he cannot bear to be called out for having made them in the first place.  It's always got to be someone else's fault.

[ Parent ]

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