The influential progressive historian Richard Hofstadter described American politics as often an arena for angry minds. He coined the term the paranoid style to capture the strain of politics to which such anger gave rise. Hofstadter notably tagged liberal bogeyman Joe McCarthy as an exponent of the paranoid style.
It would take an oberver with an intellect comparable to Hofstadter’s to capture the Clintonite style. Today Bill Clinton is back in the news (where has he been?) as a result of comments he made while speaking to a group of veterans in Charlotte, North Carolina yesterday. According to the AP, Clinton made the comments while speculating about a general election between his wife and John McCain:
“I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country. And people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics.”
Speaking on behalf of Senator Obama, retired Air Force General and Obama campaign co-chair Tony McPeak took offense at Clinton’s comments. Indeed, purporting to hear in them a hint of the paranoid style, he invoked that old liberal bogeyman to condemn them: “I grew up, I was going to college when Joe McCarthy was accusing good Americans of being traitors, so I’ve had enough of it,” McPeak said.
This particular flap is a tempest in a teapot, but it provides an opportunity to meditate on the Clintonite style. James Carville presents an extreme case of the style that is particularly useful for observation. Watch Carville at work, for example, in the first three minutes of the clip below from “The War Room,” the excellent 1993 documentary on Bill Clinton’s campaign. It is six days before the New Hampshire primary and Gennifer Flowers has just held her press conference documenting her long relationship with Clinton, playing audio tape of her conversations that seemed to confirm her intimacy with him.
The Clinton campaign is on the brink of destruction. Freely displaying his trademark vulgarity, Carville rallies the dispirited troops by calling out the dastardly Republicans behind Flowers and her dirty tricks. Carville names them all: Roger Ailes, George H.W. Bush, and Georgette Mosbacher (!). Do you recall what was revealed the day Bill Clinton almost died?
Carville himself is also back in the news, commenting on Bill Richardson’s endorsement of Barack Obama: