New dimensions in cynicism

When I was a college senior I raised the money to bring Garry Wills to campus to give a lecture on the 1972 presidential election. Wills had recently published the book Nixon Agonistes, which mightily impressed me, and I wanted to hear what he had to say. He agreed to speak not only on the election, but also to throw in another lecture on Macbeth for free as part of a two-for-the-price-of-one package. The lecture took place in late October or early November, within days of the election. As I recall, Henry Kissinger had just announced that “we believe peace is at hand” in Vietnam (that was on October 26).

Wills framed his election lecture on the theme “Vote for your enemy; he has no one to sell out to but you.” You can get a glimpse of Wills’s thinking at the time in his Times column “Four more years? Learning to live with Nixon.”

Wills’s thesis has stuck in my mind. An impressionable young man, I was impressed by it at the time. Upon further reflection, however, I doubt its truth along with much else that Wills has had to say since, at least about anything connected to politics.

At the time I thought Wills’s thesis was the ne plus ultra in political cynicism. Now I think it has been superseded by Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is the ne plus ultra in political cynicism. She is so cynical that she makes it all but impossible to apply Wills’s proposition.

Consider the case of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Madam Hillary: supporter or opponent? CNN’s Jake Tapper reports 45 instances of her support of Clinton pushing for a TPP trade deal while Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. The Free Beacon’s David Rutz has compiled 24 instances of Clinton’s support of the TPP into the video below (Steve posted it yesterday here).

Since she has felt pressure from the left in the course of her pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination, however, she has experienced a dark night of the soul. She has had sober second thoughts. Now she tentatively opposes it.

On Sunday in Iowa, Clinton said that “the President should listen to and work with his allies in Congress, starting with (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi, who have expressed their concerns about the impact that a weak agreement would have on our workers, to make sure we get the best, strongest deal possible. And if we don’t get it, there should be no deal.”

Clinton added, “there are some specifics in there that could and should be changed. So I am hoping that’s what happens now — let’s take the lemons and turn it into lemonade.”

The Washington Post has expressed disappointment in Madam Hillary’s recent tergiversations in a good editorial that bears on my thoughts here. “The most hopeful thing to be said about this deeply disappointing abandonment of the president she served, and the internationalist tendency in Democratic ideology she once embodied, is that it is so transparently political,” the Post editors write. “Cynical? Perhaps, but as we said, that’s the hope.” They’re taking a cue from the Wills school of politics and from the lady herself, taking a lemon and turning it into lemonade.