R. Emmett Tyrrell's latest book, The Clinton Crack-Up (Thomas Nelson Books 2007) places the Clintons, once more with feeling (and also acuity plus the sharp Tyrrell wit), under the microscope and concludes that the 2008 election, with Hillary perhaps the leading contender for the Democratic Presidential nod, will once and for all resolve the intra-generation fratricidal political war within the Baby Boom (b. 1946 - 1964) cohort.
Tyrrell's book chronicles not only the lowlights of the Clinton years in Arkansas and at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but also carries the story through the 2006 re-election of Hillary as junior Senator from New York. Bill has continued bed-hopping and added money-grubbing to his repertoire since leading office. Hillary, by contrast, has been generally dignified as she has risen more rapidly to Senatorial prominence than anyone since Lyndon Johnson. But she has had relapse moments, like this hilarious 45-second video on YouTube, which shows her in full First-Lady mode.
Having now written four tomes on the Clintons (two on Hill, one on Bill and now this book), the author is perhaps better qualified than anyone to lead us through the wreckage of their lives. Like Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, the Clintons break things--not merely vases, lamps and plates, but also people and careers. Indeed Tyrrell's own magazine, The American Spectator, which he founded in 1967 and built into a top-drawer conservative voice, was targeted for extinction by the Clinton Justice Department in 1998 for allegedly using a slush fund to fund articles aimed at discrediting the President with false accusations. In fact, the probe was dropped after a year, with nothing proven, but not before the magazine's offices had twice been burgled, plus a New York residence of Tyrrell's. Few have survived an encounter with the Clinton Mafia, composed of a gaggle of lowlife investigators, hit-team journalists and political hacks. Everything Tyrrell printed about the Clintons turned out to be, alas for the dignity of the Oval Office and its then-occupant, in fact true.
On 2008 Tyrrell opines that the campaign will prove the final Armageddon encounter that come Judgment Day, November 4, will once and for all resolve the red-blue war between the bi-coastal Baby Boomer elite and the heartland Boomers, who clung to traditional values while the coasts turned on, tuned in and dropped out--until going on to lucrative careers. These Tyrrell labels Coat and Tie Radicals, who stood in stark contrast to the traditional values exemplified by Marilyn Quayle in her speech at the 1992 Republican convention, in which she said that many Americans, like her, embraced the credo of their parents, and reject "destroying America in order to save it."
Two years ago I would have agreed with Tyrrell that 2008 would be just this kind of election. But two things have come to pass since then that, in my view, have upset the stage. First, the unraveling of President Bush's second term has ended the chance for a massive conservative realignment anytime soon. Second, the sudden emergence of Barack Obama's candidacy has separated liberal antiwar insurgents from Hillary's support base, and made possible thwarting her bid for the nomination. Obama is a Generation X candidate who talks in post-Boomer Newspeak.
The 2008 election thus now appears to me to be the Dukakis Election twenty years delayed. In 1988 Democratic Governor-nominee Michael Dukakis famously said: "This election is not about ideology; it's about competence." But Bush Senior, in a brilliant campaign directed by the late Lee Atwater, carried the banner of ideological conservatism to victory at the polls, using (a) the Willie Horton crime issue (first raised, incidentally, by Al Gore in the primaries), and (b) the flag (plus the disastrous video of Dukakis tooling around in an M-1 Abrams tank looking like a perfect target). Dukakis, self-cast as the cool, managerially-adept technocrat, fumbled away his last chance when he was asked during a Presidential debate (by CNN's Bernard Shaw) what he would do were his wife raped and murdered. To which the Duke replied on national TV that he would alert law enforcement authorities to pursue the matter. Middle American wives felt chalk screeching on the blackboard, and the Duke was history.
That noted, the Duke's "competence, not ideology" refrain rings true for 2008. The ability to manage the huge, complex dinosaur that is the federal government bids fair to dominate the 2008, race, in the wake of the managerial train-wreck of Bush Junior: the mess in Iraq, Katrina (though the locals were even worse), Social Security reform implosion, the hapless Gonzales Justice Department, the internecine warriors at CIA, the capture of two Secretaries of State by Foggy Bottom bureaucrats deeply hostile to the Bush foreign policy agenda, a near-disaster Supreme Court pick barely headed off by a revolt within his party base, and Presidential Medals of Freedom, no less, given to certain recipients who gravely wounded the Bush Administration (i.e., Iraq proconsul Paul Bremer and CIA chief George Tenet, who called Iraqi WMD "a slam dunk"and allowed the Valerie Plame mess to spin out of control).
But that is the future, and perhaps Tyrrell's "end of civil war" scenario will be proven right, after all. Best of all in his lively book is a wonderful surprise nugget from the author: His great-great grandfather, Patrick D. Tyrrell, who came to America from Dublin, ultimately became chief of the Chicago office of the Secret Service. In the author's library, under a picture of Abraham Lincoln, hangs a tribute to P.D. Tyrrell, dated April 14, 1887, from Robert Todd Lincoln. (April 14, 1887 was exactly 22 years after Lincoln's assassination at Ford's theater in Washington, DC.) Guarding Lincoln during the Civil War years must have been quite a trial, but at least P.D. Tyrrell never had to worry about White House interns and road groupies chasing (and being chased by) Mr. Lincoln.