The two ex-leaders speak their minds….
Bill Clinton and Tony Blair no longer have power, but they still have advice. They perceive plenty of people in need of it.
The needy include progressives in the United Kingdom, where the Labour Party has not had power in a long while, and the United States, where the Democratic Party has power for now but looks likely to lose lots of it in midterm elections this fall. Together, they offered a fitness program of sorts for members of their own parties that they fear are getting badly out of shape.
Clinton urges progressives to rebuild atrophied muscles of persuasion. “I think one of the ways you win elections is by talking straight with people and giving them permission to vote against you,” he explains in the most recent edition of his podcast. In other words, don’t hector and moralize, as though the merits of your position should be self-evident to any decent person. Assume a position of modesty that argues, “If you really disagree with this, then you will go out and take another choice, but here’s why I think it’s better for you.”
Blair urges progressives to rebuild atrophied muscles of self-discipline. For much of the left, Blair said on Clinton’s program, it’s not clear that their main goal is really to win power or wield it: “Its primary purpose is to make itself feel good about itself, right? To convince itself that it’s principled, right? But that is in the end, something that leads you to self-indulgence.” Unless progressives commit to reclaiming the center in “culture wars,” Blair added, they’ll remain vulnerable to “some loose remark from someone” being exploited by the right and will be “hammered day in, day out. That’s just not competent politics.”
A reasonable question: Who cares what these superannuated politicians have to say? A reasonable answer: Even now, a generation after they came to power, Clinton and Blair are still the emblematic representatives of a distinct brand of progressive centrism.
That description is faint praise to some ears, and criticism to others. But this is an apt moment to recall a time when it was invoked unambiguously as a compliment…