Conservative Reihan Salam and Marxist Bhaskar Sunkara on Bill Clinton’s Big Speech

A_560x375In New York magazine (via Doug Henwood):

Reihan: So, as a Marxist and as a stinging critic of neoliberal technocratic orthodoxy, what do you make of the hero-worship of that old smoothie, William Jefferson Clinton?

Bhaskar: I can understand the appeal, I really can. He's absolutely dripping with charisma, and his speech last night articulated the Obama line stronger than Obama ever could. Of course, he oozes with a certain unnerving creepiness, but I think that response has more to do with my status as a guy skeptical of used-car salesmen rather than my status as a socialist.

What was interesting about the speech and what “the boy from Hope, Arkansas” has always done well is mix a populist appeal, talking about shared prosperity and equal opportunity in the broad strokes, but actually delivering austerity quite well on the specifics. He did work to reform welfare, and he was a deficit hawk, yet somehow, Clinton manages to maintain the authenticity to present himself as a friend to the poor and downtrodden. It's the beautiful sophistry of the Third Way.

Reihan: I was particularly struck by his reference to the structural component of unemployment, an idea that has had a lot of postcrisis resonance for neoliberals who insist that a robust employment recovery might be beyond reach due to skills deficits, etc. — an idea that President Bush's CEA chair Edward Lazear, oddly enough, has recently challenged. Anything that set off your alarm bells?

Bhaskar: Yeah, it was only a few decades since full employment was a major plank of American liberalism. How the world has changed since the disco era. I'm trying to bring back the shiny suits, too. But what really struck me was the use of “fiscal responsibility” as a watchword and bashing Romney on those grounds, while it's obvious to anyone with an ounce of sense that the Democrats are the party far more tied to entitlement programs. Still, Clinton is a deficit hawk, so that seems fair enough coming from him.