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Good Ol’ Bill, The Liberal Hero


On 14 August, you are invited to “an audience” with Bill Clinton in London. You have a choice. You can attend the “breakfast and speech” or the “brunch buffet and speech”. These will take place in the white elephantine Millennium Dome, where a place in the “Kings’ Row” will cost you £799. Last year, Clinton made more than £5m granting “audiences”. Not only the usual corporate types attend. A few years ago, I watched a conga line of writers, journalists, publishers and others of liberal reputation shuffling towards his grotesquely paid presence at the Guardian Hay Festival.

The Clinton scam is symptomatic of the death of liberalism – not its narcissistic, war-loving wing (“humanitarian intervention”), which is ascendant, but the liberalism that speaks against crimes committed in its name, while extending rungs of the economic ladder to those below. It was Clinton’s promotion of the former and crushing of the latter that so inspired new Labour’s “project”. Clinton, not Bush, was Cool Britannia’s true Mafia godfather. Keen observers of Tony Blair will recall that during one of his many farewell speeches, the sociopath did a weird impersonation of Clinton’s head wiggle.

Clinton is able to make a shed load a money because he is contrasted with the despised Bush as the flawed good guy who did his best for the world and brought economic boom to the US – the fabled American dream no less. Both notions are finely spun lies. What Clinton and Blair have most in common is that they are the most violent leaders of their countries in the modern era; that includes Bush. Consider Clinton’s true record:

In 1993, he pursued George H W Bush’s invasion of Somalia. He invaded Haiti in 1994. He bombed Bosnia in 1995 and Serbia in 1999. In 1998, he bombed Afghanistan; and, at the height of his Monica Lewinsky troubles, he momentarily diverted the headline writers to a major “terrorist target” in Sudan that he ordered destroyed with an onslaught of missiles. It turned out to be sub-Saharan Africa’s largest pharmaceutical plant, the only source of chloroquine, the treatment for malaria, and other drugs that were lifelines to hundreds of thousands. As a result, wrote Jonathan Belke, then of the Near East Foundation, “tens of thousands of people – many of them children – have suffered and died from malaria, tuberculosis and other treatable diseases”.

Long before Shock and Awe, Clinton was destroying and killing in Iraq. Under the lawless pretence of a “no-fly zone”, he oversaw the longest allied aerial bombardment since the Second World War. This was hardly reported. At the same time, he imposed and tightened a Washington-led economic siege estimated to have killed a million civilians. “We think the price is worth it,” said his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, in an exquisite moment of honesty.

Clinton’s economic “legacy” – like Blair’s – is the most unequal society Americans have known. In his last presidential year, 1999, I walked along the ocean front at Santa Monica in California and was struck by the number of middle-class homeless, “bag gents” who had lost executive jobs and families thanks largely to Clinton’s North American Free Trade treaty. As for working Americans, the boasted high employment figures concealed a reversion to real wage levels of the 1970s. It was Clinton, not Bush, who wiped out the last of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Back in Santa Monica the other day, I noted the bag gents had multiplied.

These days, you see Good Ol’ Bill, or the Comeback Kid, as he is variously known, wiggling his head on the TV news, campaigning for his wife, Hillary, among Americans who, terminally naive, still believe the Democratic Party is theirs and that “it’s time to vote a woman into the White House”. Together, the Clintons are known as “Billary” and rightly so. Like Good Ol’ Bill, his wife has no plans to address the divisions of a society that allows 130,000 Americans to claim the wealth of millions of their fellow citizens. Like GOB, she wants to continue Iraq’s torment for perhaps a decade. And she has “not ruled out” attacking Iran.

Those settling down in the Kings’ Row at the Millennium Dome on 14 August for breakfast or brunch with GOB, having transferred another swag to the Clinton bank account, are unlikely to reflect on the blood spilt and the epic suffering caused, or on the moral corruption of the liberal ideology that courted and acclaimed Clinton, along with the criminal Blair.

But we should.

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