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Bill Clinton: Unlikely Hero of the Liberal Netroots

4 years ago
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How times have changed. In his own era, the 1990s, Bill Clinton was hardly the flag-bearer for the nation's fledgling liberal "netroots" -- the grassroots blogosphere -- let alone the darling of the Democratic left.

For starters, the man didn't even know how to use a computer. And during the 1992 presidential campaign, then-Gov. Clinton signed off on the execution of a brain-damaged African-American inmate, baited Jesse Jackson, and promised to "end welfare as we know it" – all while vowing to be a "different kind of Democrat." As president, he refused to end discrimination against gays in the military, signed a federal law in time for his 1996 re-election that was aimed at barring gay marriage, and failed to get a single vote in the Senate for the Kyoto climate accords.

That was then. This was now.

Reincarnated as a gay rights-supporting, climate change-touting, netroots-loving apostle of liberal bloggers and progressive politics, Clinton made his appearance Thursday night at the Netroots Nation convention in Pittsburgh, where an adoring crowd didn't seem to mind a bit that in one respect Clinton hadn't changed at all in two decades: He was still late. Although the organizers of the event had altered their planning to accommodate Clinton's schedule, he still ran behind. According to Ari Melber, who covers the 'Net movement for The Nation magazine, nobody seemed to mind. Melber's excellent account is here.

"The Big Dog is running late," Melber posted at 9:30 p.m. "In the packed ballroom here, which is dotted with the most recent annual report from Clinton's foundation, people don't seem restless."

Like any tardy guest, Clinton was gracious when he showed up. "I'd like to thank you for what you do and the contribution you have made to dramatically elevating our public discourse and the base level of knowledge of people," the former president said at the beginning of his remarks.

"I keep a file with me on economics and a file on energy," Clinton added, "and I was looking through it the other day and was stunned at the number of articles that came from blog sites."
This is music to digital journalists' ears – even those here at Politics Daily who have no partisan ax to grind. But the former president suggested that he finds such ethics a dated conceit: He lauded the blogosphere for its transparency in wearing its partisan leanings on its collective sleeves. "You don't have to pretend you're not (taking sides)," Clinton said.

As if on cue, a blogger named Lane Hudson began heckling Clinton over his famous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding gays in the military. "Big Dog" replied that he'd done his best – and that Congress was poised to override any executive order he had in mind repealing the ban. That's not quite the way those of us who covered the issue remember it, but no matter. This crowd was with him, and it stayed that way, incongruously applauding the former president and not the speaking-truth-to-power blogger – thereby proving that technology has not yet solved the human propensity to be star-struck.

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