Last week, I mentioned James Carville's "It's the economy, stupid!" motto, popularised by, and later falsely attributed to, Bill Clinton (for whom Carville worked). This week, let's ponder another Clinton phrase, which could be translated as "It's our society, stupid!", and which I was first alerted to by The Times' magnificent executive editor, Daniel Finkelstein.
Mr Finkelstein is better than me at spotting the parallels between America's politics and ours, and on this issue he made an argument so pertinent to the way we live now that I'll beg his forgiveness and re-iterate it. Let me set the context.
In 1994, Bill Clinton suffered heavy mid-term losses. He had talked to America in solid, financial language but the Republicans, effectively led by Newt Gingrich, had presented the electorate with their Contract with America. This talked not about inflation and low yields but social values and morality. Clinton didn't have the language to compete.
That language was contained in a book by the liberal Jew Ben Wattenberg called Values Matter Most. Published in 1995, it eloquently explained the social and moral deficiencies of Clinton's mid-term pitch. Persuaded by its argument, Clinton employed Wattenberg, toughened his stance on schools, welfare, crime – social issues all – and came up with a brilliant phrase: "No more something for nothing".
If you think about it, the hottest topics in British politics coalesce around this phrase. Europe? Those bureaucrats in Brussels pinch our cash, and what do we get? Nothing! Immigration? Those foreigners fill our houses, and what are they putting back in? Nothing! Bankers? We bailed them out, and what do we get? Nothing! Welfare? Look at yesterday's Sun front page: "£4m lottery winner 'claimed benefits'". Crime of any kind – taking, not giving – is classic something for nothing.
Europe, immigration, bankers, welfare, crime: all the big issues in British politics are about a visceral hatred of injustice – some of it stoked by lies and propaganda. The Daily Mail, generally understood as a crusader on behalf of Middle England, could just as well be seen as a crusader on behalf of "no more something for nothing". That's why it reliably exaggerates the "something" and misrepresents the "nothing".
As Mr Finkelstein points out, the irony here is that after the expenses scandal, most people think politicians are on the fiddle too. In other words, the people tasked with ending "no more something for nothing" happen to exemplify it in the public mind.
This, as my captain used to say when we were eight wickets down and 126 runs behind, is a tricky situation.Reuse content