The Meaning of Politics

The widespread popular discontent that so defined the 1992 election campaign continued unabated into the first year of the new president's term. It would not have mattered who won. Most people's disaffection with politics as we know it now runs so deep that it is the beginning assumption of most conversations about our public life.

While the Clintons haven't changed that, they have contributed to the start of a much needed discussion. On April 6, Hillary Rodham Clinton made a now-famous speech in Austin, Texas, while her father was dying. For saying that "a sleeping sickness of the soul is at the root of America's ills" and suggesting we need a politics characterized by a new sense of caring, community, and higher moral purpose, the first lady was pilloried by the media pundits and moguls.

In expressing her longing for spiritual values and political life to fit together, Clinton called for a new "politics of meaning" - a phrase borrowed from Michael Lerner and Tikkun magazine (one of my favorite publications). That brought Lerner into a media feeding frenzy by a cynical press who seemed extraordinarily threatened by any notion of politics beyond self-interest and the struggle for power.

Clinton was dubbed "St. Hillary" by The New York Times Magazine, and Lerner was portrayed as her self-appointed guru. The White House has since distanced itself from Tikkun and a bruised and battered Lerner now reflects that he may have made too much of his connection to the Clintons. Yet, the questions that both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Lerner were trying to raise are absolutely critical to the discussion of politics we most need to have. Those issues will not go away.

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Sojourners Magazine January 1994
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