This is about as disingenuously fake-progressive as a candidacy announcement could be. A very slick production, combining a subtle undercurrent of pretend populism with less subtle appeals to racial, ethnic, sexual, and gender identity.
Still, the very Wall Street-friendly Hillary’s late entrance claiming to care that “the deck is stacked for those at the top” (or whatever the exact words were) is stiff and unconvincing. She just doesn’t have the magic and flair for the campaign trail, for the “manipulation of populism by elitism” that the formerly left [Christopher] Hitchens once identified as “the essence of American politics.”
Hillary’s ad vs. her record
Let’s just start with this. When Bill Clinton was in office, Hillary and Bill functioned as a powerful political team. She was intimately involved in, and approved of, his administration’s policy decisions. If and when she becomes president, we will get the same team. So let’s look at their record together, her record as a previous presidential candidate, and her record as a senator.
First of all, Hillary is no friend of children and families in need. In 1996, with Hillary’s encouragement, Bill Clinton signed a bill that destroyed the major federal program to help poor people and poor families—Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Seventy percent on that program were children. Thanks to the Clintons, poor children have dropped off the radar.
In a 2013 article in Dissent Magazine, Fred Block and Frances Fox Piven describe what happened to the poor under the Clintons:
The new legislation completely eliminated the AFDC program along with the entitlement to assistance that it had created, and replaced it with a new program called “Temporary Aid to Needy Families” that was administered at the state level, with substantial federal restrictions on how the money was to be spent. The program imposed a strict five-year time limit on welfare receipt, and states were encouraged (with both carrots and sticks) to set even more stringent limits. The biggest incentive was a guaranteed fixed-block grant from the federal government; if they moved recipients off the rolls, states could repurpose the grant funds to pay for other things. Now monies that once went to poor moms in the form of welfare checks go to for-profit companies.
This is just one example of what corporate Democrats like the Clintons have done to destroy the progressive legacy of the Democratic Party.
Hillary’s Goldman-Sachs problem. In Bill’s administration, Hillary was equally close to the action on economic policy. Ex-Goldman chairman, Robert Rubin, and his protege Lawrence Summers, were the people in the Clinton administration who deregulated Wall Street, a direct cause of the economic meltdown of 2008 and the misery that followed. Hillary Clinton was in full support of Bill signing the Wall Street friendly legislation that led to the Great Recession—the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, the Financial Services Modernization Act, which gutted Glass-Steagall. Rubin was also the architect of NAFTA, and other job killing trade deals.
No surprise that Goldman has donated between $250,000 and $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation. In 2013, Hillary, who carried water for Wall Street as a senator, gave two paid speeches to Goldman Sachs audiences at around $200,000 a pop.
Hillary’s buddies at Goldman hardly exemplify the values and principles she puts forward in her ad. In 2011, a senate investigative report concluded that Goldman had misled clients by selling complicated securities to customers that were secretly designed to fail.
The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s report also described Goldman as a first-class predator. It described the firm as knowingly peddling junk to suckers who trusted them. One expert compared Goldman’s wheeling-and-dealing to “buying fire insurance on someone else’s house and then committing arson.”
Last year, the New York Times reported that Goldman Sachs and other financial firms conspired to rig the aluminum market, costing consumers billions of dollars, and adding to the burden of already struggling middle-class families.
Remember, these are Hillary’s friends.
A year ago Hillary gave a policy speech at the New America Foundation in DC, where she talked about the financial plight of Americans who “are still barely getting by, barely holding on, not seeing the rewards that they believe their hard work should have merited. She talked about the “shadow-banking system” that caused the financial crisis. No surprise, she sounded a lot like Elizabeth Warren, because at that time Warren was seen as a threat to her candidacy. Yet she has very deep ties to Wall Street CEOs who will fund her campaign.
This is the cynical side of politics. She has to sound populist to get elected and Wall Street knows that, which is why you have to take what she says, how ever well-written and passionately delivered, with a grain of salt. The proof will be in who she brings into her administration, her actual policies, and who those policies serve.
On foreign policy and national security. One of my worst fears about Hillary is her simpleminded, warmongering attitude toward the rest of the world, and her unthinking dedication to the perpetuation of U.S. economic and military hegemony. During the 2008 presidential primary, the Guardian quoted her comments on Iran:
“In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”
My question is: What kind of human being talks about “totally obliterating” another country? And what will she do when she is “commander-in-chief, when she will have the power to do so?”
No surprise that after becoming a senator, Hillary voted for the Iraq war. Since then, she has worked tirelessly to build her cred as a hawk. As Doug Henwood writes at Harper’s:
She backed an escalation of the Afghanistan war, lobbied on behalf of a continuing military presence in Iraq, urged Obama to bomb Syria, and supported the intervention in Libya. As Michael Crowley wrote in Time, “On at least three crucial issues — Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid — Clinton took a more aggressive line than [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.”
Hillary’s terrible record on civil liberties. When in the Senate, she voted for the Patriot Act and its reauthorization. She has defended NSA surveillance and accused whistleblower Edward Snowden of supporting terrorism.
Robert Sheer, in an interview with Democracy Now! comments:
She didn’t trust the State Department with her email, but she never told us that the State Department, the CIA and the NSA were spying on the emails of all Americans. No, but she thinks that’s fine. She’s just going to keep her email in her garage, you know, so I find her to be a center of cynicism and opportunism, and really quite reckless.
Should progressives vote for Hillary Clinton?
Her vicious record notwithstanding, I think we should consider voting for her for two important reasons: A) The Supreme Court will have vacancies to be filled, and B) a Republican president actually will be much worse.
I’ve grown to hate this notion, but, I think we have to vote for the “lesser of two evils.” I’m not using this phrase as a figure of speech. Both Democrats and Republicans hobnob with the power elite, take their billions, and do their bidding. Both candidates will lie and use populist rhetoric to manipulate us into voting for them. So, yeah, I think this constitutes “evil.” Unfortunately, we have a two-party system, and we have to struggle within that reality. Things are bad under corporate Democrats but they would be really bad under a Republican presidency.
We don’t have to be slavish, adoring groupies to vote for Hillary or to work for her campaign. We can engage strategically and pressure her on issues to force her to the left.
What progressives can do
Hillary is a political animal, and like all political animals, she responds to political pressure. What we progressives can do is educate ourselves on the power elites, how they function, and how she will be working with them. We can start by looking at her campaign advisors and whose interests they represent. We can be vocal in our criticism of her Wall Street alliances, and her record of undermining working people and the poor.
There is always the fear that criticism of a Democratic candidate from the left will cause him or her to lose, but that view comes from the all-or-nothing mentality of the personality-driven, groupie crowd that populates campaign offices. It’s time for grown-up, hardball politics. It’s not only OK to criticize a corporate Democratic candidate, it’s essential if we are to restore anything resembling a democracy.
It would not harm but rather strengthen Hillary’s candidacy if we call her on her fake populism and demand that she commit to real progressive policies—like, for starters, Medicare for all, the expansion of Social Security to an income the elderly could live on, raising the income cap on Social Security taxes, or the development of a national infrastructure bank. A genuine progressive would get a disengaged public to the polls. It would strengthen her candidacy if we call her out on her hawkish foreign policy and her support for Wall Street proxy wars, like the one being fought in Ukraine. We need to ask her, publicly, why the billions spent on defense (a form of government handouts to corporations and CEOs) would not be better spent on a peace economy that would benefit everyone. Finally, after she is elected, we can vow to be a constant thorn in her side until she delivers for the American people.