Wayne O'Leary

The Flim Flam Candidate

Now that Hillary Clinton has “won” her party’s first presidential debate and been accorded the Democratic nomination by the mainstream media and the national pundit class, its perhaps appropriate to assess the meaning of the proclaimed Clinton restoration.

Too soon to draw this dispiriting conclusion, you say? Not according to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who has already begun advising other candidates — in the first instance, Lincoln Chafee, who admittedly had a bad night in Las Vegas — to get out of the race. He reports and decides.

But I digress. At bottom, what Hillary’s assumed ascension represents is the triumph of ideological centrism and politics-as-usual, each rising from the ashes where they had supposedly been consigned by the new progressivism sweeping all before it in the Democratic party. Hillary herself coined the code phrase for this on debate night. She was, she said (unlike Bernie Sanders), a progressive who “likes to get things done,” accomplishment being more important than exactly what is accomplished.

Hillary’s husband, Bill, got things done, too, many of them bad — welfare “reform,” financial and telecommunications deregulation, NAFTA. But Hillary will be different from Bill goes the refrain, her own woman and definitely more left-leaning in response to changing times and a changing Democratic party. In rhetorical terms, that may be true, but there’s this thing about the Clintons: their deeds don’t always match their words. Bill ran from the progressive left in 1992, then governed from the center-right. And, we are led to believe, Hillary participated in all decision making as first lady. The Clintons, remember, are a team, first, last, and always; “two for the price of one” was the original election slogan.

There’s ample reason to doubt the authenticity of the new “progressive” Hillary. Too many recent statements advocating positions appealing to the Democratic left have been transparently crafted to fit the primary season: against the environmentally questionable Keystone XL pipeline after months of tactical dithering on the subject; against the unpopular Trans-Pacific Partnership after years of singing its praises as the “gold standard” for trade agreements; for repealing Obamacare’s scheduled “Cadillac tax” on generous employer-based health plans after labor unions crucial to a nomination raised objection.

A large part of today’s Hillary appeal among Democrats is an outgrowth of what people remember (or think they remember) about the 1990s. Among Blacks, a key Clinton constituency, it’s a transferred carryover of Bill’s high comfort level with them arising from his Southern roots, his race-blind friendships and political appointments (Vernon Jordan, Ron Brown), and his well-earned sobriquet as the “first Black president.” Among the wider electorate, it revolves around rose-colored memories of the 1990s bubble economy with its temporary upsurge in jobs, resulting less from government policy than from the short-lived and fateful high-tech boom.

But the 1990s were also the era of triangulation, in which a Democratic administration marginalized its party base and compromised with Republicans to enact a conservative agenda. Hillary touts her ability to similarly work with Republicans in Congress to achieve results. Putting aside the unlikelihood of a contemporary GOP Congress ever fully cooperating with a Clinton presidency, the fact is any legislation born of such cooperation would, based on Clintonism past, be analogous to Rosemary’s baby.

What about “experience,” a big Hillary selling point? Well, much of it consists of having sat at Bill’s elbow while he turned the liberal Democratic party he inherited into a vehicle for anti-New Deal economic policies (“The era of big government is over.”). Not an ideal recommendation for leading today’s Democratic party, which has finally begun ridding itself of the debilitating Reagan legacy reinforced by her husband.

Then, there’s Hillary’s Senate experience: a short stint highlighted by her hawkish vote authorizing the Iraq war. As for the Foggy Bottom years, they were, putting aside the Benghazi nonsense, characterized by not much of anything; John Kerry has handled the secretary of state job better and more energetically.

That leaves us with Hillary’s feminist appeal as the potential first woman president. By her own admission, a new Clinton administration will prioritize programs and policies benefitting “women and girls,” a rather narrow agenda. However, if gender equity is your be all and end all, the issue that supersedes all others, then Hillary’s your candidate.

If, on the other hand, you’re more concerned with the fundamental causes and lingering effects of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s, and the failure to discipline those responsible, think again. Hillary was part of an administration that helped create the deregulatory environment that led to 2008 by, among other things, signing off on legalized speculation in derivatives.

Nevertheless, since Bernie Sanders and Martin O’MaIley have addressed the 2016 campaign’s elephant in the room, the need for further Wall Street reform, Hillary’s been forced to respond - - with proposals one knowledgeable analyst (Darrell Delamaide) characterized as meaningless “tweaks” to the financial system, such as minor penalties for high-frequency trading and marginally tougher regulatory appointments. The presumptive Democratic nominee would “incentivize” the too-big-to-fail banks to voluntarily shrink themselves, but actually force them to do little.

When it comes to the one policy that’s really needed, Hillary is nowhere to be found. She, like husband Bill, firmly rejects a reimposition of the Glass-Steagall Act, whose legislative demise he signed into law in 1999. A modernized Glass-Steagall, which would totally separate commercial banking (loans and deposits) from investment banking (speculative trading), is anathema to Wall Street financiers. The Clintons share their distaste. Here’s why: Over her career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, seven of Hillary’s 10 top campaign donors have been Wall Street firms, led (unsurprisingly) by Citigroup Inc. and Goldman Sachs.

But despite its voluminous corporate war chest, the Clinton campaign is taking no chances. The candidate may (so far) be taking the high road, but her surrogates have been travelling the low road. Stressing rival Sanders’ “socialism” has become par for the course, but Clinton attack dog David Brock went a step further, linking Sanders to the late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez for his role in obtaining donated Venezuela heating oil for low-income Vermonters, something former Congressman Joe Kennedy was also pilloried for in Massachusetts, but only by Republicans.

But that’s just the way the Clintons roll. Expect a lot more of it to come.

Wayne O’Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine, specializing in political economy. He holds a doctorate in American history and is the author of two prizewinning books.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2015


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