The Clintons: So Many Masks

hillary henry
Scheming, secretive, Machiavellian: birds of a feather

W.J. Astore

As Donald Trump continues to implode, it’s worthwhile considering how he even has a chance at the presidency.  It’s quite simple, actually: Americans don’t trust the Clintons, and rightly so. Why? Because the Clintons, in their quest for office, try to be all things to all people. Even as they talk about the poorest Americans and economic fairness, for example, they’re promising to make special deals for the richest and special trade deals (open trade borders for all!). Even as they criticize Wall Street they praise bankers and the financial elite behind closed doors (cashing-in big-time for these speeches). Even as they talk about the environment and global warning, they praise fracking and the fossil fuel industry.

What do the Clintons really believe?  Like many politicians, they ultimately believe in themselves, in their own quest for power, a quest in which virtually all tactics are justified. In which you can don any mask depending on that day’s audience and performance.

But if you’re all things to all people, you’re basically nothing to no one.  Put differently, if you’ve worn so many different masks for so many audiences, which face is the real you?

Trump’s followers embrace him in part because they think they know where he stands. He’s willing to say unpopular things.  As loutish and crass and ignorant as Trump is, he’s not always holding a finger up to test the political winds.  He’s not always currying favor with (and favors from) established elites.  He may be bad, but he’s genuinely bad.

The Clintons?  The word “genuine” just doesn’t apply.  Words like “scheming” and “secretive” and “Machiavellian,” however, do.

Small wonder that Hillary Clinton is such great friends with Henry Kissinger!

What It Will Take to Gain My Support in 2020

hillary henry
What kind of Progressive hugs Henry Kissinger?

M. Davout

I am a lifelong Democrat living in one of the former Confederate states that will not turn purple in the 2016 presidential election cycle no matter what Trump says or does. I therefore feel free to withhold my vote from Secretary Clinton this election cycle because of serious doubts about her neoliberal domestic policy instincts and her hawkish foreign policy leanings. To the extent that she is responsive to the demands of electoral politics, I think her first term administration can be influenced in a progressive direction (especially in matters of political economy and foreign affairs). The following thoughts are intended to suggest one way of exercising progressive pressure.

These thoughts are aimed at people like me–progressives living in NON-battleground states who feel free to vote for a third party progressive at the presidential level in this election but who also hope for progressive leadership if (as currently seems likely) Secretary Clinton wins. As a result of the Bernie Sanders campaign, progressives have come to understand that they have real leverage and it doesn’t only consist of their votes.

During this past primary season, I engaged in a level of political activity that was unprecedented for me. In addition to donating to the Sanders campaign what turned out to be about one percent of my annual income, I held a fundraising dinner with friends that raised another (albeit smaller) chunk of money for the campaign. I made phone calls to voters in Colorado, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma before Super Tuesday and lobbied friends and family members across several states to vote for Sanders. To the extent that tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of others had similar unprecedented experiences, we constitute a political force whose collective fundraising capacity and campaign labor are robust enough to make it worthwhile to a first term Clinton administration to try to earn our support for the 2020 campaign.

What concrete actions would earn my support? I could list several but I’ll limit myself in this post to the issue of presidential appointments in two areas. (I welcome contributions to this list from progressives out there from non-battleground states with similar experiences who see some promise in this approach.)

The first thing a first term Clinton Administration could do to earn my vote in 2020 is to demonstrate independence from the special interests who have financially rewarded Secretary Clinton, members of her family, and the Clinton Foundation with extremely generous speaking fees, lucrative positions, and/or donations. In the appointments process in the domestic policy area this would mean refusing to nominate people to departmental, agency, or judicial positions who are products or beneficiaries of, or otherwise beholden to, those special interests, which include investment banks, private health insurers, fossil fuel industry. For example, don’t choose a Wall Street insider for the position of Secretary of the Treasury. Better a Wall Street whistle blower or an academic Jeremiah who warned of the coming mortgage securities implosion.

In national security deliberations, ensure that the people at the table include those who have proven to be prescient about the limited efficacy of military force as well as those who have expressed concern about imperial overreach. Whether or not the rumor is true that Secretary Clinton was consistently one of the most hawkish people in the room during Obama Administration foreign policy deliberations, she needs to have at the critical meetings foreign policy and national security figures of weight and influence who can provide alternative perspectives to the drumbeat of hawkish advice which so often passes for serious thinking in DC foreign policy circles. In this respect, it would go a long way merely as a symbolic gesture for Secretary Clinton to make clear that she isn’t going to take advice from Henry Kissinger, that he won’t be visiting the White House, that his calls will not be taken, and that any efforts to give advice through back channels will be rebuffed.

Secretary Clinton’s impending choice of a running mate may be the best indication we have of the direction in which she will go in the appointments process. Will she pick a proven progressive and independent voice such as Elizabeth Warren or Tom Perez? Or will she opt for someone firmly in the Clinton mold (e.g., a cultivator of Wall Street and other special interest contacts and money)?

In a future post, the sort of policy proposals that could earn progressive votes will be taken up.

M. Davout is a pseudonym for a professor of political science and critic of US politics, culture, and empire.

What Does Hillary Clinton Stand For?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
What does she really stand for?  (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

W.J. Astore

What does Hillary Clinton stand for?  It’s a serious question.  Sure, she’s given a lot of speeches, but without saying much.  I’ve watched the debates and have listened to her speak, and the best I can come up with is this:

  1. She’s continuing the legacy of Obama.  For example, Obamacare will be extended to cover all Americans.
  2. She’s going to break the glass ceiling that has blocked a woman from being president.
  3. She loves Israel and will support whatever the Israeli government wants.
  4. She’s going to work to raise the minimum wage for workers — $12.00 is the goal.
  5. She’s going to work against the TPP (after she was initially for it).
  6. She’s against the Keystone Pipeline (after initially supporting it).
  7. She’s fully for equality for the LGBT community (after initially being against it).
  8. She’s for an aggressive U.S. military posture and fully supports enormous defense budgets.
  9.  She’s not going to do dumb things like that scary Donald Trump.
  10. She’s got a lot of experience in government.  The length of her resume alone qualifies her to be president.

That’s the gist of her message as far as I’ve been able to discern.  Of course, there are other messages for her followers.  Surely Hillary will support reproductive rights, to include access to abortion.  Surely she will appoint justices to the Supreme Court that are somewhere to the left of Antonin Scalia. Such considerations shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

But a new path for our country?  Fresh ideas?  They’re not coming from Hillary. Important issues like campaign finance reform, reforming banks and other powerful financial institutions, reducing income inequality in the United States, and similar issues of reform and fairness are dead on arrival if she’s elected president.

Also, Hillary’s embrace of Henry Kissinger as well as neo-conservative principles in foreign policy ensures a continuation of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and locations throughout the Greater Middle East.  (When I first typed that, I unconsciously wrote, Greater Military East, because America’s engagement with the region is almost exclusively conducted in military terms, via bombing, drone strikes, and special ops raids).

The Clinton Campaign’s strategy of being fuzzy about specifics while vilifying her chief opponent (admittedly not difficult to do if your opponent is Trump) reminds me of a book I read many, many moons ago: “The Selling of the President 1968,” by Joe McGinniss.  What I recall from that book was the cynical process of triangulation and secrecy as well as the tight control of “the message” by Candidate Nixon and his cronies, the cagey and sleazy way Nixon and his campaign refused to engage honestly with the American people.  His campaign in 1968 foreshadowed the crimes of Nixon and his administration to come, most infamously Watergate.  At the root was an attitude of privilege, superiority, and entitlement, a sense that Nixon had paid his dues and deserved to be president.  Dammit, it was HIS turn.  And look at the length of his resume!

Much can be said about comparing Hillary to “Tricky Dick.”  Long political careers tainted by scandal.  High negative ratings.  A tendency by each to see vast right wing (or left wing) conspiracies, and therefore to compensate by surrounding themselves with trusted operatives, sycophants, and strap-hangers. A desire to appear tough, whether it’s about standing up to terrorists or communists.

After eight years of “No drama Obama,” perhaps the American people prefer a return to the paranoid style of politics of Richard Nixon — and Hillary Clinton.  A style that’s economical with the truth, led by a person who believes himself — or herself — to be the smartest and toughest person in the room.

But I already saw how that ended in 1974; I’m not voting for a repeat, even if the dramatic lead this time around is female.

Hillary Clinton’s Flat and Misleading Foreign Policy Speech

DEM 2016 Clinton
Wrapping herself in the flag: Hillary talks foreign policy in San Diego, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher)

W.J. Astore

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton gave a foreign policy speech in San Diego that was notably flat and misleading.  It’s been getting decent reviews in the mainstream media for the zingers she tossed at Donald Trump.  But when you listen to the speech (you can watch it here) and think about it, you realize how insipid and unoriginal it really was.

Here are my thoughts on Clinton’s speech:

1. The speech featured the usual American exceptionalism, the usual fear that if America withdraws from the world stage, chaos will result.  There was no sense that America’s wars of choice in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. have greatly contributed to that chaos.  Oh, there was also the usual boast that America has the greatest military.  That’s what Imperial and Nazi Germany used to boast — until the Germans lost two world wars and smartened up.

2.  Hillary mentioned we’re electing “our” next commander-in-chief.  No, we’re not.  The president is a public servant, not “our” commander-in-chief.  The president serves as the civilian commander-in-chief of the military, and the military alone.

3.  Hillary mentioned the US has a “moral obligation” to defend Israel.  Why is this?  Sure, Israel is an American ally, but why is Israel the one country we’re “morally” obligated to defend? There’s only one country we’re morally obligated to defend, and that’s the USA, assuming our government is actually honoring the US Constitution.

4.  The speech had no new ideas.  It was a laundry list of neo-conservative principles about making America stronger, safer, and so on.  As a friend of mine put it, “Nothing that I heard her say deviated in any way from her hawkish record of recommending bombing at every opportunity.”

5.  Hillary seems to have two speech-giving styles: a somewhat bored monotone and a somewhat agitated yell.  A line like, “this isn’t reality TV, it’s reality,” should have been a big applause line, but her delivery was flat and her timing was off.  In this case, style and substance met as one.

Hillary Clinton reminds me of the grey leaders in the USSR before Gorbachev.  She’s like a Brezhnev or an Andropov. A cookie-cutter product of the system with no fresh ideas.

For many people who are leery of a Trump presidency, Hillary’s hawkish and colorless conformity to the Washington system is more than enough to qualify her.  If she wins the presidency, she will be much like Brezhnev and Andropov, senior apparatchiks of an empire in denial of its own precipitous decline.

Hillary Clinton: The MOTS Candidate

image
More of the same (MOTS) versus Feeling the Bern

W.J. Astore

With Trump now the presumptive nominee after his victory in Indiana and Ted Cruz’s withdrawal from the race, the Republican narrative seems clear.  Trump’s appeal is summed up nicely here by NBC:

Trump won by discovering a primal desire among GOP voters for a swaggering populist who would buck orthodoxy on trade, protect entitlements, build a border wall, deport all undocumented immigrants, and implement an “America First” foreign policy that demanded allies pay for U.S. protection or go it alone.

Millions of supporters, distrustful of their party’s leaders, rallied behind him as a unique figure whose personal fortune enabled him to spurn donors and say what he wanted with impunity.

His presumptive opponent: Hillary Clinton.  But not so fast!  Playing the spoiler, Bernie Sanders won in Indiana and has an outside chance of denying the nomination to Hillary. As Bernie pointed out in Indiana, he’s winning the vote of those 45 years of age and younger, and his appeal is strong among liberals and independents.

A large part of Bernie’s appeal is that he’s a man of principle with a clear message.  I can easily tell you what Bernie is for.  He’s for a political revolution.  He wants a single-payer health care system.  He wants free college tuition for students at state colleges.  He wants campaign finance reform.  He wants a $15 minimum wage.  He wants to break up big banks.  He was against the Iraq War and wants a less bellicose foreign policy.  The man knows how to take a stand and stick with it.

Now: What does Hillary Clinton want, besides the presidency of course?  It’s hard to say. For the last few months, she’s essentially been responding to Bernie.  As his progressive and idealistic message resonates with voters, Hillary cautiously adopts aspects of it.  For example, she was against a $15 minimum wage until she was for it.  She’s made noises about getting big money out of politics even as she’s siphoned up as many Benjamins as she could.  Lately, she’s pivoted and begun to run against Trump, as if Bernie has no chance at all to deny her the nomination.

Here’s the problem for Hillary: She’s a MOTS candidate, or more of the same.  She’s promised a continuation of President Obama’s policies, at least domestically, while in foreign policy she’s promised to take a harder line than Obama.  But I’m hard-pressed to name a single major policy initiative that’s uniquely hers, and I’ve watched virtually all of the Democratic debates and town halls.  She’s running as a technocrat, as an insider, as Obama in a pantsuit but with iron fists.

Assuming it’s Hillary versus Trump in the fall, it’ll be Trump who has the ideas, crazy or divisive or unsustainable as they may be.  And it’ll be Hillary who’ll be running as the “safe” candidate, the anti-Trump, the one whose motto might be, “the audacity of establishment incrementalism.”

Is that what American voters are looking for?  Establishment incrementalism?  More of the same?

Stay in the race, Bernie Sanders, and give us a real choice this fall.

Two Points About the Hillary Clinton Email Fiasco

Hillary in 2013
Hillary in 2013

W.J. Astore

Much is being made of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which she used when she was Secretary of State.  To me, the real issue is not that Hillary endangered national security by sending classified information in the clear.  No — the real issue is that the Clintons act as if they are above the rules and laws that apply to “the little people.”  They are superior and smug, totally devoted to themselves and their pursuit of power and the privileges that come with it.  It’s a matter of character, in other words.  Hillary’s evasiveness, her lack of transparency, her self-righteousness, her strong sense of her own rectitude, make her a dangerous candidate for the presidency.

My second point is this: The issue of classification should be turned on its head.  The real issue is not that Hillary potentially revealed secrets.  No — the real issue is that our government keeps far too much from us.  Our government uses security classification not so much to keep us safe, but to keep the national security state safe — safe from the eyes of the American people.

As The Guardian reported in 2013:

“A committee established by Congress, the Public Interest Declassification Board, warned in December that rampant over-classification is ‘imped[ing] informed government decisions and an informed public’ and, worse, ‘enabl[ing] corruption and malfeasance’. In one instance it documented, a government agency was found to be classifying one petabyte of new data every 18 months, the equivalent of 20m filing cabinets filled with text.”

Nowadays, seemingly everything is classified.  And if it’s classified, if it’s secret, we can’t know about it.  Because we can’t be trusted with it.  That’s a fine idea for an autocracy or dictatorship, but not so fine for a democracy.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people?  Impossible when nearly everything of any importance is classified.

Too bad Hillary didn’t send everything in the clear — what a service she would have done for the American people and for democracy!

Hillary Shillary: A Deeply Compromised Presidential Candidate

Hillary Clinton (NY Times)
Hillary Clinton (NY Times)

W.J. Astore

Hillary Clinton will soon be announcing her candidacy for the presidency.  She has learned from 2008, or so reports say, and will be reaching out to voters in “intimate” settings like pseudo-town halls, rather than the mass rallies of her previous candidacy, which were supposed to anoint her as the “inevitable” Democratic candidate in 2008.

Yes, Hillary is searching for the common touch, the touch that came so naturally (in more ways than one) to her husband Bill.  It’s an act, of course, for there’s no candidate more calculating and controlling and imperious than Hillary.  This is not necessarily a bad thing in a leader; nice gals finish last, especially in the man’s world of U.S. presidential politics.  Hillary knows it’s not enough for women to “lean-in”; you have to be willing to get down and dirty to beat the old boys at their own game.

No, the main problem is not Hillary’s imperiousness.  It’s her shilling for major corporate donations, and her willingness to accept major “donations” from foreign governments (via the Clinton Foundation) while claiming that her hands remain untied and unsullied.

An interesting graphic from LittleSis illustrates the point, which explains that: “Of the 425 large corporate donors to the Clinton Foundation, the Wall Street Journal found 60 of those donors lobbied the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure.”

http://littlesis.org/maps/534-hrc-complex-corporate-ties/raw?embed=true&zoom=0.617

As Peter Van Buren notes, the Clintons have already broken their promises of transparency with respect to donors and their donations.  It’s say one thing and do another: business as usual for the Clintons.

When she was in high school, Hillary was an enthusiastic supporter of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election, whose campaign slogan, “In your heart, you know he’s right,” was appositely funny.  Yes — far right, people said. Hillary’s slogan for 2016 should be, “In my heart, I know I’m right,” so vote for me, peasants.  Never mind where and how Bill and I got our money, and to whom we owe favors.

Shilling for money is a large part of the American “democratic” process, and Bill and Hillary are masters at it.  This shouldn’t necessarily disqualify Hillary.  But the broken promises, the dubious ethics, the constant evasiveness: well, those qualities are far more worrying.  And deeply compromising.