Here Comes President Hillary
At the convention in Philly, Truthdig founder and editor Robert Scheer ran into Thomas Frank, whose latest book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened To The Party Of The People? is a must-read for all progressives and, hopefully, for some Democrats who aren't already too far gone. Frank admitted Democrats aren't paying the book any serious attention.. His critique-- "that what we have today is a liberalism of the rich... of the professional classes, these sort of affluent people who have developed a whole kind of pseudo-Marxist theory of why they’re affluent and why they deserve to be affluent, and why those who, you know, their former supporters in the working class don’t deserve to be affluent." He despairs that this new rationale behind the New Democratic Party "is a really ugly ideology, but it’s not something that they are prepared to change their tune on."
He analyzes Hillary's career in one chapter, even if he feels she's incapable of change. The New Dem wing types, the corporate Dems, don't want to hear "unconstructive" criticism of her and she really believes that folks who run the financial institutions in New York have a mission civilisatrice and those Wall Street banks "are in fact run by fine, upstanding individuals who are opening up the doors of possibility for the poor people of the world, or something like this. She really believes in what they’re doing. Democrats [from the Hillary wing of the party, which is obviously ascendent now] look at Wall Street and they see people like themselves. It’s not that they’re bribed to like these guys; it’s that they have an ideological kinship with them.
He didn't expect Bernie to make the case at the convention that the Clintons aren't to be trusted-- but he would have loved it. "When you want to talk about inequality, you want to talk about what’s gone wrong in this country, the sinking of the middle class-- everything that’s gone wrong, and I would include in my bill of complaints, my bill of grievances, the rise of Donald Trump-- all of these things are attributable to the Democrats’ abandonment of their traditional constituency and their traditional sort of Rooseveltian identity.
Hillary is a perfect example—a perfect specimen—of the kind of Democratic politics that I’m talking about. Very oriented towards the professional class; she really believes—I mean, how many times did you hear that word “innovation” from the podium yesterday? You know, people talking about education as the solution to every economic problem. This really is her ideology. She is a true believer in neoliberalism. It’s not an afterthought, it’s not something that she did in order to win the affection of the money men. This is who she is. And it’s who her husband is. And you know, I think that the Democrats have to deal with this, and I think it’s especially important in this year, because in some ways their abandonment of blue-collar people, or I should say the white working class specifically, is this really has allowed Trump to do what he’s done. This is what has made his success possible.Since then, Frank did a gruesomely pessimistic piece for The Guardian Sunday, With Trump Certain to Lose, You Can Forget About a Progressive Clinton. "Come November," he predicts, "Clinton will have won her great victory-- not as a champion of working people’s concerns, but as the greatest moderate of them all. And so ends the great populist uprising of our time, fizzling out pathetically in the mud and the bigotry stirred up by a third-rate would-be caudillo named Donald J Trump... Today it looks as though [Thomas Friedman's] elites are taking matters well in hand. 'Jobs' don't really matter now in this election, nor does the debacle of 'globalization,' nor does anything else, really. Thanks to this imbecile Trump, all such issues have been momentarily swept off the table while Americans come together around Clinton, the wife of the man who envisaged the Davos dream in the first place."
So I was just in the Republican convention in Cleveland. And the man, you know, is this kind of monster in many, many, many ways, but there’s this one issue where he has got, he is reaching out to working-class voters and he’s doing it really effectively. And this is trade. And he talks about it constantly. And he’s very ham-handed, and he doesn’t have a plan, but he talks about it in a way that is convincing to a lot of these people. And here’s Hillary-- and by the way, this is the perfect, I was saying just this morning—Hillary Clinton is the only Democrat that Donald Trump could possibly beat, and vice-versa. Right? Donald Trump is the only Republican that Hillary Clinton could possibly beat; they’re both, two of the least popular politicians ever to run for this office. But had it been any other Republican, Hillary would be in big trouble; had it been any other Democrat, i.e. Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump would be in enormous trouble. But when he goes against these trade deals, he’s always talking about NAFTA. And this is-- look, again, his party is largely responsible for free trade and for all of this stuff, for the free market theory and the reign of globalization. That’s his guys that did that. But NAFTA, and a couple of the other ones, he can blame on the Clintons. And Trans-Pacific Partnership, he can blame on Obama. And this is very, very, very effective. And Hillary Clinton is possibly the one candidate where this sort of thing would work.
...[W]hen I mentioned that Trump has this one issue where he is talking a good game, this makes people really mad, because they want to believe that he is, that he has this dark, diabolical, sort of Svengali power. And I’m saying to them, no; this is something unfamiliar, this is something new; this is not Marco Rubio, or if Ted Cruz had been the nominee. This is something different, this is a new beast. And I don’t think he’s a fascist, but it’s not a bad comparison, because the fascists had—you know, they also built the Autobahn. And they also, you know, had this enormous public works program. And they also did all these things that was kind of like, you know, there was a reason that they were sort of popular.
[T]he vast majority of people in this country still haven’t recovered from that recession that was brought about by those toxic derivatives. And the derivatives were explicitly deregulated by Bill Clinton. But it goes on and on and on-- it’s like NAFTA, it’s-- when I was listening to the speeches yesterday, it was like they’re promising, they’re running on a promise to reverse all the things that Hillary Clinton did the first time around, or that her husband did, I should say. But the crime bill of 1994, they’re going to, oh, they’re going to reverse mass incarceration-- it’s like, well, why didn’t you just not do it in the first place? You know, they’re going to fix the global economy-- well, why didn’t you just not fuck it up in the first place, you know? On and on and on, down the list. And you know, the trade deals-- we’re going to stop these terrible, these trade deals have been so bad for working people. It’s like, well, why did you sign off on them? Why do you go to Davos every year? Why is your sitting president, representative of your party, trying to get one passed right now? In the Democratic platform, there’s a big thing about the revolving door, where they’re really against the revolving door—do you know who the secretary of the Treasury is right now? Right now! It’s Jack Lew! Came from Citibank, where he oversaw their hedge fund division. You know? And then he’s in charge of the department that’s bailing out Citibank, because their hedge fund division that he managed dragged them down! This is insane! And he was put there by a Democrat. A Democrat who’s going to come here and give a speech on Thursday. This is-- yes, you’re exactly right. There’s enormous cognitive dissonance for these people, but they wipe it away, like so many-- I mean, there are so many examples of this, the way they think about Trump, the way they think about the working class, the way they think about NAFTA. It’s all this guilty stuff, they can’t deal with it, there’s something psychological going on. But this is the biggest. You know, they can’t deal with the legacy of the sitting president and the legacy of Hillary’s own husband. And they can’t talk about it in a straightforward way.
...[T]hings are going to get worse. Four more years of this? So Obama-- I voted for Obama with enthusiasm in 2008; I was excited, I thought he was my generation’s Franklin Roosevelt, I thought this was, we’d come to the turning point. And then he continued the policies of the Bush administration on the banks, on a lot of essential issues, and things got, for working people, things have gotten worse and worse and worse. Wages still don’t grow; the share of what we produce here in America is less than, is smaller than it’s ever been before, the labor share, what the economists call the labor share of GDP. Smaller than it’s ever been since World War II. This is under Obama, the most liberal, we’re always told, the most liberal possible president. Look, of course it’s going to continue with Hillary as president; nothing is going to change. This is going to get worse and worse and worse. You’re going to continue to see the recovery or whatever, all the gains, all the economic gains going into the banking accounts of the top 10 percent or so. The Dow might continue to go up, but who benefits from that? It’s the people at the top, of course. Four years of this, inequality’s going to continue. That’s always what it comes back to, is that word “inequality.” And that’s going to get worse. The Appalachification is going to keep going. And four years from now, you’re going to have another Trump. And a Trump who’s not a fool, a Trump who’s not an imbecile, who’s not a buffoon, who’s not an open racist, is a Trump that can win. Hell, this Trump might win [laughs] if the Democrats blunder into his hands, which they are presently doing. We’ll talk about that some other time. But a Trump minus all of these sort of features of Trump would actually be successful. Now, you could also have another Bernie in four years, and another Bernie, someone who plays the game slightly differently, could also be successful, although it’s really hard to beat a sitting president from...
As leading Republicans desert the sinking ship of Trump's GOP, America's two-party system itself has temporarily become a one-party system. And within that one party, the political process bears a striking resemblance to dynastic succession. Party office-holders selected Clinton as their candidate long ago, apparently determined to elevate her despite every possible objection, every potential legal problem. The Democratic National Committee helped out, too, as WikiLeaks tells us. So did President Barack Obama, that former paladin for openness, who in the past several years did nearly everything in his power to suppress challenges to Clinton and thus ensure she would continue his legacy of tepid, bank-friendly neoliberalism.Maybe you saw the Gallup poll released a couple weeks ago measuring the country's complete lack of enthusiasm for Clinton's completely mediocre corporate Dem running mate. He's even more of a snooze for most Americans than the dull-- dull and actively evil-- Pence. How's this for a little history of running mates?
My leftist friends persuaded themselves that this stuff didn't really matter, that Clinton's many concessions to Sanders' supporters were permanent concessions. But with the convention over and the struggle with Sanders behind her, headlines show Clinton triangulating to the right, scooping up the dollars and the endorsement, and the elites shaken loose in the great Republican wreck.
She is reaching out to the foreign policy establishment and the neocons. She is reaching out to Republican office-holders. She is reaching out to Silicon Valley. And, of course, she is reaching out to Wall Street. In her big speech in Michigan on Thursday she cast herself as the candidate who could bring bickering groups together and win policy victories through really comprehensive convenings.
Things will change between now and November, of course. But what seems most plausible from the current standpoint is a landslide for Clinton, and with it the triumph of complacent neoliberal orthodoxy. She will have won her great victory, not as a champion of working people's concerns, but as the greatest moderate of them all, as the leader of a stately campaign of sanity and national unity. The populist challenge of the past eight years, whether led by Trump or by Sanders, will have been beaten back resoundingly. Centrism will reign triumphant over the Democratic party for years to come. This will be her great accomplishment. The bells will ring all over Washington DC.
... My friends and I like to wonder about who will be the "next Bernie Sanders", but what I am suggesting here is that whoever emerges to lead the populist left will simply be depicted as the next Trump. The billionaire's scowling country-club face will become the image of populist reform, whether genuine populists had anything to do with him or not. This is the real potential disaster of 2016: That legitimate economic discontent is going to be dismissed as bigotry and xenophobia for years to come.
Shall we end on a more upbeat note this evening? A Berniecrat who, like most, has gone over to the Hillary Brigade, Robert Reich, wrote on his Facebook page that Hillary is going to need Bernie's revolution. He naively assumes she wants to get some progressive stuff done when she ascends to the White House and claims she'll never revolutionists to help. Jesus! She's not going to flip the House and the Senate, which will be miserably led by self-serving Wall Street suck-up Chuck Schumer, will not be close to filibuster-proof... and worse.
She unlikely to have a typical presidential honeymoon because she won’t be riding a wave of hope and enthusiasm that typically accompanies a new president into office. She’s already more distrusted by the public than any major candidate in recent history. On Election Day many Americans will be choosing which candidate they loathe the least.Anyone want to buy a bridge? Or a unicorn? Any hope? Yeah, electing genuine progressives to Congress, not like Tulsi Gabbard, who just one her primary in Hawaii, real progressives... like these:
She hasn’t established a powerful mandate for what she wants to get done. Her policy proposals are admirably detailed but cover so much ground that even her most ardent supporters don’t have a clear picture of what she stands for. And she’s had to [interesting choice of words] spend more time on the campaign trail attacking Trump’s outrage du jour than building a case for a few big ideas.
To say nothing of the moneyed interests-- wealthy individuals, big corporations, and Wall Street-- that are more powerful today than at any time since the Gilded Age, and don’t want progressive change.
Even if Hillary sincerely intends to raise taxes on rich Americans in order to pay for universal child care, affordable higher education, and infrastructure spending, the moneyed interests have the clout to stop her.
They’ll also resist any effort to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, require employers to offer paid family leave, or get them to share their profits with employees.
The heart of American politics is now a vicious cycle in which big money has enough political influence to get laws and regulations that make big money even bigger, and prevent laws and rules that threaten its wealth and power.
Before Hillary can accomplish anything important, that vicious cycle has to be reversed. But how?
Bear with me a moment for some pertinent history.
As economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted in the 1950s, a key legacy of the New Deal was creating centers of economic power that offset the power of giant corporations and Wall Street: labor unions, small retail businesses, local banks, and political parties active at the state and local levels.
These alternative power centers supported policies that helped America’s vast middle and working classes during the first three decades after World War II-- the largest infrastructure project in American history (the Interstate Highway program), a vast expansion of nearly-free public higher education, Medicare and Medicaid, and, to pay for all this, high taxes on the wealthy. (Between 1946 and 1980, the top marginal tax rate never dipped below 70 percent.)
But over the last three decades, countervailing power has almost vanished from American politics. Labor unions have been decimated. In the 2012 presidential election, the richest 0.01 percent of households gave Democratic candidates more than four times what unions contributed to their campaigns.
Small retailers have been displaced by Walmart and Amazon. Local banks have been absorbed by Wall Street behemoths.
And both political parties have morphed into giant national fund-raising machines. The Democratic National Committee, like its Republican counterpart, is designed mainly to suck up big money.
So where can Hillary look for the countervailing power she’ll need to get the progressive changes she says she wants?
The most promising source of a new countervailing power in America was revealed in Bernie Sanders’s primary campaign: millions of citizens determined to reclaim American democracy and the economy from big money. (Donald Trump’s faux populism tapped into similar sentiments, but, tragically, has channeled them into bigotry and scapegoating.)
That movement lives on. Organizers from the Sanders campaign have already launched Brand New Congress, an ambitious effort to run at least 400 progressive candidates for Congress in 2018, financed by crowd-sourced small donations and led by a nationwide network of volunteers. Sanders himself recently announced the formation of “Our Revolution,” to support progressive candidates up and down the ticket.
Hillary Clinton has been relying on big money to finance her presidential campaign, but she’s always been a pragmatist about governing. “A president has to deal in reality,” she said last January in response to Sanders. “I am not interested in ideas that sound good on paper but will never make it in real life.”
The pragmatist in her must know that the only way her ideas will make it in real life is if the public is organized and mobilized behind them.
Which means that once she enters the Oval Office, she’ll need the countervailing power of a progressive movement-- ironically, much like the one her primary opponent championed.