“Hillary Clinton is Wall Street’s least objectionable Democratic alternative.”
-----from “The Quotations of Chairman Joe”
Yesterday the United States Senate by a vote of 52-45 declined to take up debate on granting the president the so-called ‘fast-track’ trade authority needed to expedite two looming trade deals, the details of both of which are currently a guarded secret. On a near party-line vote with a couple of troubled Republicans joining nearly all the Senate’s Democrats the Senate balked in the first attempt by this administration to ram through the trade agreements. The vote was a victory for senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Al Franken of Minnesota, the most vocal critics of both the trade agreements and the ‘fast-track’ authorization.
Bernie Sanders, the self-avowed “Democratic-Socialist” independent Senator from Vermont has recently declared himself to be a candidate for the Democratic Presidential Nomination. A harsh critic of Wall-Street manipulations, the concentrations of power in the financial and telecommunications markets, the maldistribution of wealth, and the savaging of the social safety net, Sanders stands out as a critic of all things Republican and most things Clintonian promising to make the upcoming contest for the party’s nomination an interesting one. The results of last week’s first Senate vote was a victory for Bernie and will enhance his stature as a bona-fide challenger to the Clinton juggernaut.
Clinton has been campaigning for over a month now and the press has, as yet, not been allowed a single question. Assuming a ‘low-profile’ she is at once attempting to appear as ‘one of the folks’ showing up at fast-food restaurants and similar venues to rub elbows with the ‘huddled’ masses; and, assuming the nomination if not the election, she is attempting to simultaneously be ‘above the fray’ not condescending to go down into the trenches by getting into nasty political squabbles. This is not a sound strategy.
First, as noted in previous posts, assuming the nomination and the inevitable elevation to the presidency is a dubious path to the White House. Ask Ed Muskie, Robert Taft, or any one of a number of presidential wannabees. Ask Hillary Clinton herself, for she should have learned that lesson 8 years ago when the inevitability of the ‘once and future Queen’ was given rude treatment by a young upstart named Barrack Obama. As any philosophy student will tell you, assuming one’s own conclusions is the ultimate tautology.
Secondly, Clinton’s behavior in the battle over the terms of the looming trade agreements begs the central question: just what has she ever championed? Name one piece of legislation with her name on it when she was in the Senate? Name one policy initiative that she was able to achieve? Once again, as a presidential campaign begins to heat up in which she figures to be a central player, we find her silently sitting on the sidelines. She could have easily come to the support of her president in his squabble with Senators Warren and Sanders, or she could have sided with the president’s Democratic critics. To do that she would have to chose, side with the president, Wall Street, and the national and multinational corporations driving these deals—or side with the liberal critics, labor unions, and their Democratic constituencies. Instead she has chosen, to date, to do neither of the above but instead to remain silent in the hopes that she will not have to say anything even remotely critical of her financial backers bankrolling her campaign, in the end counting on the notoriously short memory of the electorate. This is not leadership, by any standard definition.
2016 is obviously not 2008, nothing remains the same and, as they say two years in politics is an eternity. But a strategy that didn’t work eight years ago is, in this observer’s view, much more likely to fail this time around. Basing a campaign on ‘inevitability’ is bad enough, but to support it with vague bromides and platitudes about the need to ‘invest in our economy’ and ‘support the middle class’, rings hollow after the nation has witnessed Washington make a complete hash of the country’s hopes and dreams. Hope and Change ring hollow in our ears because Washington has made a mockery of hope and change.
Despite all the millions, indeed billions of dollars spent every election cycle, things change only on the margins. What is remarkable is that whatever each party says about what is at risk in every election we end up, no matter who wins, with much the same thing. Bill Clinton not only ratified Reagan but improved upon his very bad ideas. It was under Clinton that not only were the banks freed from the last of the New Deal firewalls by repealing Glass-Steagall and allowing banks to invest in speculative markets, but Bill also signed off on the telecommunications bill that created “Faux News”, as well as the conglomerates controlled by Rupert Murdock and Clear Channel Communications. In short, the so called ‘achievements’ of the Clinton years were classic Republican politics: deregulation, mergers and acquisitions, and an ever growing economic disparity between the top 10 percent and the rest of the country. In this context, Obama has fit right into the pattern. Employing Bill’s old advisers from Rubin, and Gueitner, to Summers and Rahm Emmanuel, Obama has continued the legacy of Republican economics in Democratic administrations. The trade deals now pending before Congress are more of the same.
As stated in previous posts Hillary, in order to be successful, must break with this past. She must put some distance not only between herself and Obama (for American’s are loath to vote in a 3rd term in any case), but by extension between herself and the policies of her husband’s administration.
Bernie Sanders is already claiming the territory and, by so doing, is moving to control the terms of the debate. He is doing it not only by critiquing previously failed policies but by fighting breathtakingly stupid new initiatives—these pending trade agreements—and leading the fight for raising the minimum wage, breaking up the big banks, reversing the Supreme Court decision in ‘Citizen’s United’, taxing wealth, enacting environmental regulations, regulating Wall Street, helping workers to organize, and a host of liberal alternatives to the mess the conservatives have made of this country.
Lastly, the tenor of the debate has changed in this country from one of optimism to increasingly one of desperation, frustration and anger. “Yes, We Can!” is being replaced by“Kick Some Ass”, and until Hillary can demonstrate that she can lead the fight she risks becoming irrelevant. The Middle Class is longing for a champion; at this early date this looks to be the old curmudgeon from Vermont.