Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 24, 2014

On Hillary

[I said this on my radio show yesterday as a Hillary teaser. Jane McAlevey urged me to circulate it, and I do what Jane says.]

A little self-promotion. I have a cover story in this month’s Harper’s on Hillary Rodham Clinton, which the editors gave the tabloidish headline, “Stop Hillary!” (And I do mean tabloidish—it caught the attention of a New York Post reporter, who wrote it up for the paper’s Page Six gossip feature.) In it, I review Hillary’s life in a very non-friendly way, in hope of derailing her unannounced yet all-but-certain presidential campaign.

I have three major objections to Hillary (which is how she seems to brand herself these days): the dynastic, the personal, and the political.

First, after two Bushes, do we really need another Clinton?

Second, the personal. Hillary has a long record of dishonesty, ranging from making up a stories about the origin of her name (she said she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, but he didn’t climb Mt Everest until several years after she was born) to lies about all the various Arkansas scandals she brought with her to Washington. Par for the politician course, I suppose, but her supporters like to think of her as several cuts above the ordinary, a judgment I’m sure she concurs with.

But the most important objection is political: the last thing we need is another hawkish, Wall Street-friendly Democrat in the White House. Many people—including me, when I started researching the piece—don’t appreciate how deeply involved Hillary was with creating the New Democrat paradigm, tough and business-friendly, replacing the old New Deal/Great Society model. While governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton took a number of swipes at unions in the state as part of a campaign to shred the longstanding Democratic alliance with labor. He, with Hillary closely involved, launched an attack on the teachers union in Arkansas, a campaign with ugly racial undertones, that was a model for later edu-reform efforts. Once on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund, Hillary supported Bill’s efforts to end welfare, which is responsible for keeping millions of people, mostly women and children, in poverty now—though, of course, she likes to present herself as an advocate for women and children. That advocacy mainly takes the form of photo-ops and symbolic programs. It’s very reminiscent of her husband’s approach. I remember, back in the 1990s, taking apart his budget proposals. The prose sections always contained rhetoric about “investing in people” and “building a bridge to the 21st century,” but when you looked at the actual numbers, you had to take them out to two or three decimal places to notice any change. That’s the essence of the New Democrat paradigm.

But it isn’t new anymore—it’s more than 20 years old. It represented a consolidation of Reaganism, the conversion of what is supposed to be the popular party into a near-pure instrument of neoliberalism. To a neoliberal, the solution to a social problem should always involve a market, and if the market doesn’t exist, it must be created ex nihilo. (That’s the logic of Obamacare.)

That whole approach has lost even its novelty value now. It is not adequate to deal with climate change, polarization, and structural economic stagnation—problems that are caused by an excess of markets, not a deficiency. The marketization of everything has led to severe social fragmentation and the erosion of all notions of solidarity. Hillary sometimes evokes those notions of solidarity, but usually in photo-ops with women from poor countries in their colorful native garb, where she uplifts them by her mere presence. As for policies that might change their actual material and social status, well, they’re rather thin on the ground, because they might spoil the investment climate.

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Responses

  1. I would rather break entirely with the Democrats and the Republicans and look toward a third party, strongly social-democratic, with a mass base unknown in either of the two parties we have today.

    Such a party–or movement–would have a somewhat different mode of being from the two political parties we have today, which are essentially nothing but interlocking committees of the powerful to fund and elect this or that candidate at the fixed intervals prescribed by law.

    This party would have to be a living presence among the electorate–perhaps somewhat as the mega-churches of the right wing are today, but without the charismatic illusions. It would include functions of mutual aid, and would provide a focus for the resolution of family and individual problems as well organization around a variety of social and environmental issues.

    In short, it would resemble in some respect the social-democratic parties of the pre-Bolshevik period of European history, but would be entirely contemporary in character. It would not necessarily hark back to the presumed forbidden garden of the New Deal–why is this supposed to be unreachable anyway?–in some respects it would go back much farther than that and be far more uncompromisingly socialist in its social democracy.

    If successful, such an organization (or movement–I am not speaking of a
    “Leninist” party here), would win people over politically by addressing their needs, within the limits of practicality, directly, rather than by offering them nothing but speeches, TV commercials, falsified news, and mindless spectacle.

    The problem with this, IMHO, is that our electoral system is so delegitimized and power is so concentrated in the hands of the 1% (so to speak) that a collapse into pure oligarchy and a police state seems likely long before an organization of the type I am describing could get off the ground.

    In a little over a month, the United States will have a government elected by fewer than twenty percent of the eligible voters that nevertheless claims a mandate to rule by decree. The damage to individuals who lose Social Security, who are imprisoned for offenses that should not even be indictable, who face starvation, disease, lack of education, unemployment, and crippling debt as a result of this political change will be severe. Imagine the consequences if–as is all but inevitable–this is extended for another eight years with the added support of a powerful and ruthless executive.

    Can the political–not to mention economic–system survive this without collapsing?

    If the choice is between socialism and barbarism, hasn’t barbarism already won?

    What are the real political alternatives in this situation?


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