Just added to my radio archive (date is link to shows):
Just added to my radio archive (dates are links to shows):
A tendentious hack named Casey Michel slimes me in The Daily Beast for “maintain[ing] a professional relationship” with Julian Assange:
Another Nation staple, contributing editor Doug Henwood, has maintained a professional relationship with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, yet is apparently very tetchy about the collaboration, as I also discovered when I engaged him.
Henwood had planned to work with Assange on putting out a book about Hillary Clinton’s Goldman Sachs speeches – Henwood annotating, Assange writing the forward—transcripts of which were of course originally hacked by Russian intelligence and disseminated through WikiLeaks, at least according to 17 different U.S. intelligence agencies, two of which concluded that this was done with the express purpose of helping Trump get elected. When I brought up this pending project, as detailed both on the book publisher’s website and in multiple articles, Henwood called me a “fucking idiot.” (Henwood’s publisher, when contacted for this story, noted that Henwood was no longer affiliated with the endeavor, saying that he had now grown “weary of chronicling Hillary Clinton’s boundless political shortcomings.”)
It’s all here: the guiding hand of the evil Putin on behalf of Trump—confirmed by 17 intelligence agencies!—abetted by silly leftists who just don’t know they were being played. Except, you know, that all the leaked material was authentic, and revealed just how empty and cynical the Hillary Clinton campaign was. And that my “collaboration” with Assange was quite minimal. The full tweet in which I called Michel a fucking idiot:
You fucking idiot. I never worked with Assange. He was going to write a brief foreword to a book I never wrote. https://t.co/Yi2kOUg3hX
— Doug Henwood (@DougHenwood) December 29, 2016
I stand by my characterization.
This isn’t surprising, though. The center–left, now in the midst of a global crisis, is desperate. In the U.S., they’re trying to smear their leftist critics—who’ve been right all along about the bankruptcy of their worldview—as tools of Putin. Anything but looking in the mirror and confronting their failure. At this rate, there won’t be a Democratic party by the time of Chelsea Clinton’s 40th birthday.
PS: It’s “foreword,” not “forward.”
Matt Yglesias, whom I don’t always find myself agreeing with, argued yesterday that we shouldn’t listen to the advice not to “normalize” Donald Trump. He’s right.
Normalization, in this context, is typically cast as a form of complicity with Trump in which the highest possible premium is placed on maintaining a rigid state of alert and warning people that he is not just another politician whom you may or may not agree with on the issues.
Hillary Clinton ran her campaign on this. Her team rooted for Trump as nominee, because they were certain his outréness would make him easy to beat (a strategy endorsed by Jonathan Chait in one of the low points of his career, which is saying something). When they got their wish, they ran against Trump by separating him from “normal” Republicans, hoping to peel off moderate suburbanites grossed out by his odiousness. Those suburbanites voted for Trump.
Under cover of his Twitter provocations, Trump is skillfully assembling a horrifying cabinet of right-wing ghouls. He’s already appointed lots of skilled, well-connected people with dreadful agendas, starting with his vice president. They carry with them their party’s thinking on surveillance, torture, deportation, foreign policy, and making the lives of the poor more miserable (with many in the middle likely to suffer as collateral damage). With Congress under Republican control, it’s hard to see any obstacle to much of it being realized, and quickly.
Trump is forming a government that looks a lot like the one that Ted Cruz or a half-dozen other GOP candidates would have. It also looks to be the most plutocratic ever. As a Washington Post analysis pointed out, Commerce appointee Wilbur Ross’s net worth of $2.5 billion is ten times the combined value of George W. Bush’s first cabinet, deemed the cabinet of millionaires at the time. During what was probably an interview for the job of Agriculture Secretary, former Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue mentioned that he traded commodities. According to Purdue, Trump “lit up” at the news. He’s named the top lobbyist for Quicken Loans the head of his HUD transition team. It’s the direct injection of the business consciousness into governance without the slightest pretense of civilized mediation.
For a taste of the horrors on offer, take Medicaid. Trump has appointed Seema Verma, a consultant with close ties to VP Mike Pence, to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She helped Governor Pence get approval for the Indiana version
of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. Recipients can’t get full services unless they pay a premium. Failure to pay can result in getting kicked off the program for six months. Excessive use of the ER is subject to fines. As New York Times reporter Margot Sanger-Katz put it, using the paper’s house euphemizing style: “Ms. Verma’s appointment will probably usher in a new era of state flexibility in health care.” The word “flexibility” is almost always attached to policies that will hurt people.
Verma’s ideas for Medicaid, which she worked out with Pence, look quite similar to the House Republicans’ scheme to overhaul the program. They would convert the current federal Medicaid program into block grants to the states, and cut the amount spent over time. Over the next ten years, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates, Medicaid spending would be cut by 33% relative to what it would be were current law left untouched. One of the plan’s architects, House Budget Chair Tom Price, has been nominated for Health and Human Services by Trump. Unlike Medicare, which has a lot of friends in middle and even upper income brackets, Medicaid is an easy target because it’s for poor people, and Vermacaid could glide through Congress and into law.
This is far more important than Trump’s antics about flag burning. But being repeatedly shocked by them appears to be the standard reaction of liberal elites confronted by a Trump-style challenge. These “populist” figures are often bombastically clownish, deeply ignorant, and easily mocked. That treatment, however, further endears them to their base; the demagogue’s image as a man of the people, scorned (like them) by elites, is reinforced. It seems liberals always take the bait.
One can sympathize with them to some degree: given the configuration of forces in two, and probably soon three, branches of government, there’s no imaginable way to resist the Trump agenda. But you also have to wonder how vigorous their resistance will be through their favored organ, the Democratic party. In an excellent piece working out the parallels between Trump and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi—another clownish, vulgar, pseudo-populist billionaire—Cinzia Arruzza notes the complicity of the center–left in promoting his agenda:
Mainstream Italian anti-Berlusconism has always suffered from a grave form of selective amnesia. The effects of six years of harsh austerity policies and virtually no significant social opposition have never been taken into consideration as a decisive causal factor in the consolidation of Berlusconi’s power. Nor has mainstream anti-Berlusconism ever shown any willingness to admit the substantial continuity between Berlusconi’s second government’s austerity policies and those of the center-left.
Berlusconi had three terms in office, May 1994–January 1995, June 2001–May 2006, and May 2008–November 2011. His time in office was one of frequent sexual and financial scandal. (A Wikipedia article on Berlusconi’s legal travails lists 22 completed trials, three ongoing proceedings, and two live investigations.) Despite the volatility of his time in office, however, he ended as one of the longest-serving prime ministers in Italian history.
The first term was brief because of a massive mobilization against his proposed pension reforms (i.e., cuts). A general strike in October 1994 brought three million into the streets of 90 cities; a month later, a million turned out in Rome. Berlusconi fell in a matter of months. He was succeeded by a series of technocratic and center–left regimes, which imposed even more severe pension cuts, austerity, and attacks on job security. (Over the next five years, fiscal policy was tightened by a savage 7% of GDP.) The unions and center–left went along with it all in the name of preventing a return of Berlusconi. Unemployment hovered between 10% and 11% for six years. Discontent brought Berlusconi back in the seventh.
Mainstream anti-Berlusconism has indeed always preferred to deal in perceptions and impressions, rather than actual facts.
In the anti-Berlusconian imaginary, Berlusconi’s rule lasted twenty long years rather than nine, Berlusconi was a fascist, Italian democracy was in danger, the radical left helped consolidate Berlusconi’s power because of its sectarianism and unwillingness to cooperate with the center-left, Berlusconi’s voters were all racist and misogynistic uneducated losers, the country was constitutively right wing and that was the reason why even moderate Keynesian policies were impossible and why the Left needed to ally with all kinds of neoliberal technocrats, in the name of preventing Berlusconi’s return to power at all costs.
Does this sound familiar?
Very familiar. And it was, to use a favorite Trump word, a disaster.
Berlusconi was toppled the first time by popular action, something that unsettles mainstream liberals, who are terrified of the mob. Of course, a government can fall in a parliamentary system and not ours. But popular action is all we’ve got. It won’t be long before Chuck Schumer and Steve Mnuchin sit down and make some deals. Faced with profound defeat at every level of government, all the Dems seem able to do is re-elect Nancy Pelosi and dream of Cory Booker as their 2020 savior. Booker, who made his political debut at a lunch thrown by the right-wing Manhattan Institute, served on the same school reform board as Education Secretary-designate Betsy Devos, who wouldn’t mind destroying the public school system. These are dire times, and it’s hard to imagine resistance that doesn’t feature millions in the streets.
I’ve written before about how the Hillary Democrats are running against hope, and how the Sanders campaign have outed them as frank corporate shills and enemies of even mild social democracy. But now even nominal liberals, or progressives, or whatever we’re calling them these days have gotten in on the act. Not content with merely saying “No!” to new programs like single-payer health insurance and free college, they’re highlighting the worst aspects of the New Deal in an effort to…well, what exactly? Promote Hillary? Fight Trump? It’s hard to tell.
A few days ago, Jamelle Bouie, “chief political correspondent for Slate Magazine and a political analyst for CBS News,” tweeted this remarkable observation (since deleted):
Actually, that working class movement had a lot to do with the Communist Party, which was an antiracist organization with a large black membership. Not only did it organize auto workers in Flint, it organized black farmers in the South and black urbanites in Harlem. But saying nice things about the CPUSA is not the way to keep a job with CBS News.
Not long after Bouie’s ridiculous tweet came a longer instance of 1930s-bashing from Bryce Covert, “economic policy editor at ThinkProgress and a contributor to The Nation.” Covert identifies Donald Trump’s pledge to “make America great again” as appealing to whites, especially men, longing for the days before the civil rights movement and feminism ruined things for them. That’s not a controversial point; it may be incomplete, but it’s not untrue. Covert’s innovation is to locate much of that appeal in New Deal programs like Social Security and unemployment insurance, and postwar successors like the G.I. Bill.
This is rather odd, given the holy place that the New Deal once had in Democratic discourse. Covert’s beef is that to get the votes of racist Southern Congressmen, FDR had to craft his programs to exclude black workers. This is both true and awful, though it’s not clear how they would have gotten through Congress otherwise. But instead of saying that the New Deal was a good partial model, something that should be built upon—probably the only period in American history when a sense of the collective, and not competitive individualism, dominated our political thought—she emphasizes only the exclusions, and identifies them as the source of the nostalgias that Donald Trump, not previously known as a friend of social programs, has been basing his campaign on.
Neither Bouie’s tweet nor Covert’s op-ed makes any sense unless they’re trying to discredit an ambitious social agenda. That is precisely what the Hillary Democrats are doing to fight off the persistent Sanders threat that just won’t go away. (That despite the fact that, as Gallup recently reported, a majority of Americans support a single-payer system. The least popular option is Hillary’s position, keeping Obamacare largely as is.) But how is this going to play once she wins the nomination? At first it seemed like the rightward, anti-social-democratic tilt was intended to lure moderate suburban voters who might have voted for a sane Republican (not that there was one among the initial Gang of 17) but can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump. Bernie’s voters were expected either to shut up and fall in line or just go to hell.
But that strategy might not pan out. As Dave Weigel reports in the Washington Post, Trump is winning over a lot of those suburbanites that Dem strategists were, just a few weeks ago, hoping to harvest in November. As former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell put it less than two months ago:
For every one of those blue-collar Democrats [Trump] picks up, he will lose to Hillary two socially moderate Republicans and independents in suburban Cleveland, suburban Columbus, suburban Cincinnati, suburban Philadelphia, suburban Pittsburgh, places like that.
Now it looks like that might not happen. But that’s no cause for worry. The endlessly creative Rendell revealed a new strategy to Weigel:
Will [Trump] have some appeal to working-class Dems in Levittown or Bristol? Sure…. For every one he’ll lose 1½ , two Republican women. Trump’s comments like ‘You can’t be a 10 if you’re flat-chested,’ that’ll come back to haunt him. There are probably more ugly women in America than attractive women. People take that stuff personally.
Rendell and the centrist Dems do deserve a moment of sympathy. When you have nothing positive to sell voters, you have to get creative. Trolling for votes by calling your potential supporters “ugly” is seriously creative.
At first I thought that Hillary Clinton would have no trouble dispensing with Donald Trump. Sure, she’s the second most unpopular presidential candidate (and likely nominee) in the history of polling—but he’s the first. She’s unpleasant, but he’s downright repellent. All she has to do is win Obama’s states and a swing state or two and it’s all over for Trump, and he’d go back to being a third-tier real estate guy.
Now I’m not so sure. The same pundits and pollsters who assured us he could never get the nomination are now telling us that there’s no way he could win in November. While past performance is no guarantee of future results, this record doesn’t inspire confidence.
And the Hillary campaign so far isn’t performing impressively. All they have been able to do since Trump became the almost-certain nominee is uncork insults against him and marshall quotes from alarmed conservatives who can’t support him (for now). Some of her supporters are denouncing his supporters as ignorant bigots. Many of them no doubt are, but far from all, and that’s not the way to win friends and influence people. Lots of people are turning to the huckster because their lives are a mess and the political system doesn’t do shit for them. Hawking hats like this will drive away more of the discontented than it’ll attract. It speaks to the complacent and comfortable, which seems to be a major Hillary target audience.
Adding further to my doubts is Trump’s wiliness as a psychological warrior. Having destroyed Jeb and Marco with cruel, accurate epithets, he’s now ready for Hillary. And, at least according to an article New York Times by Patrick Healy, his approach looks to be a lot more sophisticated than one might have expected.
In a telephone interview, he noted that women did not like seeing Mrs. Clinton insulted or bullied by men. He said he wanted to be more strategic, by calling into question Mrs. Clinton’s judgment in her reaction to Mr. Clinton’s affairs — people close to the couple have said she was involved in efforts to discredit the women — and in her response to crises like Benghazi.
“Just getting nasty with Hillary won’t work,” Mr. Trump said. “You really have to get people to look hard at her character, and to get women to ask themselves if Hillary is truly sincere and authentic. Because she has been really ugly in trying to destroy Bill’s mistresses, and she is pandering to women so obviously when she is only interested in getting power.”
He acknowledged that Republicans tried to discredit her judgment in the marathon Benghazi hearing in the fall, to little avail. But he said that he would be more pointed and memorable in linking her to the failings and deaths in Libya, and that the debate would have a vastly larger television audience than the hearing. Still, advisers of Mrs. Clinton pointed to her face-off with the Republican-led Benghazi committee as a sign of her unflappability.
This is dead-on, not least because every word of it is true. The contrast with the conventional GOP approach on Benghazi is striking. That was always a bogus scandal. But she was central to the regime change in Libya (“We came, we saw, he died”), from which little good has come. Pointing that up undermines one of her most heavily advertised attributes, her “experience.” Citing Hillary’s undeniable (and impressive) “unflappability” is the strategy for for fighting the last war. Hillary can be tough, but she’s also capable of blurting out embarrassing things under pressure, and it’s almost certain that Trump will get viciously under her skin.
When I first started doing my Hillary research, my Democratic friends (I still have a few) hated me for it. I countered by saying I was actually doing them a favor by pointing to the many vulnerabilities of their candidate. They would hear none of it. They still won’t. Tweet negatively about her and you’re more likely to get blocked than to be met with an intelligent argument.
Twitter isn’t real life, for sure, but the move is emblematic of their response to criticism—stop the ears and denounce you as a misogynist. The psychoanalyst in me attributes that response to a strenuously disavowed awareness of her vulnerability, and the lack of strong positive arguments for her candidacy. She’s going to have to come up with some simulations of those, or Donald Trump will do her some serious damage.
Just posted to my radio archive:
I didn’t produce a new show this week; it was a rerun of this show:
August 13, 2015 William Darity on discrimination, a job guarantee, and baby bonds • R.L. Stephens II, founding editor of Orchestrated Pulse and author of this essay, talks about Black Lives Matter and the creation of a leadership class
And for the next three weeks, KPFA is fundraising, so I’m not sure what I’ll be posting. Back to regular programming on June 2.
Although Hillary fans discount her early enthusiasm for Barry Goldwater, she did say this in 1996 (audio here): “I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with. I don’t recognize this new brand of Republicanism that is afoot now, which I consider to be very reactionary, not conservative in many respects. I am very proud that I was a Goldwater girl.” (Her distinction between “reactionary” and “conservative” is hard to parse; Goldwater voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, wanted to privatize Social Security, and once suggested that we “lob one into the men’s room at the Kremlin.”) And now that many on the right are recoiling from likely Republican nominee Donald Trump, she gets to quote contemporary conservatives approvingly. A striking name on the list: Ken Cuccinelli, the abortion-opposing homophobic former Virginia attorney general. But there are many more treasures below. That rightward-pointing red arrow is carrying more meaning than ever. This press release is just in from her media operation:
Conservatives Rebuke Trump As He Captures Republican Nomination
Last night, Donald Trump effectively captured the Republican nomination, successfully bullying his way through a crowded primary field. However, many prominent activists, journalists and elected officials in his own party have figured out what Hillary Clinton has argued all along: Donald Trump is too big a risk for America.
Take a look at the large group of prominent conservatives who are already promising that they’ll never vote for Trump:
Rep. Scott Rigell [R-VA]: “My love for our country eclipses my loyalty to our party, and to live with a clear conscience I will not support a nominee so lacking in the judgment, temperament and character needed to be our nation’s commander-in-chief. Accordingly, if left with no alternative, I will not support Trump in the general election should he become our Republican nominee.”
Former Romney staffer Garrett Jackson: “Sorry Mr. Chairman, not happening. I have to put country over party. I cannot support a dangerous phony.”
Former top Romney strategist Stuart Stevens: “I think Donald Trump has proven to be unbalanced and uniquely unqualified to be president. I won’t support him… Everyone has to make their own choice. I think Trump is despicable and will prove to be a disaster for the party. I’d urge everyone to continue to oppose him.’”
Rep. Carlos Curbelo [R-FL]: “I have already said I will not support Mr. Trump, that is not a political decision that is a moral decision.’”
Sen. Ben Sasse [R-NE]: “Mr. Trump’s relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation. … I can’t support Donald Trump.”
Daily Caller editor Jamie Weinstein: “If it’s Trump-Hillary with no serious third party option in the fall, as hard as it is for me to believe I am actually writing these words, there is just no question: I’d take a Tums and cast my ballot for Hillary — and I suspect so would many other life-long conservatives, whether they are willing to admit it now or not.”
Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes: “This is what political division looks like. Trump’s claim to be a unifier is not just specious, it’s absurd. This casual dishonesty is a feature of his campaign. And it’s one of many reasons so many Republicans and conservatives oppose Trump and will never support his candidacy. I’m one of them.”
Former McCain adviser Mark Salter: “The GOP is going to nominate for President a guy who reads the National Enquirer and thinks it’s on the level. I’m with her.”
RedState editor Ben Howe: “#ImWithHer”
Billionaire Bush-backer Mike Fernandez: “If I have a choice — and you can put it in bold — if I have a choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton, I’m choosing Hillary.”
Lifelong Republican, foreign policy expert Max Boot: “[Hillary Clinton] would be vastly preferable to Trump.’”
Former NJ Gov., Christine Todd Whitman on a Clinton/Trump matchup: “I will probably vote for her.”
MA Gov. Charlie Baker: “I’m not going to vote for [Donald Trump] in November.”
Former RNC Chairman Mel Martinez: “I would not vote for Trump, clearly.”
Former VA Senate candidate, Ken Cuccinelli on Trump: “When you’ve got a guy favorably quoting Mussolini, I don’t care what party you’re in, I’m not voting for that guy.”
Former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman: “Leaders don’t need to do research to reject Klan support. #NeverTrump”
Former Bush spokesman Tony Fratto: “For the thick-headed: #NeverTrump means never ever ever ever ever under any circumstances as long as I have breath never Trump. Get it?”
Former Eric Cantor communications director, Rory Cooper: “#NeverTrump means…never. The mission of distinguishing him from Republican positions and conservative values remains critical.”
Conservative blogger Erick Erickson: “Reporters writing about the “Stop Trump” effort get it wrong. It’s ‘Never Trump’ as in come hell or high water we will never vote for Trump”
Fox News’ Steve Deace: “Apparently @secupp has a #NeverTrump list to see who keeps their word to the end. You can sign my name in blood.”
America Rising co-founder and former Jeb Bush communications director Tim Miller: “Never ever ever Trump. Simple as that.”
Former Rep. J.C. Watts [R-OK] said he’d write-in someone before voting for Mr. Trump in November.
Former Director Of NV and MS GOP Cory Adair: “You’ll come around,” say supporters who just got done saying their candidate doesn’t need me. Nah. I won’t. #NeverTrump
Townhall editor Guy Benson: “Much to my deep chagrin (& astonishment ~8 months ago), for the 1st time in my life, I will not support the GOP nominee for president.”
DailyWire editor Ben Shapiro: “Really? #Nevertrump. Pretty easy.”
Wisconsin conservative radio host Charles Sykes: “I suppose I should clarify: #NeverTrump means I will nevereverunderanycircusmtances vote for @realDonaldTrump”
Editor at RedState, Dan McLaughlin: “For the first time since turning 18, I will not vote for the Republican candidate for President.”
George Mason law professor, Republican David Bernstein: “ “I’d rather Hillary Clinton win. I’d rather (and I never thought I’d say this)… If Trump wins the nomination, I will actively seek to prevent him from becoming president.”
Conservative columnist George Will: “If Trump is nominated, Republicans working to purge him and his manner from public life will reap the considerable satisfaction of preserving the identity of their 162-year-old party while working to see that they forgo only four years of the enjoyment of executive power.”
Redstate contributor Leon Wolf: “I will never vote for Donald Trump. I will not vote for him in the general election against Hillary, and I would not vote for him in a race for dogcatcher. Heck, I would not even vote for him on a reality television show.”
Former Romney adviser Kevin Madden: “I’m prepared to write somebody in so that I have a clear conscience.”
Pete Wehner, former speechwriter for George W. Bush: “I will not vote for Donald Trump if he wins the Republican nomination.”
Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard: “Donald Trump should not be president of the United States. The Wall Street Journal cannot bring itself to say that. We can say it, we do say it, and we are proud to act accordingly.”
Undersecretary of State under George W. Bush, Eliot Cohen: “I will oppose Trump as nominee. Won’t support & won’t work for him for more reasons than a Tweet can bear.”
Former Jeb Bush digital director Elliott Schwartz: “In case there is confusion about #NeverTrump.”
Doug Heye, Former RNC communications director: “I cannot support Donald Trump were he to win the Republican nomination.”
Former IL GOP Chairman Pat Brady said he’d back a third-party candidate or “just stay home” if Mr. Trump is the nominee.
Washington Examiner’s Phillip Klein: “I have officially de-registered as a Republican.”
Hypeline News’ Kyle Foley: “I’m willing, if need be, to vote Hillary. That’s how strong my disdain is for Trump #NeverTrump”
Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson: “I registered Republican when I was 18 because I thought free markets and liberty were important. Not sure what “Republican” means today.”
Katha Pollitt is now a big fan of Hillary Clinton, but she wasn’t always one, as this review of her dreadful book It Takes A Village shows (although the opening is a portent of the future). In the spirit of my earlier reposting of Katha’s polemic on the repeal of welfare, here’s her view of HRC’s pieties from twenty years ago. Clarification: the business with the ghostwriter, Barbara Feinman is serious; Hillary and the White House tried to stiff her out of her last payment, and she wasn’t acknowledged in the book. For more, see Carl Bernstein’s A Woman In Charge.
The Nation — February 5, 1996
“Saint or Sinner?” asks the cover of Newsweek about Hillary Clinton. On the New York Times Op-Ed page, Maureen Dowd calls her a hybrid of Earth Mother and Mommie Dearest. I must say, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Don’t countless politicians (and their relatives) use their positions to make profitable contacts and advance their friends? And don’t they all talk about family, morals, responsibility, children and God? Even if the First Lady is guilty of the worst that is alleged against her—and if you can explain exactly what that is, you’ve probably been up to no good yourself—there’s nothing new or exceptional about it: See the careers of Newt Gingrich, Al D’Amato, Bob Dole et al. This is what politics is all about, especially in places like Arkansas, a k a The Heartland. “The people you read about in the papers? They all live next door to each other,” an Italian journalist told me after a visit to Little Rock. “It’s just like Italy!”
Well, there is one new thing: the gender issue. A lot of people still expect the wives of politicians to concentrate on the Kinder-Kirche-Küche side of life, while their husbands go after the bright lights and boodle. H.R.C. has failed to observe this division of labor in her own marriage, for which tradition-minded folk like William Safire cannot forgive her. Now the First Lady has written a book, It Takes a Village—And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, only to land herself in more hot water. In yet another column criticizing H.R.C., Maureen Dowd took her to task for not acknowledging the ghostly pen of Barbara Feinman, a former researcher and editor for Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward and Sally Quinn, all now apparently up in arms at this slight to their beloved assistant. Between Whitewater, Madison Guaranty, Travelgate and now Thankyougate, H.R.C. isn’t likely to get much time to talk about her book, and since I know how painful that can be, I sat down and read the whole thing. Who knows? I may be the only columnist in America who can make that claim.
The ostensible thesis of It Takes a Village is that the well-being of children depends on the whole society. The real message is that H.R.C. is for family values. She prays a lot, alone and en famille. She’s a good mom. She thinks young people should abstain from sex until they are 21. She opposes divorce: “My strong feelings about divorce and its effects on children have caused me to bite my tongue more than a few times during my own marriage”—I’ll bet—“and to think instead about what I could do to be a better wife and partner. My husband has done the same.”
I know I’m not supposed to take these notions seriously, any more than I’m meant to gag at the weirdly Pollyannaish tone of the prose, or wonder if Sunday school could really have been her formative intellectual experience. Like her disapproval of television talk shows—thanks to which “we are saturated with stories about priests who molest children” and have become “skeptical of organized religion”—they’re just campaign theater, nods to the cultural conservatives that are balanced by other nods, to flexible gender roles, legal abortion (a very small nod), a “modest” rise in the minimum wage. There’s no attempt to think anything through: the damage to organized religion versus the damage to children left at risk of molestation, for example, or the kinds of social pressures that would be necessary to produce that bumper crop of 21-year-old virgins. Her opposition to divorce is left characteristically vague: She’s “ambivalent” about no-fault divorce (the pet peeve of former White House aide and communitarian William Galston, who proposed abolishing it for couples with children recently on the Times Op-Ed page), but she says nothing about what it would really mean to return to the old system, in which spouses, lawyers and judges colluded in perjury, and wives who strayed could be denied custody and support. It’s easy for her to talk: Her husband has obligingly provided her with grounds that would withstand even the most Savonarolaesque reforms.
What else? The First Lady is for sex ed that has both an abstinence and, for those youths determined to ruin their lives, a birth-control component; a free market that’s also socially responsible; government that’s both smaller and more social-worky. For every problem she identifies, a study, a foundation, a church, a business or a government-funded pilot project is already on the case: teaching poor young mothers how to improve their babies’ cognitive abilities, encouraging fathers to spend time with their families, involving parents in their children’s school. Some of these programs sound terrific, but none of them are on remotely the same scale as the problems they confront. If parents are too poor to afford school uniforms, they’ve got problems much graver than the community recycling of hand-me-downs can solve. The First Lady is thus a kind of center-liberal version of Arianna Huffington, who claims that “spirituality” and volunteerism can replace the welfare state. For H:R.C. the state itself becomes a kind of pilot project, full of innovation but short on cash, and ever on the lookout for spongers.
The real irony, of course, is that at the same time H.R.C. is conceptualizing society as a “village” united in its concern for and responsibility toward children, her husband is panting to sign the original Senate welfare bill, which his own Administration’s figures say would plunge 1.2 million more children into poverty and render more desperate the condition of those already poor. How can a self-described child advocate, who goes on and on about the importance of providing children with enriched parental attention and quality care from their earliest moments of life, square herself with policies that would force low-skilled mothers of small children into full-time subminimum-wage jobs, with warehouse care for their kids? Exactly how will permitting states to deny benefits to children born on welfare further those kids’ development? And what about the kids at the end of the line when the block grants runout?
After the media figure out Whitewater and insure proper recognition of Ms. Feinman’s labors, some enterprising reporter might consider asking the First Lady about that.
Gail Collins wrote this ludicrous paragraph in her New York Times column today:
The bottom line on Hillary Clinton is that she’s spent her life championing women and their issues. She began her career with the Children’s Defense Fund, fought for better schools in Arkansas, for children’s health care as first lady and for reproductive rights as the senator from New York. As secretary of state she spent endless — endless — days and weeks flying to obscure corners of the planet, celebrating the accomplishments of women craftsmen, championing the causes of women labor leaders, talking with and encouraging women in government and politics.
These assertions bear a rather casual relation with the truth:
- Yes, Hillary did “begin her career” at the Children’s Defense Fund, but the job lasted only about a year. She graduated from Yale Law School in 1973, and by 1974 was off working on the Nixon impeachment committee. She joined the Rose Law Firm, representing the elite of corporate Arkansas, in 1977, and became a partner in 1979. While at Rose, Wal-Mart—a company for whom sex discrimination has long been a way of life—was among her clients, and she later joined the retailer’s board of directors. Hillary gets a lot of mileage out of this brief “first job.” CDF’s founder, Marian Wright Edelman, broke with Hillary over her support of welfare reform during Bill’s administration. Though they’ve since reconciled, as recently as 2007, Edelman said this: “Well, you know, Hillary Clinton is an old friend, but they [sic] are not friends in politics. We have to build a constituency, and you don’t—and we profoundly disagreed with the forms of the welfare reform bill, and we said so.”
- Hillary’s fight for “better schools in Arkansas” included a war on the state’s teachers’ union, making her a pioneer of neoliberal education reform, which holds teachers’ unions in deep contempt. The school reform initiative, which Hillary led, imposed competency tests on teachers. That act that was widely seen as racist because the teaching corps was disproportionately black, earning the enmity of civil rights organizations in the state. According to Carl Bernstein, this criticism “deeply pained” Bill and Hillary, but not enough to make them rethink the struggle. As for making the union the enemy, Bernstein noted that “the ASTA [Arkansas State Teachers Association] was not exactly the antichrist, and in fact had done some pretty good things in a state where the legislature had typically accorded more attention to protecting the rights of poultry farmers to saturate half of Arkansas’s topsoil with chicken feces than providing its children with a decent education.”
- Hillary is widely seen as a staunch advocate of reproductive rights, but she’s got an immense capacity for equivocation. At a 2005 event in Albany, on the same day as the annual anti-abortion rally in Washington, Hillary described abortion as a “sad, even tragic choice to many, many women,” talked up abstinence education and “teenage celibacy,” and sought common ground with right-to-lifers. She has often said she wants to make abortion “rare,” a characterization that stigmatizes a medical procedure that should bear no stigma at all.
- Her efforts on behalf of women while Secretary of State were mostly in the realm of symbolism, not actual policy. As I wrote in an earlier post: “[J]ust what did Hillary do to “elevat[e] women and girls as Secretary of State…”? There’s a rather sympathetic book—so sympathetic that the foreword is written by someone who declares a twenty-plus-year friendship with Hillary—on the topic by Valerie Hudson and Patricia Leidl, The Hillary Doctrine: Sex & American Foreign Policy, which is rather long on citing directives and rather short on reporting accomplishments.” There’s one preposterous anecdote about a “Bees for Widows” program in Iraq—see the link for the full quote—but little to justify the hype. Hillary did, however, help quash a minimum wage increase in Haiti, which would have benefited women garment workers in that country (so much for “championing the causes of women labor leaders”) and supported the coup against Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, who, among other things, fought to make the morning-after pill available in a socially conservative Catholic country. In a 2014 interview, Berta Cáceres, the indigenous rights and environmental activist who was murdered by forces that the coup helped promote, blamed Hillary for legitimating and institutionalizing Zelaya’s overthrow. So much for encouraging women in politics.
But when you’re writing about Hillary for the newspaper of record, you can stuff a lot of baseless nonsense into a single paragraph, and few readers will doubt you.
Just added to my radio archive:
April 21, 2016 Bruce Dixon, managing editor of the Black Agenda Report, on black voters’ mysterious lingering romance with the Clintons • Alfredo Saad Filho on the vote to impeach Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff
Just posted to my radio archive:
April 7, 2016 David Howell on the increase of the minimum wage to $15 in California and New York • Vidar Thorsteinsson, author of this article, on the political crisis in Iceland unleashed by the Panama Papers
Just added to my radio archive:
- conference talk
- job market
- other articles
- radio commentaries
- research roundup
- U.S. macroeconomy