There is an outstanding book by Nomi Prins about the machinations of the deregulated financial predators let loose upon the world during the Clinton years. It is called It Takes a Pillage. Too bad that the title is therefore unavailable; it could come in handy in the weeks and months ahead.
It would be a fine taunt to use in polemics about the author, the official one, of the 1996 bestseller It Takes a Village, a public relations confection contrived to repackage Hillary Clinton’s persona in time for her husband’s run for a second term.
The Hillarycare episode had to be shoved down the memory hole and, along with it, the image of a policy wonk with an unwomanly penchant for political hardball — one who ends up on the losing side anyway.
Evidently, the flacks trying to sell the public on a second Clinton term felt they needed a softer, more caring First Lady to stand by their man. Obligingly, the Mrs. addressed traditionally feminine topics like parenting and education in a soft and caring way.
Even so, by today’s standards, the saccharine concoction that came out under her name seems a tad risqué. It upholds notions of cooperation and social solidarity – as ends in their own right and as means for rearing children right.
Clinton’s PR people permitted – indeed, encouraged – that high minded message because the neoliberal worldview that went along with the kinds of policies she and her husband were promoting had not yet entirely taken hold.
To praise cooperative ideals back then was hardly edgy; if anything, Clinton’s book suffers from too much pious cant. It was only later that traditional values took on a more sinister coloration. That happened around the time that “socialist” became a dirty word; a phenomenon the Clintons also helped to bring about.
Back then too, women who were high-flyers were still supposed to be nurturers and care givers first. This was a fine point Clinton’s handlers felt they needed to pin down.
Since then, times have changed and Hillary Clinton along with them. The persona she presents now is tougher and less gendered. The Hillary of Hillarycare is back.
Nowadays, this is OK for a candidate, but still not for a First Lady. By “partnering” with Bill, Hillary spoiled the First Lady gig for her successors. Michelle Obama, potentially a more capable leader than either Hillary or Barack, understood this from Day One.
Too bad for First Ladies; life is unfair. And too bad for serious critics of Clintonian politics that, after Nomi Prins, the best title imaginable for a book about the Clinton phenomenon is now out of bounds.
The wicked have all the luck. Hillary had a good thing going for a while; Michelle is stuck in a golden cage, planting vegetables and steering fat kids away from junk food. And Hillary’s detractors, the hordes of them who are not morally or intellectually serious, have no need for apt book titles or clever turns of phrase. Turn on Fox News and see for yourself.
Prins’s title is doubly apt. It describes the world the Clintons have brought upon us; a world in which the super-rich loot and plunder. And, it suggests what we need to do to rid ourselves of their depredations — when “niceness” is simply not enough.
Taunt Hillary with that? As the eminently quotable Sarah Palin would say: “you betcha.”
But why bother? After all, in America today, it makes little difference if she loses or wins. In the real world of electoral politics, the ship of state stays on a neoliberal course no matter what happens at election time.
The personalities at the top change; everything else stays the same. At the policy level, even cosmetic changes are now so rare that they seem almost out of reach.
When Obama came out of nowhere to run for president in 2008, it looked like there would be at least a few cosmetic changes ahead.
But none were forthcoming. The knight in shining armor was an illusion in Freud’s sense, an unconscious expression of a wish. He did fool a lot of people, though — for a while.
And, with Obama in mind, it is dawning on the voting public too that it doesn’t matter what winners say — or let people believe — during political campaigns.
Hence the question: if all comes out the same in the end, why be concerned that Hillary Clinton is on track for 2016?
That there is no significant political difference between her and husband Bill is not reason enough. It would make no difference if there were.
The idea of a Clinton in the White House again is alarming — but no more than the thought, say, of a President Joe Biden, the other “rival” Obama empowered.
There are other imaginable “mainstream” (actually, right-wing) Democratic contenders out there who may seem less onerous. But that is only because we know less about them. If they are mainstream enough to be taken seriously, they are cut from the same cloth.
In any case, it is Hillary, not Biden or anyone else, who is on the move right now; and therefore, if any of them must be stopped, it is she.
But why must anyone be stopped when candidates are not where the action is?
The short answer is that even when it doesn’t matter who wins elections, it sometimes matters who runs.
Who runs in the 2016 Democratic primaries matters more than usual because, barring momentous developments that cannot now be foreseen, the winner will win the general election too. Those primaries are therefore bound to focus the collective mind.
Whoever wins will become the next president because the GOP will again be unable to produce a candidate that sane Republican and “independent” voters can abide and that plutocrats can entrust to look after their interests. Their “base” won’t let them.
The problem is not that the Republican base is “populist” in a way that might give “establishment Republicans” reason to bolt.
We don’t hear much about “false consciousness” these days, but the benighted souls the GOP has recruited into its ranks since Nixon’s “Southern strategy” took off are a textbook case — always at the ready to sacrifice their own material interests for the benefit of one per-centers who wouldn’t otherwise give them the time of day.
But because there are so many of them and because they are obstinate to a fault, they have made the GOP hostage to their warped sensibilities.
Much has been made lately about how the hyper-rich have decided to throw “free speech” at the problem. They want the Tea Party out, and respectable candidates in – provided, of course, that the more respectable candidates are as subservient to their needs.
Perhaps they will get their way; they will certainly spend huge sums trying. But even if they succeed, the payoff will only be that someone like Mitt Romney will again be their standard-bearer.
If this happens, the Republican base will probably acquiesce once more. But grudging acquiescence is not enough.
The demographics are now such that without an energized base of hate-filled, subliminally racist, patriarchal, gun toting, Bible thumping, white folk growing old gracelessly together, a Republican presidential candidate doesn’t stand a chance. 2016 will be 2008 and 2012 all over again.
This doesn’t mean that 2014 will be a bad year for Republicans; quite the contrary. Thanks to understandable indifference on the part of those who should know better, gerrymandering, voter suppression, the peculiarities of our electoral institutions, and, above all, the largesse of billionaires, Republicans can still control Congress, along with many state governments.
This year, they will probably retain control of the House of Representatives, and may well become the majority party in the Senate.
But the White House is out of reach for the foreseeable future – because their candidate will either be despised by the yahoos in the base or will be abhorrent to everyone else.
Republicans can still win governorships and state houses in states with sizeable contingents of reactionary voters; and Congress is full of Tea Party whackos. Lately, a few have even made it into the Senate – Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are among the most prominent examples.
But the presidency? Not a chance; not even with the Electoral College having the ultimate say.
In 2000, George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore, and if all the votes cast in Florida had been counted, he would have lost Florida’s electoral votes too. But five partisan Supreme Court Justices made sure that Florida’s votes wouldn’t all be counted, and Bush was inflicted upon the world.
This was only possible because it occurred at a time when, despite yawning cultural differences, the pillars of the Republican Party and their useful idiots still got along tolerably well.
This has not been the case for some time; and since Romney’s defeat in 2012, the rift has widened. It is not about to close.
We can therefore be confident that, whatever happens in this year’s elections, the next president will be a Democrat.
Therefore if the nomination goes to Hillary Clinton, expect the Clintons to move back into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in January 2017.
This would be a revolting development – but not because a Clinton presidency would be significantly more awful than the presidency of anyone else, Democrat or Republican, whom our plutocrats might decide to bless. On the awfulness scale, they would all register about the same.
Four or eight more years of Clintons in our face would be too much for normally sensitive people to bear; this “aesthetic” problem is hardly irrelevant. But it too is not the main reason why it is important to stop Clinton now.
The reason for that is that if she isn’t stopped – or, at the very least, if there isn’t a serious and sustained effort to stop her – opportunities opened up by the approaching primary season will be squandered.
There are two general problems with lesser evil voting in contests between Democrats and Republicans in the United States today.
For one, the practice is myopic.
Even if we concede, what is far from obvious, that, say, President Obama made better appointments and proposed better initiatives than John McCain or Mitt Romney would have if they had had the chance, his presidency made the ostensibly Lesser Evil party more pusillanimous and more conservative than would have otherwise been the case.
Between 2006 and 2008, when there was still a Republican president and when Democrats controlled the House, there were intimations of what even post-(Bill) Clinton Democrats could do. Impeaching George W. Bush was high on the list.
That effort, even if unsuccessful, would have made it harder for Bush to keep his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan going, and harder still for Obama to take up where Bush left off.
But the Pelosiite leadership in the House made sure to quash any chance of impeachment along with every other worthwhile initiative – ostensibly to help elect a Democrat in 2008. A more plausible explanation is that they too are Clintonites (neoliberals, liberal internationalists) under the skin. These explanations are not mutually exclusive.
The Democratic leadership in the House is less noxious, or at least less risible, than the Republican leadership that has run that institution since 2010. But, it is far from obvious even so, taking all factors into account, that electing Democrats is the way to assure that less evil outcomes will result.
A combative Democratic Party in Congress is worth a dozen Barack Obamas in the White House.
The other problem is that lesser evil voting doesn’t take a long enough view.
Even if Democrats really are the lesser evil at a particular moment in time, voting for them as they shadow the greater evil on its rightward course fosters a race to the bottom — or rather to the hellish wasteland our political scene has become.
The consequences become more apparent with each election cycle.
But these considerations don’t apply, at least not directly, to intraparty primary elections.
The only worthwhile purpose Republican primaries serve is to provide material for late night comedians. The increasingly tedious and unfunny MSNBC pundits who come on earlier in the evening use the same material, but that doesn’t count.
Democratic primaries sometimes have more redeeming features.
Even if there is no one to vote for, only against, making the less bad choice as good as can be is sometimes worth doing.
And, when all the choices are equally bad, as they usually are, Democratic primaries nevertheless provide opportunities for voting expressively, for making a statement.
Writing in names of candidates not officially in the running can be a productive way to “waste” a vote. Voting for a mainstream Democrat on the ballot is almost always an unproductive way.
Since voting for a Republican is unthinkable, that option hardly warrants mention. I will therefore say no more about it.
For years, I have been writing in the names of my dogs. This year, I plan to do better; I will write in Edward Snowden for something, maybe for everything. Hardly anyone, certainly no Democratic muckety-muck will notice, but maybe a few county-level party functionaries will.
Until “none of the above” – or some functional equivalent, like casting a blank ballot — becomes an option that the powers that be will be unable to ignore, voting for a hero, or an estimable pet, is as good a way as any to cast a protest vote.
Sometimes, though, we can do better than that. This can happen in primary elections at the local level, and it sometimes happens in primaries that pick candidates for president. It happens whenever there are candidates, outliers, whom a person can in good conscience vote for.
In local elections, there is sometimes a chance that such a candidate can win. In presidential elections, there is no chance – not with corporate media working diligently to marginalize the candidacies of anyone not one hundred percent in the pocket of the one percent.
But if true outliers are heard at all – in candidate debates, for example – they can expand the universe of discourse, at least for a while.
This was what Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel did in the 2008 Democratic primaries. To them, much credit is due.
This time around, there are more plausible candidates being talked about; they could therefore do even more good than Kucinich or Gravel did.
The two most likely, at this point, are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They both command media attention, and they both fall enough outside the neoliberal mainstream to give one percenters and free market theologians cause for concern.
Also they both seem to know how to be oppositional while remaining “viable within the system.” Persons of a certain age will recall that this was Bill Clinton’s express reason for not resisting the draft in a more militant way than dragging out a student deferment. It worked for him; it can work for Sanders and Warren too.
To be sure, there is no reason to think that either of them would turn American diplomacy around or dismantle the national security state.
Neither is there any reason at this point to think that either of them would do much to steer the world away from environmental catastrophes.
But we can infer a priori that they wouldn’t be worse in these regards than the malefactors now running the show.
Of the two of them, Warren has to be the favorite, if only because hers is a fresher face, and because her candidacy would help keep on board voters who think that the most important thing, this time around, is electing the first woman president.
Needless to say, many who think like that are politically on the Clintons’ page. No doubt some of them can be weaned away, however; even aging baby boomers can still learn.
Because hope springs eternal, I am tempted to add that maybe Sanders or Warren could play a role in the process of de-Clintonizing the Democratic Party.
The god-awful collection of “lesser evils” that the Democratic Party has become is probably beyond redemption. But since there is no “third party” that the media won’t ignore, and since there seems to be no way to get rid of our duopoly party system, the best chance we have to salvage anything out of our electoral politics, in the short run anyway, is to try – even if only in vain –to make the Democratic Party better or, better yet, to refashion it altogether.
This would involve more than just stopping Hillary in her tracks. But stopping her is an indispensible first step.
What it would take would be a campaign organized from the bottom up, as in peoples’ movements in Latin America and elsewhere.
Campaigns organized from the top down, like the ones that got Obama elected twice, are no doubt less messy. And they too can energize masses of voters; we know this from the Obama fiascos.
But they lead nowhere good. In Obama’s case, they led to drones, 24/7 surveillance and carte blanche for banksters and anyone else willing and able to stuff Democratic Party coffers.
Would campaigns for Sanders or Warren be any different? It is not impossible; those two seem less cooptable than most, and instinctively more (small-d) democratic.
But it will only happen if their electoral efforts build more on the Occupy movements of 2011 than the Obama frenzy of 2008.
This is unlikely at best. But it will be impossible if, like Obama in 2012, Hillary Clinton gets to turn all the positive energy there could be in the next two years into the usual electoral detritus.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Nevertheless, joining forces with Republican Hillary-bashers is out of the question, and not just because they are utterly vile.
Karl Rove says that he suspects that Hillary is brain damaged from a concussion. The man aptly called “Bush’s brain,” should know about damaged brains. But he is only blowing air. Even Fox News watchers, the ones who still have some grey matter left, are bound to figure that that out soon enough.
Then there are the pending Benghazi hearings.
It would be extremely useful to investigate what the CIA was up to in Libya. Among other things, we might learn the extent to which our “humanitarian interveners,” in league with their French counterparts, deliberately or inadvertently armed fanatical Islamist and Christian militias in sub-Saharan Africa, where many of the arms they sent ended up.
The Obama administration has long wanted a larger military footprint in Africa; to what extent were its post-invasion, post-coup activities in Libya part of this project? It would be good to know.
But the Obama administration will never come clean on its own, and Congressional hearings set up by House Republicans are unlikely to shed much light. Their only aim is to damage the woman they expect their man to run against in 2016.
In this, their brazenness rivals JFK’s feigned alarm over a “missile gap” with the Soviet Union when he ran against Richard Nixon in 1960. Kennedy knew that Eisenhower’s Vice President could not disclose the real extent of American military dominance. So he squeezed all the benefit he could out of talking tough on “defense.”
Similarly, Republicans know that Obama’s former Secretary of State cannot reveal the nature and extent of the CIA’s shenanigans in Africa or the American military’s plans for dominating that poverty-stricken but resource-abundant continent. Republicans don’t know much, but they know that.
Kennedy’s ploy worked; this one won’t. Unless some truth comes out of the House investigation, even Fox News won’t be able to sustain interest beyond a few mindless news cycles.
Someday, no doubt, the world will know all about what went on in the American Consulate in Benghazi; and what we learn will not redound to Clinton’s or Obama’s credit. But unless a whistle-blower as courageous as Edward Snowden materializes soon, that time is not now.
What is coming instead will be unseemly and uninformative. And it is more likely to backfire on the Republicans than to harm Clinton’s electoral prospects. This is only to be expected; Republicans are not the brightest bulbs on the tree.
Democrats who counseled having as little to do with the coming charade as possible were probably right. But the hearings will probably work to the Democrats’ advantage anyway. Time will tell.
In any case, those of us who want to stop Hillary for the right reasons would do well to steer clear of the impending farce altogether.
It would be wiser by far to take the high road.
If this means mobilizing behind a Sanders or Warren candidacy, then so be it. Now might be a good time to dust off the hoary but still useful notion of “critical support.”
There is no reason not to take the low road too, so long as Republicans don’t sully it first. Doing so would at least make the struggle against Clintonism entertaining.
Where the Clintons are involved, there are so many low roads to take!
Is it an accident, for example, that Monica Lewinsky is back in the news, thanks to the article she wrote for Vanity Fair?
Lynne Cheney thinks Bill and Hillary are behind it; she thinks they want to get that story out of the way. Could she, for once, be right?
It goes without saying that the Cheneys outdo even the Bushes and the Clintons for sheer noxiousness. Their politics is as bad as it gets.
And they are rank ingrates. If our country was governed by the rule of law, the Paterfamilias of that wretched clan would now be doing hard time for war crimes, crimes against the peace, and crimes against humanity.
Instead, Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, protect him assiduously. Yet, the Cheneys heap abuse upon Obama (for all the wrong reasons) with the zeal of a Sean Hannity or a Glenn Beck.
Still, even Cheneys sometimes speak the truth. The idea that the Clintons are behind the Vanity Fair article may be one of those times. There is no smoking gun — but the contention rings true.
In any case, well-timed preemptive strikes don’t always work.
What a delicious prospect it would be too: to remind the world of Bill Clinton’s finest moment. “Not (having) sex with that woman, never” ranks up there with (maybe) smoking weed but (certainly) not inhaling.
I am being facetious, of course, but these really were the best things the man has done.
Before 2008, I called for the establishment of Monica Lewinsky Democratic Clubs in every corner of the land. “That woman” deserves no less.
For her – admittedly inadvertent — role in bringing about a situation that made it impossible for her paramour to privatize Social Security, as he was hankering to do, she did more for her country than any woman in Bill Clinton’s life – bar none.
But much like my efforts in behalf of Socialists for Bush – an organization (with two members) that I cofounded in 1992 when Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton suspended his campaign for the Democratic nomination in order to go back to Little Rock to superintend the judicial murder of Ricky Ray Rector, a brain damaged convict on death row — that call fell on deaf ears.
Socialists for Bush is now a dead letter; history has moved on.
But as long as there are Clintons threatening, “the Lewinsky matter” lives on.
This time, it is Hillary’s enthusiasms that constitute the clear and present danger.
More even than the future of Social Security is at stake because the forces behind the Clintons now are targeting more than just the feeble welfare state institutions we still have left.
As the economy that sustains the American empire falls into permanent decline, the goal of the one percent now is to make the world safe for the military-industrial-national security state complex. Hillary Clinton has made this cause her own.
In this, she even surpasses Obama – witness her greater fondness for using military force. Libya was an especially egregious example, but it is not the only one.
And her efforts to encourage a new Cold War raise the threat level she poses to the very highest order of magnitude.
The country and the world need Monica’s help again – now more than ever.
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).