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Hillary on the Ropes?

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Conventional political wisdom has long held Hillary Clinton to be the odds-on favorite to become the next president of the United States.  But as was the case back in 2008, cracks are once again emerging in the façade of Clinton’s “inevitability.”  Is history repeating?

According to a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll released Thursday, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has narrowed the gap with Clinton in Iowa to within 2 percentage points, well within the poll’s margin of error.  Meanwhile, Sanders continues to hold a respectable lead in New Hampshire.  The possibility of a Sanders sweep of Iowa and New Hampshire is thus no longer so far-fetched.

The Sanders surge and the accompanying Clinton campaign angst has generated a slew of press reports pondering the prospect of yet another doomed presidential run by the former secretary of state.  As a Friday Washington Post headline read, “Clinton’s lead is evaporating, and anxious Democrats see 2008 all over again.”  A Saturday New York Times report similarly stated that the Clinton camp has become “unnerved by the possibility that Mr. Sanders will foment a large wave of first-time voters and liberals that will derail her in Iowa, not unlike Barack Obama’s success in 2008, which consigned Mrs. Clinton to a third-place finish.”

With the ghosts of 2008 circling overhead, a clearly rattled Clinton team has resorted to stepped up attacks on Sanders.  And in doing so, her campaign has come to expose its truly reactionary character.

Parroting a threadbare right-wing smear, the Clinton campaign honed its attack on Sanders by taking aim at—of all things—his support for a single-payer health care system.  As Chelsea Clinton averred while stumping for her mother, the Medicare for all system championed by Sanders would “strip millions and millions and millions of people of their health insurance.”  Such a claim is nothing but a blatant lie even Clinton apologists ought to acknowledge.  But if Clinton’s backsliding in the polls continues, expect the pack of lies to stack up, no doubt to be accompanied by all measure of retrograde red-baiting attacks against the “socialist” Sanders.

The use of such desperate attacks aside, Hillary still remains the heavy favorite to capture the Democratic nomination.  The beneficiary of both a national party leadership dedicated to running interference for her campaign and mounds of super donor cash, it is still hard to fathom how Clinton could fail to secure the party’s nomination.  But her nomination now certainly appears more bruising than previously anticipated.

A bruising primary, though, stands as just the initial and arguably most benign threat to Hillary’s long planned coronation.

According to a January 11 Fox News report, the FBI has expanded its probe over Clinton’s use of a private email server while she served as secretary of state to include possible public corruption charges.  As Catherine Herridge and Pamela Browne reported, “The FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email as secretary of state has expanded to look at whether the possible ‘intersection’ of Clinton Foundation work and State Department business may have violated public corruption laws.”

One source consulted by Herridge and Browne added that, “The agents are investigating the possible intersection of Clinton Foundation donations, the dispensation of State Department contracts and whether regular processes were followed.”

“Inside the FBI,” the report continues, “pressure is growing to pursue the case.”

“One intelligence source told Fox News that FBI agents would be ‘screaming’ if a prosecution is not pursued because ‘many previous public corruption cases have been made and successfully prosecuted with much less evidence than what is emerging in this investigation.'”

Clinton will assuredly continue to insist that any potential charges brought against her are nothing but a Republican-led witch-hunt—a grand right-wing conspiracy.  And with an utterly inept Republican Party in no way able to claim the moral high ground on any issue, Clinton’s cynical ploy may very well succeed in casting her corrupt dealings as merely the battle scars of a “pragmatic reformer.”

But even if Clinton is able to escape the embarrassment of being hauled before a court to face charges of public corruption, she will be less likely to escape the far more damaging political repercussions of an economy on the precipice of another globalized crisis.  For as Bill would say: it’s the economy, stupid!

Indeed, it’s always the economy.  But for those listening to President Obama’s platitude-laden State of the Union address replete with the triumphant claims of an economic recovery, the notion of the economy playing anything but a supporting role in Hillary’s push for the White House would seem absurd.  After all, official unemployment stands at 5% and job growth remains fairly strong. As Clinton’s sales pitch will go, it’s in the Democrats we must trust.

But strip away the self-serving rhetoric of an economic recovery and the warning signs of an economy deeply imperiled emerge. Consider the following: global stock market volatility; retracting manufacturing output in both China and the U.S.; slowing U.S. retail sales; a global glut of oil; collapsing commodity prices; and a still low labor participation rate.  As analyst Albert Edwards from the French bank Societe Generale warned in a recent investment note to clients, “The illusion of prosperity is shattered as boom now turns to bust.”  Edwards continued, “I believe the events we now see unfolding will drive us back into global recession.”

Of course, if the financial house of cards constructed on the ruins of the 2007-08 financial collapse comes crashing down by the time voters go to the polls this November, Clinton will be confronted with a rather unenviable task akin to that faced previously by John McCain in 2008; namely, having to run in the shadow of a sitting president who presided over a financial collapse as popular sentiment demands political change.  It’s not a winning formula.

Clinton’s only hope in such a situation, aside being gifted the opportunity to run against whichever bona fide proto-fascist the Republicans nominate, will be a cynical appeal to gender politics.  For a restless electorate, Hillary will attempt to offer herself as a figure of historical change: the first Empress of Pax Americana.  A superficial change, to be sure, but presidential politics are nothing if not superficial.  And such a ploy is of course one in which Clinton remains well versed.  Indeed, when Sanders questioned her campaign contributions from Wall Street in a December debate, Clinton defended herself by asserting how proud she was to have women supporting her candidacy.  She then went on for good measure to invoke 9/11, because, well, why not?

But even Hillary’s go-to gender gambit doesn’t appear as foolproof as it once did.  As the Times reported, the Clinton campaign has been caught off guard by the support for Sanders among women.  As the paper noted, “they were not prepared for Mr. Sanders to become so popular with young people and independents, especially women, whom Mrs. Clinton views as a key part of her base.”  It’s of course hard to imagine that, upon Clinton securing the nomination, women voters would choose to rally behind the candidacy of a Trump or Cruz.  But it’s also difficult to imagine women rallying en masse with much enthusiasm behind Hillary’s solo quest to “break the last glass ceiling.”  After all, it’s not identity politics, stupid!

So with Hillary’s rendezvous with history jeopardized by a possible 2008 redux, those in the Clinton campaign must assuredly be asking themselves, does history really repeat itself?

It certainly feels as if history is repeating, with the economy teetering once more on the edge and an electorate clamoring yet again for political change.  But as Marx offered, history repeats first as tragedy, then as farce.  Struggling to deliver a knockout blow to a charisma-challenged “socialist” opponent as the FBI breaths down her neck, the early days of 2016 must have Hillary increasingly wondering if this time around is farce.

Ben Schreiner is the author of A People’s Dictionary to the ‘Exceptional Nation’.  He may be reached at bnschreiner@gmail.com or via his blog.

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