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Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade

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At the 5th Democratic debate Thursday night, Hillary Clinton repeatedly attempted to cloak herself in the cape of a populist hero, claiming she has stood up, time and time again, for those Americans “left behind and left out.”

In her own words:

“[I’ve got a] record of having fought for racial justice, having fought for kids rights, having fought the kind of inequities that fueled my interest in service in the first place going back to my days in the Children’s Defense Fund… Every step along the way I have stood up, and fought, and have the scars to prove it.”

This is simply untrue.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, she served on the board of Wal-Mart — a company notorious for its horrendous treatment of workers and union-crushing efforts — and, while the corporation waged a war against its labor force, Clinton said nothing, did nothing, and fought nothing.

In 1990, she made the statement: “I’m always proud of Wal-Mart and what we do, and the way that we do it better than anybody else.”

This is a company that has used foreign labor (including child workers), stolen its worker’s wages by forcing them to work while off-the-clock, and discriminated against elderly and disabled employees.

Although Clinton ignored the struggles of blue-collar workers, she did, to her credit, successfully push for better environmental practices, and unsuccessfully lobbied for more women in white-collar, management positions.

Clinton further asserts that she has “fought for racial justice” her entire life, but, in the 1990s, she supported the now widely regarded as disastrous Crime Bill, saying at the time:

“We need more police, we need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders. The three strikes and you’re out for violent offenders has to be part of the plan. We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets.”

This legislation ramped up strident sentencing, eliminated federal funding for inmate education, allocated money to those states that dramatically increased prison time, and expanded the death penalty, all of which strongly contributed to the further imprisonment and immiseration of poor, Black Americans.

Throughout the duration of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the number of Americans in prison rose by nearly 60%. Black Americans are six times as likely to be in prison than White Americans, meaning that this legislation was specifically crippling to Black and Brown citizens.

Clinton also supported the 1996 welfare reform legislation — now broadly viewed as “a catastrophe for the vulnerable,” especially people of color — and, in the late ’90s/early 2000s, characterized these poor, at-risk recipients of welfare as “deadbeats” who sat “around the house doing nothing” and knew “nothing but dependency all their lives.”

This, to put it lightly, is an abomination, and feeds directly into the racist, untrue “welfare queen” stereotype of the Republicans that says poor people want to be poor.

Instead of understanding that people cannot get out of generational poverty when the education system is broken, wages are sunk below the floor, and health care is scarce and expensive, Clinton joined the conservative victim-blamers in castigating women who have seen nothing but neglect and abuse from their government their entire lives.

Her behavior and support of this welfare legislation is what caused Marian Wright Edelman, head of the Children’s Defense Fund (oft-cited as proof of Clinton’s life-long progressive commitment), to call Hillary (and Bill) “not friends in politics,” and Peter Edelman, Marian Wright’s husband, to resign from the Clinton administration in protest.

Unfortunately, Clinton has still not apologized.

In fact, as recently as 2008, she defended this legislation as necessary and effective, while research clearly shows that the number of American households living with practically no cash income has since almost doubled, and that as many as 1 in 4 poor single mothers are now jobless with no cash aid.

Hillary Clinton has not “fought for racial justice” her entire life — she has disrespected and betrayed Americans of color.

Furthermore, Clinton has flip-flopped on a myriad of issues including immigration, the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, gay marriage, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, NAFTA, the Keystone pipeline, and gun control, always becoming more liberal as time goes on, and evolving, rather than fighting, “every step along the way.”

On foreign policy, Clinton is often called a war hawk — not exactly a progressive thing to be.

She voted for the Iraq War (which she now says was a “mistake”); championed the intervention in Libya; pushed for escalation of the war in Afghanistan; called for further intervention in Syria; and made the infamous, caustic remark about Muammar Gaddafi, “We came, we saw, he died,” while laughing.

Clinton also maintains that she has been tough on Wall Street her entire career, saying:

“I think it’s important for everybody to understand I have a record, I have stood firm and I will be the person who prevents them from ever wrecking the economy again… I went to Wall Street before the crash. I was the one saying you’re going to wreck the economy because of these shenanigans with mortgages. I called to end the carried interest loophole that hedge fund managers enjoy.”

Actually, Clinton’s approach to the industry has not been “firm,” but “mostly hands-off.”

She says she “fought the banks,” but, while in the Senate, she voted for a bankruptcy bill that benefited the credit-card and banking industries and harmed working class people (disproportionately single mothers), even though she opposed it when she was First Lady.

Senator Elizabeth Warren explained the flop by saying, “As Senator Clinton, the pressures are very different. It’s a well-financed industry.”

Although Clinton now decries the shadow-banking industry, also while in the Senate, she spoke to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on behalf of wealthy investors who were worried about losing their millions — hardly fighting them “every step along the way,” but seeking to protect them financially.

Additionally, in 2007, while running for president, Clinton failed to sign onto that legislation “to end the carried interest loophole,” even though her opponent, then-Senator Barack Obama, was one of its co-sponsors.

Neither was she among the 13 senators praised by Senator Christopher Dodd, the Banking Committee Chairman, for their help in passing the bill.

She missed numerous votes on the issue, even after she had dropped out of the race, and, for the final vote, on July 26th, showed up to vote in support.

Clinton was not a leader on this issue “calling to end” the loophole, but barely voted for the legislation that would.

Despite her attempts to paint herself so, Hillary Clinton is not a bleeding heart progressive who has fought tooth and nail for those “left out and left behind” “every step along the way” — but rather a moderate Democrat who has developed increasingly progressive and liberal views as the base of her party leads her to the left.

She stood by while Wal-Mart abused its workers, played a part in creating the disastrous “tough on crime” era, disrespected and disparaged poor Americans of color, flip-flopped on issue after issue, hastily pushed for military intervention, and stayed neutral on the behemoth financial institutions that crashed this economy.

It is the simple truth that Hillary Clinton has not been a scrappy warrior for progressive causes all her life — and her attempts to assert otherwise only serve to cast insincerity and suspicion upon her campaign, weaken her credibility, and further diminish her trustworthiness in the eyes of voters.

More articles by:

Eliza A. Webb is a writer living in Michigan.

CounterPunch Magazine

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