It doesn’t matter what the friggin’ legal and ethics people say. We need to win this motherfucker.
—Mr. Scott Foval, Field Director, Americans United for Change, retained by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee
An elite stratum of wealthy and politically dominant people intends to make Hillary Clinton our next president. These are the oligarchs, the “1%” whose wealth and incomes continue growing while most American struggle. In her private life Hillary Clinton is well-positioned among this cohort, and they expect her as President to protect their wealth and maintain their dominance. She will.
To assure the oligarchs’ success, the Democratic National Committee is brutalizing the presidential electoral process, willfully violating rules, laws, and precedent. The strategy succeeded in the primary elections, and it will win the general.
Who are these people? The top 1% of wealth-holders numbers about 3.25 million. Predominantly they are citizens whose wealth depends on the huge American domestic and transnational corporations, either directly—executives, directors, investors, contractors, suppliers—or indirectly in other ways (e.g. investment bankers, hedge fund managers, consultants, top law firms). Two preeminent names in this grouping are Hillary and Bill Clinton, whose net worth (about $125 million) qualifies the couple for the 1% stratum by a factor of 16. Others are Wall Street bankers—the Clintons’ primal financial benefactors and first-name friends: Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, Robert Rubin, Brian Moynihan, Michael Corbat, James Gorman, Timothy Geithner, John Stumpf, etc. A more accurate description of the “1%” would be the corporate elite.
Candidate Clinton’s relationship to her elite compatriots is one of rigid interdependence: she needs their financial and political resources to win the election, and they need her in the White House to sustain their privileged status.
This privileged status did not result from accident, random chance, or neglect. It is a consequence of public policies consciously adopted over the past three or four decades which shift wealth and incomes systematically upward. (Cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, for example, while exporting 1/3 of the nation’s manufacturing jobs.) In the process our democracy was transformed. Public policy is crafted today not primarily to advance the welfare of the nation’s people, but to create, protect or enhance the financial interests of American corporate enterprise. This is acknowledged in the statements of public figures and supported in rigorous scholarly research.[i]
Though easily identifiable, the corporate elite has not constructed a conscious conspiracy against the American people at large with a preplanned agenda, strategy, and tactics. But they share a common mindset, they are networked by personal acquaintance, and they are driven by a common imperative. Their wealth and political dominance depend on the existing configurations of American domestic and foreign policy, both of which must be maintained essentially intact to sustain the group’s position of privilege. Alterations in the status quo can be tolerated only if they are cosmetic, slight, and at the margin.
Instead of conspiracy, the preeminence of the oligarchs is better seen as a malignant condition of contemporary American government, resulting from years of institutional decay and corruption. (The story of moribund democracy is detailed here.) The economic and political power of mega-corporations—increasingly fewer but ever larger—has displaced functional democracy.
(Yes, we vote as we always have, but voting and democracy are not interchangeable terms. The Russian people voted for Vladimir Putin, the Iraqis voted for Saddam Hussein. And voting isn’t a prerequisite for democracy to function: the ancient Greeks chose their representatives by lottery.)
The priority of corporate interests has been achieved by three powerful mechanisms.
Perhaps the least recognized is the degree to which corporate personnel enter government to staff the highest levels of the Executive Branch.
A new book by political scientists Bastiaan van Apeldoorn and Nana de Graaff carries a sobering title: American Grand Strategies and Corporate Elite Networks. They looked into the “grand strategy makers,” the 30 most influential people in cabinet-level and senior advisory positions in the last three administrations—Bill Clinton’s, Bush’s, and Obama’s. In the Clinton Administration, 25 of the 30 “grand strategy makers” (83%) were linked to 197 different transnational or financial corporations, as executives, directors, senior associates, or partners in law firms, either prior to their public service or after it. In the Bush Administration 27 of the 30 (90%) had connections to 157 corporations. In the Obama Administration 23 of the 30 (over 70%) had such “top-level corporate affiliations” with 111 companies.
Smoking guns? Examples of wealth-shifting upward to the already rich? Certainly. (1) The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, rammed through in the Bill Clinton Administration by Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin from Citigroup. This enabled the subprime loan frenzy, enriching the New York banks but destroying $13 trillion in Americans’ household wealth. (2) Halliburton’s no-bid, obscenely profitable contracts in Iraq, served up by Vice President Richard Cheney during the Bush Administration; billions of taxpayers’ dollars to the corporation Mr. Cheney once chaired. (3) In the Obama Administration Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner from Wall Street administered the Troubled Asset Relief Program, bailing out his colleagues’ banks, again with billions of taxpayers’ money.
For the last 24 years the Executive Branch has been dominated by the corporate elite.
Two other mechanisms of corporate influence are far more familiar: the corporate financing of political campaigns and the ubiquitous enterprise of lobbying.
The two practices are related in direct proportion: the more you accept in contributions from Boeing, say, the more you feel obligated to yield to their lobbyist’s wishes.
Your policy-making independence will decrease, then, as the costs of campaigning rise, and contemporary costs are staggering. A Representative today must raise on average $1.7 million in campaign funding, a Senator $10.5 million. A presidential race runs in the hundreds of millions. (Hillary Clinton has taken in $688 million.) Since Citizens United corporate campaign funding has no limits, and with candidates in need of so many millions, the corporate capture of federal governance is undeniable and scarcely surprising.
Undeniable but easily surmounted. We once had a law on the books (the UK still does) limiting not campaign contributions, but campaign expenditures. The limits were $10,000 for a Senate race, $5,000 for a Representative, sums easily provided from personal assets and those of family and friends. Reenacting such a law would break the corporate stranglehold; intense lobbying might continue, but no Senator, no Representative would feel the courteous urge to accommodate. The welfare of the American people could regain priority. The impact on the oligarchs, however, would be apocalyptic.
The commitment of the corporate elite to sustain the status quo is apparently absolute. By April of 2015 the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign were one indistinguishable juggernaut, intent on blitzing the presidential campaign like Hitler’s Wehrmacht stormed through Europe. The watch words seemed to be “first and most.” They amassed an early war-chest of a hundred million dollars or so and lined up 400 superdelegate endorsements—all before there was a single announced opponent. They invited 65 print and television journalists to meetings in early April, to help in “framing the HRC message and framing the race.”[ii] Among them were George Stephanoplous and 4 others from ABC; Rachel Maddow and 4 more from MSNBC; Gloria Borger and 7 of her colleagues from CNN; and 5 from the New York Times. Bloomberg, Politico, and CBS each sent along two.
The first-and-most strategy worked. Secretary Clinton preempted the candidate space; the only others attracted to the race were lackluster lightweights, especially the wooly socialist from Vermont. But Senator Sanders’ electrifying rallies made tangible the disgust of the American people with the status quo. Sanders’ proposals were anything but cosmetic, slight, and at the margin: they posed a mortal threat to the corporate elite and its guardian, the Clinton campaign. To minimize Sanders’ exposure, DNC Chair Wasserman-Schultz limited the number of debates and scheduled them on weekends and opposite football games. Sanders had to sue to gain access to the DNC’s voter database. The deliberate tilting of the Democratic primaries gained momentum.
This may not be the first election in which ethics and law were abandoned, but never before has it been so reliably exposed.
Not by the mainstream media, though. They either ignored the increasingly evident fraud or were complicit in it. From the Iowa caucuses onward, the press treated Clinton’s superdelegate endorsements as tallied votes. This continued even after the distortion and dishonesty of doing so were pointed out. Based on precisely that deception, however, the Associated Press announced Clinton’s presumptive nomination on Monday, June 6—one day before primaries were held in California, Montana, New Jersey, North and South Dakota, and the District of Columbia. From Iowa forward also the Washington Post and the New York Times hammered the Sanders campaign without mercy or interruption. (The story was detailed later by Thomas Frank in Harper’s Magazine.[iii] Frank concludes: “I have never before seen the press take sides like they did this year, openly and even gleefully bad-mouthing candidates who did not meet with their approval.”)
No, the major media failed to expose the fraud, but the social media and the Internet abounded with skepticism. Sanders fans questioned the uncounted caucuses in Iowa; the 70% reduction of polling places in Maricopa County, Arizona; the disqualified Sanders delegates at the Nevada convention; the cheap-shot call by the Associated Press. Many were certain the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee were joined at the hip, but there was scant factual evidence.
Enter Julian Assange and the leaked DNC emails. Now the illegal collusion was documented, the sabotaging of the Sanders campaign exposed. Wasserman-Schultz resigns as DNC chair. Then the Podesta emails and Hillary’s paid speeches: “you need both a public position and a private position.” “My dream is a hemispheric open market, with open trade and open borders.” DNC vice-chair Donna Brazile, a CNN pundit, emails the Clinton campaign prior to the debate: “From time to time I get the questions in advance.” The attempt to reschedule the Illinois primary. Another tranche of emails arrives: Brazile’s complicity with the Clinton campaign is broadened, she is fired/resigns from her CNN post. The Clinton Foundation hosts pay to play, the Clintons’ personal enrichment, the $12 million deal with King Mohammed VI of Morocco….
Finally the compliant mass media did take note: this is, after all, fine spectacle. Noted but not pursued. No determined effort was undertaken to investigate, to document further the deceit and dishonesty, and to assess its magnitude.
Once again that was left to the citizenry. The first careful, detailed study was published June 7, 2016 by two scholars, Axel Geijel of Tilburg University and Rodolfo Cortes Barragan at Stanford. It is entitled, Are we witnessing a dishonest election? They compared states who’s voting systems produced verifying paper trails against states which did not. Sanders won the paper-trail states, where tampering with machine tallies could be quickly discovered; Clinton overpowered in states without paper trails, where tampering could never be detected. The authors also compared voting machine tallies with exit poll figures, and found disturbing discrepancies. They concluded, “…these data suggest that election fraud is occurring in the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primary election. This fraud has overwhelmingly benefited Secretary Clinton at the expense of Senator Sanders.” (The paper can be found here.)
Then, with the primaries concluded a group of outraged patriots with day jobs, organized as Election Justice USA, published an exhaustive report. The study is entitled, Democracy Lost: A Report on the Fatally Flawed 2016 Democratic Primaries, and it is available here. It details, in 99 pages of carefully assembled and compelling evidence, examples of election fraud uncovered in four categories: voter suppression, registration tampering, illegal voter purging, and fraudulent voting machine tallies. In eleven states the group found discrepancies between exit polls and voting machine counts exceeding the statistical margins of error. Every single discrepancy favored Secretary Clinton—and no such discrepancies occurred in the Republican counts. The group’s conclusion was troubling: 184 elected delegates, their report argues persuasively, were awarded fraudulently to Clinton and denied Sanders, accordingly.
That gave her the edge in delegate count going into the convention. In the end, however, she needed the additional votes of 163 unelected superdelegates, those empowered by the Democratic National Committee. Even after a primary season documented as fraudulent, then, Hillary Clinton’s nomination was achieved by fiat, not democracy.
But the corporate elite will not be denied. Given the Clinton/DNC expertise and success in tipping the primary elections, she will be elected President in the general election, guaranteed.
The manipulation of the primaries was obscure but not invisible; a backlash of outrage might have been anticipated. The Clinton/DNC people, however, are unmatched in hubris and geniuses in the practice of deceit. Scandals were not even acknowledged, defiantly ignored. And the language of progressive democracy is omnipresent in the campaigning, brilliant deception. Hillary Clinton promises to work for Main Street, not Wall Street. She promises to bring back jobs, improve education, seek equal pay for women, boost the minimum wage, expand civil rights, provide free college education, move toward Medicare for all, oppose TPP, break up the too-big-to-fail Wall Street banks. Fine, appealing proposals all, but this is the language of Sanders’ revolution, and the corporate elite will stand for none of it.
But folk wisdom tells us to take campaign promises lightly, and the American people are forgiving and trusting. Hillary Clinton is a woman of long experience, and we want to believe our democracy is robust.
Here, now, we need to be vigilant.
[i] See “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” by Martin Gillens and Benjamin Page. They conclude, “…economic elites and business interests have substantial independent impact on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”
[iii] Thomas Frank, “Swat Team: the media’s extermination of Bernie Sanders—and real reform,” Harper’s Magazine, November, 2016.