All she needs is love?

March 9, 2016

Hillary Clinton is trying to reinvent herself as a positive people person. Danny Katch, author of Socialism...Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human Liberation, isn't buying any.

"I believe what we need in America today is more love and kindness."

"Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers. We need to show, by everything we do, that we really are in this together."

EITHER AIDES have started slipping her mollies before campaign speeches, or Hillary Clinton is trying out a new touchy-feely persona in anticipation of a possible general election matchup against Donald Trump: I'm nice and he's mean.

After Bernie Sanders' stunning upset victory in the Michigan primary, Clinton will have to stop acting like she's already running against Trump--and she may well revert to her peevish attacks on Sanders for being "unrealistic" and all the other ugliness that backfired on her during January and much of February, as Sanders surged in his national support.

Still, her handlers probably thought they'd hit on a winning strategy: Remake Clinton into the candidate who wants to turn those frowns upside down.

There's no doubt that Trump is mean, and proudly so. Unlike your typical Republican, who proposes nasty and demeaning policies toward the poor and vulnerable, but presents himself as a righteous fearer, waver and kisser of God, flags and babies, respectively, Trump's horrible racist program matches the pro wrestling heel persona he's been working on his entire public life: You're fired! Beat up that protester!

Hillary Clinton speaking to supporters on the 2016 campaign trail
Hillary Clinton speaking to supporters on the 2016 campaign trail (Ted Eytan)

This might be the first significant presidential campaign in the history of the United States to feature a candidate who is an out-of-the-closet asshole.

But Trump's appeal isn't just based on rudeness for its own sake, as Marco Rubio discovered when he pathetically tried to match Trump insult for insult. The result was that the entire Republican race was dragged into the gutter--remember when Deez Nuts was a teenage prank and not the lead story on CNN?--while Trump stayed in the lead and Rubio tanked.

Trump is connecting to the anger of millions of people at a political system that is broken on purpose to better allow the 1 Percent to continue looting the country. Many of his supporters--although not all of them--are downwardly mobile middle class and working class white people who are glad to hear someone acknowledging that the American Dream has become a cruel joke.

Jeff Guo of the Washington Post has found that the strongest turnouts of Trump voters have been in areas where white people have been dying in greater numbers. This increased mortality rate, another Post study found last year, has been driven by deaths of despair--drug addiction and suicide--among middle-aged whites.

How receptive will these regions be to Hillary Clinton's new anti-Trump campaign slogan: "America never stopped being great!"

Clinton might be able to win an election against Trump by pulling a reverse Rubio and lecturing Trump on manners. But it will be disastrous if progressives and leftists, as many are wont to do, are driven by their fear of Trump or Ted Cruz into following Clinton's marching orders and parroting this don't-worry-be-happy rhetoric--while ignoring the legitimate anger that Trump is misdirecting into racism and xenophobia.

CLINTON DEBUTED the love and kindness campaign theme by granting Buzzfeed's Ruby Cramer full access for a lengthy January 25 profile that claimed Clinton has been trying to "start a national conversation about basic human decency" for her entire political career, only to be stifled by a hostile and sexist media.

Other than the part about the media's double standards for women in politics, the entire piece seems to be about a different person than the one with a decades-long public record as an ambitious and opportunistic hard-ass who you shouldn't cross if you want a career in professional politics.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently made the mistake of not endorsing Clinton...quickly enough. I don't know what dead animal's head was placed in de Blasio's bed, but the mayor was soon spotted knocking on doors in the freezing cold of Iowa, publicly humiliating himself to get back in the good graces of Saint Hillary.

More significant than her reputation as a hardened political operator, though, are the not-very-nice policies that Clinton has promoted. Her energetic activism in support of her husband Bill Clinton's reactionary agenda--chock full of coded racist imagery--is one reason we've gotten to point where people need to take to the streets just to assert that Black lives should matter.

Through her courageous protest, Ashley Williams has brought new awareness to Clinton's infamous speech in support of a 1994 crime bill that was to dramatically expand the prison system, in which the then-First Lady complained:

They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called "super-predators." No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.

A few years later, as Alejandra Marchevsky and Jeanne Theoharis recently recalled in the Nation, Clinton bragged about advocating to make public assistance contingent on "good parenting" measures:

I've advocated tying the welfare payment to certain behavior about being a good parent. You couldn't get your welfare check if your child wasn't immunized. You couldn't get your welfare check if you didn't participate in a parenting program. You couldn't get your check if you didn't show up for student-teacher conferences.

You might think that a former board member of the low-wage behemoth Walmart might have been able to think of more loving and kind ways to give a helping hand to poor women.

Then there is Hillary Clinton's foreign policy record, which only a weapons manufacturer could find kind and loving. There hasn't been a U.S. war in the past 20 years that Clinton hasn't backed--and she is a friend to murderous regimes the world over, from the Honduran coup leaders she bolstered during her time as Secretary of State to Israel's relentless assault on Gaza in 2014.

If anything, Donald Trump voiced more caution about waging war--which leaves open this possibility for a truly memorable Clinton campaign slogan this fall: What's so funny 'bout peace, love and putting some goddamned boots on the ground?"

WHILE HILLARY Clinton has been experimenting with flower power, her challenger in the Democratic primaries Bernie Sanders has been attracting a passionate following--and virtually no institutional support within the Democratic Party--with a different message. And he showed again in a series of primaries this month, culminating in Michigan, that his message can win.

Like Trump, Sanders proclaims that America isn't so great right now, but the Vermont senator and self-described socialist puts the blame squarely on the rich, which recently he has even taken to calling the "ruling class".

On a few issues--like foreign policy, for example--Sanders isn't so very different from Clinton. But on others, Sanders is giving a new generation a glimpse of a socialist tradition that embraces class anger, not to twist it into scapegoating hatred, but to elevate it towards a movement that fights for equality and democracy for all.

That's a vision of a society that actually has the potential to be based on love and kindness. Not surprisingly, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein finds Sanders to be "dangerous."

Goldman Sachs has had no problems whatsoever with Hillary Clinton, of course, and her lovey-dovey relationship with the villainous bank is one of Sanders' most effective debating points.

The problem with Sanders' campaign--and it's a decisive one--is that he can call out Clinton for cozy connections to Goldman Sachs, but he has already promised to remain loyal in the still likely event that he loses the nomination to Hillary Clinton. In that case, Sanders will be advocating a vote for the very same candidate who is Goldman Sachs' preferred choice for president.

This is the opposite lesson from the one Sanders, at his best, has been providing to a mass audience: What we need is not universal love and kindness, but a sharper understanding of who's on our side and who isn't--something that Sanders' socialist hero Eugene Debs called class consciousness.

Millions of people have watched a video of a corporate executive in Indiana telling hundreds of screaming and cursing Indiana workers that their factory is closing down and moving to Mexico. Note that the executive is trying his best to be polite, while some of the workers are being quite rude.

Trump's message is that it's okay to shout "fuck you!" when you think you're getting screwed over. Sanders' message is that we need a "political revolution" to prevent corporations from leaving.

A political revolution by itself isn't enough--workers taking action into their own hands through strikes and protests are certain to be more effective. But it's a hell of a better starting point than Trump's scapegoating or Clinton's message, which is to please be understanding about corporate globalization--and kind to the security guard as he escorts you out of the building.

As a socialist, I look forward to the day when love and kindness become operating principles of our society. I'll even accept putting basic survival and human dignity ahead of third-quarter profits and control of the Persian Gulf.

That will be nice, but until we get there, let's keep our eyes wide open for the fangs hidden behind friendly smiles.

Further Reading

From the archives