A champion for the other side

May 4, 2015

Hillary Clinton is mouthing populist rhetoric, but why should anyone believe her?

BREAKING NEWS: Hillary Clinton Spotted in Iowa.

It was hard to imagine a less interesting news item, but the media were there every step of the way during Clinton's April pilgrimage to Iowa to announce that she was running to become the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.

The political commentators who make a living reporting on the long excruciating process of U.S. presidential elections dissected every moment of Clinton's trip in a van with campaign staffers, searching for evidence of "likeability" and an ability to "relate to ordinary people."

Clinton's handlers are trying to retouch her reputation for being out of touch with the daily lives of most workers--as when she commented last year that she and Bill were "dead broke" after they left the White House at the start of 2001.

The spinners want to focus attention on Clinton's supposed "populist makeover," now that she's talking about inequality and stuff. "The dream of upward mobility that made this country a model for the world feels further and further out of reach, and many Americans understandably feel frustrated, even angry," Clinton declared before an audience at the New America Foundation in March.

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

But all the rhetoric and all the Chipotle stops in the world aren't going to change the fact that Hillary Clinton is the candidate of Corporate America and business as usual in Washington, D.C. That's her record after decades as a powerful political insider--and it's why she will likely be the Democratic Party candidate in 2016, no matter what Democratic voters think about it.

It may be difficult for many Democratic voters to get excited about a Clinton candidacy. But she represents the corporate backers of the Democratic Party, and so people who vote Democratic will likely be stuck with her--unless another candidate acceptable to the party's real constituency pushes her out of the frontrunner's spot, like Barack Obama did in 2008.

The Democratic Party establishment has already lined up behind Clinton, including 29 out of 46 U.S. senators in the Democratic caucus. In 2013, every Democratic woman in the Senate, including Elizabeth Warren, signed on to a letter to Clinton encouraging her to run. And the endorsements keep flowing in.

As for the Republicans, the field of candidates grows bigger--more than a dozen Republicans have voiced interest--and more rabid by the day. And what a motley crew they are--with the likes of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio falling over themselves to prove their right-wing credentials by opposing same-sex marriage, women's access to abortion and immigrant rights.

Considering this already repulsive cast of characters, you can almost hear the arguments that Democratic Party supporters--from the establishment to grassroots activists--will be making in 2016: "We have to vote for Hillary, or $?%@! might win" and "What about the Supreme Court?"

The Republicans will help make that argument, too, as they have a field day painting Clinton as "too liberal"--or maybe even a "socialist." Sexist characterizations of Clinton from the right--and from the media, which will comment on her age, clothes and hair in a way they wouldn't dream about with a man--will multiply along with the claims that Clinton is a "radical."

SO WHILE it seems like many liberals are dismissing Clinton now as Corporate America's candidate, the pressure will be on to support her if she becomes the candidate. The left will be stronger in withstanding the pressure to vote for the lesser evil in 2016--and convincing the people around us of this position.

Today, a few Democratic Party politicians with more liberal reputations, like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, are withholding their support for Clinton. De Blasio, who was Clinton's campaign manager in her campaign for senator in 2000, said he wasn't endorsing his former boss yet. On NBC's Meet the Press, he said, "I think, like a lot of people in this country, I want to see a vision. And, again, that would be true of candidates on all levels. It's time to see a clear, bold vision for progressive economic change."

Liberal Democrats like de Blasio, Elizabeth Warren (who has said repeatedly that she won't run for president) and Bernie Sanders (the supposed independent who has said he might or he might not) claim that they have a role to play in shifting the Democratic Party's message, even if they don't challenge Clinton for the nomination.

But as the history of Democratic Party shows, it's not the Clintons who get won over to a "clear, bold vision" by pressure from party liberals. It's the liberals who have to accept stale policies and party stalwarts. The supposed "mavericks" like Warren and de Blasio--just like Dennis Kucinich and Jesse Jackson before them--will remain loyal Democrats who convince liberal and progressive supporters of the party to set aside their principles and vote for the "pragmatic," moderate choice.

And alongside the liberal Democrats are the organizations whose job it is to line up support by fundraising and signing up voters--like the National Organization for Women, which endorsed Clinton when she ran for the Democratic nomination in 2008.

In April, Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal said, "It's no wonder women are excited about not only the possibility of the first woman president, but also that this candidate is a woman who has given high priority to women's issues from the very beginning of her career."

But Clinton's record shows otherwise. She certainly didn't "give high priority to women's issues" when she sat on the board of Walmart from 1986 to 1992 and stood by while the company attacked workers--the majority of them women--when they attempted to organize for decent wages and conditions.

IF THERE'S a priority for Clinton, it's serving Corporate America and keeping it profitable, at home and abroad.

That was the priority when she worked with Bill Clinton during his presidency to shred welfare, sending millions of poor families deeper into poverty, and when she helped him push his crime bills that relegated tens of thousands of people to prison and death row for years to come.

That was her priority as secretary of state when she spread the influence of U.S. corporations, particularly military contractors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing, across the globe. And while she was there, she lobbied to promote fracking abroad as well.

Wall Street knows what Clinton's true priorities are. Commenting on Clinton's newfound populist rhetoric, business journalist William Cohan wrote at Politico:

Down on Wall Street, they don't believe it for a minute. While the finance industry does genuinely hate Warren, the big bankers love Clinton, and by and large, they badly want her to be president. Many of the rich and powerful in the financial industry--among them, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, Tom Nides, a powerful vice chairman at Morgan Stanley and the heads of JPMorganChase and Bank of America--consider Clinton a pragmatic problem-solver not prone to populist rhetoric...What about her forays into fiery rhetoric? They dismiss it quickly as political maneuvers. None of them think she really means her populism.

It will be up to the left to share the record of Hillary Clinton and the other Democratic luminaries with those who will feel the pressure to set aside principles and vote for the lesser evil in 2016. But the problems with Democrats go way beyond the Clintons. We should also be helping people ask what kind of political party wants you to set aside your beliefs and support a candidate whose policies are the opposite of your ideals.

There is no way for radicals to "shape" the Democratic Party. We have to build a resistance from below--independent of the Democrats--to counter the policies of austerity and war that both parties agree on. That's the source of a real political alternative.

The problem isn't just the messenger. It's the message, too.

Building on the challenges to the status quo--like the struggle against racist police terror inflicted on Black and Brown people and the protests of low-wage workers--can help raise people's sights about what they should demand of politicians.

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