Hillary Clinton reflects the true values of the Democratic party, argues Lachlan Marshall.
The Democratic National Convention this month will see Hillary Clinton anointed as the Democratic candidate for November’s US Presidential election. While he is yet to endorse her, self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders does not have enough delegates to win the nomination.
Clinton wants to co-opt the mass enthusiasm unleashed by the Sanders campaign. Sanders gave expression to the rage felt by many against inequality, racism and a system rigged for the rich.
But Clinton’s reputation as an establishment politician is an obstacle to her mending the rift with Sanders supporters.
So the Democrats are now positioning her as the lesser evil to Donald Trump. Sanders is now telling his supporters, “I am going to do everything I can to defeat Donald Trump” and saying he will vote for Hillary.
This argument for the Democratic candidate as the “lesser evil” has been used to draw the left behind the party and derail genuinely left-wing candidates for decades.
But the Democratic Party operates as one of the two parties of US business. It is funded and controlled by big business, just like its Republican opponents. And it has always set out to loyally serve American capitalism.
Her campaign is awash with corporate donations. So far she has received the majority of Wall Street donations, winning back the support of donors that Obama lost in the 2012 election against Mitt Romney.
Former Republican strategist and adviser at the Securities and Exchange Commission Andrew Weinstein, explained Wall Street’s support: “They know Hillary. And they know that she is not anti-business.”
Wall Street’s confidence in Clinton is based on her decades-long record of serving the interests of American capitalism, in positions from First Lady, US Senator, Secretary of State as well as sitting on the board of the union-busting multinational Walmart. She has even received backing from long-time Republican supporters in the business world, such as former General Motors CEO Dan Akerson and AT&T executive Jim Cicconi.
According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, in her time as Secretary of State, “Clinton turned the State Department into a machine for promoting US business.” She spent her time directly negotiating high level contracts for companies including Boeing, Lockheed and General Electric, Kevin Young and Diana C. Sierra Becerra have written.
Bill Clinton ran his presidential campaign on the slogan of “two for the price of one,” referring to the prominent role Hillary would play in the presidency. The policies of Bill Clinton’s administration are therefore the product of a political partnership which Hillary shares responsibility for.
Two key policies of the Clinton years that have made life worse for the majority of Americans deserve particular attention: welfare reform and the Crime Bill.
Declaring “the end of welfare as we know it,” in 1996 the Clinton administration enacted the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA).
It limited the time poor families could access welfare support to five, and in many states as little as two, years. But there simply weren’t enough jobs for all the unemployed losing their welfare, and it plunged single mothers, blacks and Latinos into poverty.
As Bernie Sanders pointed out during his campaign, the US has the highest child poverty rate in the world, a situation which the Clintons’ welfare reforms helped create.
A report from the National Poverty Centre at the University of Michigan concluded that “The prevalence of extreme poverty rose sharply between 1996 and 2011. This growth has been concentrated among those groups that were most affected by the 1996 welfare reform.”
Hillary defended the policy and pilloried the victims of welfare reform, claiming in a 2002 interview that at least they were “no longer deadbeats—they’re actually out there being productive.”
Hillary’s campaign has presented a Clinton win as a win for women, launching an ad featuring footage tracing the progress of women’s rights, from the suffragists to women’s and gay liberation, and finally with Hillary figuring as the climax of this movement.
Clinton certainly owes her position to these historic struggles. But as a ruling class woman she has little in common with most American women, and the policies she supports have made life worse for them.
Hillary has attempted to give welfare reform a progressive gloss, claiming in 2000, “Since we first asked mothers to move from welfare to work, millions of families have made the transition from dependency to dignity.”
But the kinds of jobs women were forced to accept—if they could find one at all—were mostly poorly paid. Her hypocrisy is revealed by the experience of Lillie Harden, a 42 year old African American woman who, at the invitation of the White House, stood beside President Clinton at the signing of PRWORA. She was presented as a success story because she found a supermarket job and went off welfare.
But, as Alejandra Marchevsky and Jeanne Theoharis write in The Nation, “her ‘success’ was short-lived. After suffering a stroke in 2002, she asked journalist Jason DeParle to relay a message to Clinton ‘asking if he could help her get on Medicaid. She had received it on welfare, but had been rejected now, and she couldn’t afford her $450 monthly bill for prescription drugs.’ Harden died in March 2014, at the age of 59.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has drawn attention to President Clinton’s Crime Bill of 1994 and its contribution to the epidemic of mass incarceration.
The Crime Bill expanded the application of the death penalty to a spate of new offences, mandated life sentences for repeat offenders under the ‘three strikes’ rule, and set aside billions of dollars for new prisons and an expanded police force to harass communities of colour.
As academic Loïc Wacquant noted, President Clinton cut $17 billion from public housing while increasing funding for the construction of prisons by $19 billion, ‘effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the poor.’
Hillary justified these policies, explaining, “We need more police, we need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders.” The outcome is that today the US, with 5 per cent of the world’s population, has 25 per cent of its prison population, disproportionately people of colour.
Foreign policy hawk
It’s in her attitude to foreign policy that Hillary Clinton probably offers the most continuity with previous administrations.
A CNN article comparing Hillary’s 2008 and 2016 presidential campaigns, noted that, “Clinton is unapologetic in expressing her hawkish views this cycle.”
Republican foreign policy experts are lining up behind Clinton, with endorsements from former National Security advisor Brent Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State under George W. Bush, Richard Armitage.
In contrast to the unknown quantity of a Trump presidency, the establishment knows Clinton has the best interests of US imperialism at heart.
In 2002 Clinton voted for the Iraq War in the Senate. As Obama’s Secretary of State she supported the coup in Honduras against the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, presided over the escalation in Obama’s drone war, and the 2009 troop surge in Afghanistan.
And Clinton has been willing to go even further than Obama on key questions of foreign policy, such as advocating a no-fly zone in Syria.
According to the New York Times Clinton, “backed Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, before endorsing a fallback proposal of 30,000 (Obama went along with that). She supported the Pentagon’s plan to leave behind a residual force of 10,000 to 20,000 American troops in Iraq (Obama balked at this).”
The Democrats – a lesser evil?
Trump’s mad antics will push many to grudgingly vote for Clinton.
But neither Trump nor Clinton are popular. A poll by NBC News in May found that, “Nearly six in ten Americans said they either ‘dislike’ or ‘hate’ Clinton, while slightly more—63 per cent—expressed negative opinions about Trump.”
The American public is deeply alienated from official politics. Workers’ wages are stagnating or in decline, yet Clinton will not bring the changes people are crying out for.
In response to Trump’s “make America great again” slogan the Clinton campaign produced baseball caps featuring the lame phrase, “America is already great”, a message which will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of millions fed up with the status quo.
In 2008 Obama told people to vote for him to stop the Republicans’ racist immigration policies—only to preside over the largest mass expulsion of migrants in American history. Many hoped he would extricate America from wars in the Middle East, only to witness another invasion of Iraq and Syria.
Every escalation of the war against IS, which Clinton is signed up to, legitimises Trump’s Islamophobic rantings. Trump’s vow to build a wall to keep out Mexicans comes in the context of an already militarised border.
One way to push back Trump’s racism and hate was shown in March when a demonstration of thousands of anti-racists in Chicago forced him to cancel a campaign rally. On the economic front, a six week strike this year by 40,000 telecom workers won pay rises and forced their company, Verizon, to retreat on outsourcing and cuts to pensions.
And it wasn’t the courage of her convictions that drove Clinton to come out in support of marriage equality. For a decade she opposed it and backed Bill Clinton’s 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which barred federal recognition of same-sex marriage. In 2013 she flipped to support same-sex marriage when majority opinion turned in favour of it. Years of grassroots campaigning produced this result.
In a political system rigged for the rich, the support for Bernie Sanders has shown the potential for a left alternative. But this will only be built outside the Democratic Party.