The Agonist’s editors have taken a principled stand in favor of Hillary Clinton’s nomination by the Democratic Party for president. In the tradition of The Agonist, contrary opinions are always welcome, and in that spirit I offer arguments against the nomination of Hillary Clinton. Fundamentally, I find her an unprincipled person, by which I mean two things: her political principles are opportunistic, and her ethical principles are lacking. In normal circumstances, these failings would not disqualify her from high office. Bill Clinton, after all, thrived as president, even though he has these exact same faults, because the times were such that the economy, and the population in general, benefited considerably during his eight years as president. It was a false prosperity, built on an increasingly mountainous pile of private debt, but economic want did not stalk the land, as it does now.
Twenty years later, our situation is radically different, not just nationally, but globally. What we need are political leaders with vision, a willingness to work for radical change, and a capability to push the “system” along to be able to enact such change. This is a very tall order, which even Bernie Sanders does not fully meet, but Hillary Clinton doesn’t come close, because she lacks vision entirely. She is politically opportunistic, grabbing on to whatever policy seems best suited to garner the most votes. Setting policy through public opinion polling was always a hallmark of the Clinton presidency, and we shouldn’t be under any illusions. Electing Hillary Clinton as president doesn’t mean necessarily that Bill Clinton will be back in the Oval Office, but it does mean that the Clinton style of governance shall return. Everything about Hillary Clinton’s political career suggests as much, from her carefully scripted and nuanced public statements meant to offend the fewest amount of people, to her reliance on the same advisers, such as Robert Rubin, who did so much damage during the Clinton administration.
Let us look at several policy positions that she has held throughout her career, which define her as a reactionary, in the limited sense that she reacts to circumstances rather than trying to mold public opinion and political policy toward a different and better future.
She is by any definition a neoconservative hawk on foreign policy. She’s made no secret of this. As Secretary of State she stood in open opposition to Barack Obama’s refusal to commit the United States to military intervention in Syria. On the campaign trail, she talks about the need for continued military involvement in the Middle East to fight ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism. The concept that the United States should disengage militarily, and as completely as possible, from participating in a Sunni-Shi’ite religious war, is completely alien to her. She follows the Madeleine Albright principle of foreign policy, who famously asked: What good is the strongest military in the world if you cannot use it? It would never occur to Hillary Clinton that the United States needs to drastically scale back its military involvement overseas, and the entire military-industrial complex, to survive the ongoing global economic depression.
As to that last statement, she doesn’t have an inkling of the economic circumstances facing the United States. The idea that income inequality is a cancerous debilitation that is destroying the American middle class has never occurred to her. The fact that she is talking about it now on the campaign trail is entirely forced upon her by political exigencies that result from polling. She evinces no understanding that some portion of the American public is slipping into Third World economic status, and that the country is politically hobbled by a paralyzed federal government, forcing political power to devolve on to the states, which are financially unable to meet the demands of their citizens.
She is clueless as to her involvement, and that of her husband, in the destruction of African-American families through the War on Drugs and the elimination of welfare programs that are needed now more than ever. In the 1990’s she spoke viciously about black “thugs,” and she eagerly endorsed mass incarceration, which her husband now says he regrets implementing because it was a mistake. She cannot bring herself to say that. Nor does she understand a basic ethical principle: profit from punishment is a perversion; it is a system that turns prisoners into product. She embraced the conversion of federal prisons into private enterprises run for profit. This is a Republican economic principle that derives from the belief that the market is superior to public enterprise. Nothing could be further from the truth when certain fundamental public services are at stake, such as health care, policing, penal treatment, consumer banking, municipal infrastructure, and the military. There are so many ways Hillary Clinton could have stood up in favor of a forward vision – progressivism if you will – from endorsing Wall Street reform to decrying the conversion of important public services like water supply to private interests. She didn’t, and she still doesn’t unless forced to on the campaign trail because her poll numbers are lagging. She is a follower, never a leader, and always wedded to Republican free market solutions.
She still does not understand the tragic political circumstances facing the United States. She talks about her abilities as a public servant, which are technocratic and bureaucratic talents. These are very useful qualities to have in many public positions, but not in the presidency. Hillary Clinton implies she is the person for the moment because of her knowledge of Washington, and her ability to get things done that are achievable on a practical basis. It took Barack Obama four wasted years to discover the falsity of this premise. He simply did not grasp in his first term of office that the Republican Party’s position was to oppose him at every turn, to prevent him from achieving any of his goals, and to make the federal government as dysfunctional as possible by paralyzing the Congress and harassing the executive branch and the courts through withholding of appointments. In this present constitutional crisis, which is the result of the Republican Party abandoning the Constitution, Hillary Clinton’s talents are useless and counterproductive.
Let us not omit to mention the most pressing issue of our time: climate change. Is there anything in Hillary Clinton’s record that says she takes this issue seriously? The evidence was mounting even in the 1990’s that this was a growing and urgent public problem. Al Gore understood that. Hillary Clinton has been altogether absent in this fight, because she hasn’t the intellectual curiosity to learn on her own why this is a vital matter, and why leadership is urgently needed in order for the U.S. to make the massive changes in its economy and in the lifestyle of every citizen in order for the problem to be addressed.
Her policy stances mesh inextricably with her personal desire for wealth. She and her husband have earned over $100 million in speaking fees since he left office in 2001. Hillary Clinton says these fees are what were offered her by various organizations, but she leaves out the term sheet she sends to anyone requesting her services, which set her fees at $200,000 minimum, and requiring either private or first class air travel for her and her staff and accommodation at luxury hotels. She lives a life of luxury befitting someone in the 1% class. It has never occurred to her that a firm like Goldman Sachs isn’t willing to pay her $250,000 for thirty minutes of work just so they can hear her wisdom garnered from years of public service. They don’t care beans about her public opinions. They want private access to her, they want to generate a favorable opinion in her mind about issues important to them, and they are willing to place a very inexpensive bet on someone with serious potential to become president of the United States, because it means billions of dollars to their bottom line.
This much is obvious to the public, but so eagerly does Hillary Clinton participate in the lifestyle of the rich and powerful, that she cannot comprehend that she is being bought. This is also evident by the fact that she and her husband have converted their political activities into a corporate brand, which is why they drag Chelsea Clinton out on to the campaign trail. They are selling Clinton Enterprises, which in their mind is of the stature of Goldman Sachs, or Pfizer, or the Bush Dynasty – organizations which have a product to sell for a profit. This is the free market run amok, poisoning the political process along the way. If she had the slightest sense of decency, for example, she would refuse to accept the hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to her by the private firms which run prisons for profit.
The venality of Hillary Clinton is not measured in her personal corruption. It is measured in her personal participation, and eager endorsement, of a corrupt political system. This is why people do not trust her. Her recent conversion to support of a public health care plan is a perfect example of her phoniness. No one can possibly accept that this conversion came after careful analysis and was based on a heartfelt desire to put in place Medicare for all. This decision was based on personal opportunism, because her road to the Democratic Party nomination requires it of her if she is to counter Bernie Sanders’ success at promoting the idea.
These criticisms cannot be leveled against Bernie Sanders. He has throughout a long public career been steadfast in support of unpopular social issues, such as gay rights. He has railed against growing income inequality from the time Ronald Reagan was in office. I remember him standing alone in the well of the Senate in 2002 and 2003, explaining why the invasion of Iraq was based on false premises and what type of disaster was bound to ensue. For decades he has been a Jeremiah, alone in his principles and ignored in his warnings. But the times have caught up to him, and reality has proven him right.
If I were a puppet master, I would love to put words into his mouth, because he is an imperfect candidate (as any candidate must be). For example, he would do well to assert that it is necessary to destroy the Republican Party, because his political revolution requires it. I’ve written about the urgency of this matter here, and I sense other writers, such as Elias Isquith in this article about David Brooks, are on the verge of coming to the same conclusion.
In my view Bernie Sanders is the quintessentially necessary political figure at the moment, despite some weaknesses, despite his age, and despite the assured opposition he will receive from a Republican Party. Hillary Clinton is a political figure of the past, and a representative par excellence of a corrupt political system.
The only reason to vote for her, and I will if she is nominated, is that any Republican alternative would be an utter disaster. But America should stop voting against candidates and start voting for candidates. We liberals thought that is what we were doing when we voted for Barack Obama in 2008. We were cruelly disappointed. He was a neocon of the Clinton variety, surrounding himself with Clinton administration incompetents on economic, foreign, and social policies. We do not need another Clinton of the exact same nature as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Whatever Hillary Clinton says on the campaign trail, rest assured it is political opportunism. Once in the Oval Office, she will be more of the same, and while it is manifestly untrue that we should be indifferent to whether a Clinton is in the White House or a Republican, it is obviously true that the United States cannot tolerate any more of the status quo. If Hillary Clinton represents anything, she is the embodiment of a corrupt political status quo.