Tuesday, August 2, 2016


I want to clarify what I wrote in my last post.

Fairly or unfairly, Secretary Hillary Clinton is associated with the Clinton brand name which is accurately associated with partially dismantling FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society.

That's not entirely sarcasm. A case can be made against blaming her for her husband's policies. It is, as I argued in my previous post, a pretty muddy and awkward one, but it is not entirely without merit.(1)

I would be happy if Hillary Clinton sought to restore what her husband had helped destroy as a sort of family atonement or do-over. However, I seriously doubt that she really wants to. And even if she did, she cannot accomplish it by tapping down expectations. That is, by definition, the opposite of inspiring people. In 1996, Bill Clinton had proclaimed "The era of big government is over" to the loud applause and cheers of a Republican congress. But today, we need a new New Deal because Obama did not deliver on that promise. We can argue over whose fault that was, but the sad fact stands that it has not happened yet and it is long overdue. Desperate times require not just "activist government," but heroic government. 

I want to stress that it's not about personality with me. I don't care who fixes this disastrous dereliction of government's obligations. I just think that a leader like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren was more likely to do it than Hillary Clinton - both temperamentally and strategically. As I wrote before, no Democratic president will accomplish anything with a Republican congress. Period. This simple fact belies Clinton's claim that she's "a progressive who likes to get things done." Leaving aside the fair question of whether she is really a progressive, she cannot accomplish anything without first taking back Congress and you do that by generating enthusiasm and thus coat tails. Otherwise, the only things she can possibly accomplish are conservative goals, and we had quite enough of that under her husband. Bill Clinton's meager legislative accomplishments primarily consisted of realizing the far right's favorite fever dream schemes like deregulation and privatization. Gridlock would be infinitely preferable to anymore of that.

I'm not going to be cute or equivocate here: I think Hillary Clinton has made her already rickety bid for the White House even more dubious by not picking a progressive for a unity ticket. It suggests a toxic mix of arrogance and stupidity that the ancient Greeks called hubris. Tim Kaine may be a nice guy. I might have been a tad harsh on him in my disappointment. But he does not generate the necessary enthusiasm and we absolutely do not need another Democrat who calls himself a conservative.

This is not just an issue of rallying the progressive base after an acrimonious primary. Hillary Clinton is an establishment candidate at a time when the national mood is passionately anti-establishment across the political spectrum. That explains Donald Trump's stunningly unexpected success. And Independents - who are currently our country's largest "political party" - are already hostile to party establishments to start with. And as Sanders' campaign proved, Independents are not primarily centrists who are frightened off by socialist proposals. This establishment albatross is an immense handicap and Clinton's VP decision does not seem to acknowledge this or try to compensate for it.(2)

I hope I am totally wrong about Hillary Clinton. The head of the progressive Roosevelt Institute sees evidence for cautious optimism, but I don't know. Worrisome signs that I cannot ignore keep cropping up. And this is on top of my pre-existing Clinton brand-conscious caution.

But, once again, I don't care who restores the Democratic Party to its historic winning strategy of putting people before corporations. If it helps clarify my position any, let me caricature it: If Hillary Clinton can realize Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Second Bill of Rights, I would be happy to give her as many terms in office as he got. Of course, that would require several constitutional amendments, but I'm down with that.


(1)  EDIT 08/04/16: I recently ran across a Thomas Frank interview that takes a similar nuanced view:

Q: Because your book is so tough on Bill Clinton—you yourself said he’s the closest thing to a villain in the book—does Hillary deserve the same degree of suspicion?

A: No, she’s her own person. But she should be held responsible for things when she says she supports them. I actually tried to avoid taking Hillary to task for things that happened during the Clinton years because I don’t think that’s fair to do that. However, take something like welfare reform, which was regarded at the time as one of Bill Clinton’s great achievements. Today, not so much. But she was very proud of her role in this and encouraging him to sign it and get it through. She’s written about this in one of her memoirs. When she does that and says, I lobbied for it, then she should be held responsible.

(2)  If nothing else, picking a progressive VP would have been pretty decent impeachment insurance. You know that Republicans do not need a real reason to impeach as long as the have the votes. Could they resist the temptation to impeach another Clinton? Probably not - unless there were, say, a Vice President Sanders or Vice President Warren waiting in the wings to make them think twice. But impeaching Clinton and replacing her with a conservative Democrat would be a win-win for them.

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