The Clintons, Not Bernie Sanders, Hijacked the Democratic Party

In the 1972 Democratic Primary, Rolling Stone backed young voters who flocked to the grassroots-based campaign of Senator George McGovern who opposed the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, McGovern lost in a landslide and President Nixon was re-elected. Today, Jann Wenner of the same Rolling Stone decides that we should look at that as a reason to ignore today’s youth who overwhelmingly, 80-85% overwhelmingly, support Sen. Bernie Sanders over Former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He cites young voters’ cravings for “idealism, integrity, and authenticity” as the reason we flock to him, as if that’s a bad thing. (The fact that there’s video of him predicting almost every policy disaster years before it happened certainly doesn’t hurt, either.)

Wenner also couples the argument with what he found to be another “very clear lesson: America chooses its presidents from the middle, not from the ideological wings.” This is part of a larger argument that Bernie Sanders is hijacking the Democratic Party. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland also argues that we ought to unite at the political center. “I am worried about where some of the loudest voices in the room could take the Democratic Party,” he says, forgetting where the political center is and that Bernie Sanders, in fact, represents the core of what the Democratic Party is — was.

Wenner actively decides to ignore all evidence showing Bernie Sanders to be more electable, and wants us to instead support Hillary Clinton because George W. Bush, he argues, was so bad for America and we cannot allow a Republican to win again. Well then, let’s look at his assessment of the Bush Administration’s failings:

Bush brought us into a war that still plagues us today; he authorized massive tax cuts for the rich and the corporations; abandoned the Middle East peace process; ushered in the worst financial crisis since the Depression; and totally neglected the climate emergency.

First, Hillary Clinton supported that war. (As did Al Gore.) In fact, just in 2011, she said, “It’s time for the United States to start thinking of Iraq as a business opportunity.” Neoliberal meet Neoconservative. Bill Clinton did little to change tax rates overall and finished the deregulation of banks started by Reagan. Instead of prosecuting banks for gambling with people’s savings, illegal at the time, he repealed the law, Glass-Steagall, and deregulated the rest of the financial market. Hillary Clinton to this day does not support reinstating Glass-Steagall. Next, Wenner brings us back to the Middle East: Based on her speech at AIPAC, is Hillary Clinton in any position to be a neutral supporter of both Israeli and Palestinian interests? (For the record, W. called on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land in 2008.) Okay, back to the Economy: worst financial crisis since the Great Depression — yes. Ushered in by President Bush — no. Not completely, at least. That was ushered in by Clintonomics, a.k.a. finishing what Reaganomics started.

President Reagan with President Clinton

Finally, the crisis that is our climate: Bernie Sanders has an undeniably more aggressive plan to tackle climate change. Period. We don’t have time to debate the extent to which Hillary Clinton’s positions change based on her donations, which she indeed takes from fossil fuel and oil. The fact is that, regardless, she does not have a strong enough plan to stop and reverse the damage we have done over the years. There is no safe fracking! Support for, or even lack of opposition to, oil pipelines will not cut it for those of us who realize this pressing emergency. (I argue that Bernie’s plan may not even be strong enough — Jill Stein’s Green New Deal would be a crucial start.)

And cut the crap about donations coming from oil and gas industry employees. For one, that’s still telling. And two, we all know damn well that if the money is not going directly to her campaign, then it’s going to her Super PACs or to the Democratic National Committee’s Hillary Victory Fund, allowing the same person to funnel their cash through every single state Democratic Party to that same Victory Fund. Double everything if the donor has a spouse who can pledge money in their name. She sure as hell sees the benefits of that money, whether you admit it to yourself or not.

So, why such laissez-faire economics in the left wing party? We’ll have to briefly look back to see where things went wrong. Just as conservatives, for some reason, worship Ronald Reagan, liberals have our own love affair with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He appointed the country’s first woman Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, and together they pulled us out of the Great Depression. The president was so popular that Americans elected him four times, keeping Secretary Perkins in his cabinet throughout his tenure from 1933–1945. Their legacy includes Social Security, unemployment insurance, minimum wage, child labor laws, welfare, the whole New Deal. Lots of big government spending and a robust social safety net (oh my!). He receives the due credit of successfully getting the economy up and running after the stock market crashed.

After FDR died, in office, Democrats had hard time winning presidential elections. His third Vice President Harry Truman succeeded him, followed by Republican war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Keep in mind the 91% top tax rate during this Republican’s administration.) Democrat John F. Kennedy was then elected, succeeded by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Then we had Republican Richard Nixon, succeeded by his Vice President Gerald Ford after impeachment. After that came Jimmy Carter (D), and then two terms of Ronald Reagan (R), followed by a term of his VP, George H. W. Bush. The lone Democrat Jimmy Carter had one term in the middle of four Republicans.

  • D-FDR, D-Truman, R-Eisenhower, D-JFK, D-LBJ
  • R-Nixon, R-Ford, D-Carter, R-Reagan, R-GHWB

Before all of this was a restructuring of the Democratic presidential nomination process, in particular decreasing the influence of party leaders, giving more control to voters over the nominating process. The first candidate to win this more democratically-held primary was anti-war, grassroots-based George McGovern. He lost, horribly. About a decade after the 1972 landslide to President Nixon, Superdelegates were introduced. And twelve Republican-controlled years after Carter had Democrats eager to win back the White House. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi explains how just how eager:

That ’72 loss hovered like a raincloud over the Democrats until Bill Clinton came along. He took the White House using a formula engineered by a think tank, the Democratic Leadership Council, that was created in response to losses by McGovern and Walter Mondale.
The new strategy was a party that was socially liberal but fiscally conservative. It counterattacked Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, a racially themed appeal to disaffected whites Nixon tabbed the “Silent Majority,” by subtly taking positions against the Democrats’ own left flank.
In 1992 and in 1996, Clinton recaptured some of Nixon’s territory through a mix of populist positions (like a middle-class tax cut) and the “triangulating” technique of pushing back against the Democrats’ own liberal legacy on issues like welfare, crime and trade.
And that was the point. No more McGoverns. The chief moral argument of the Clinton revolution was not about striving for an end to the war or poverty or racism or inequality, but keeping the far worse Republicans out of power.

The main goal is no longer ending poverty but winning, and doing so by being less bad than the other guys. Quintessential Lesser Evil politics. During Clinton’s presidency, Taibbi says, “purity” came to be derogatory, pointing to Richard Rothstein’s 1995 piece in The American Prospect. Rothstein says:

In the relative complacency of 1993–94, Clinton’s progressive reforms could have prevailed only with enthusiastic majority support. When liberals indulge themselves with denunciations of Clinton’s compromises, centrists will not fill the void to support a liberal agenda. The balance scale conceit is particularly dangerous because it rationalizes political irresponsibility, justifying liberal opposition with hopes that, by grace of an invisible hand, purism contributes to progressive victory. The conceit excuses unwillingness to share the burden of morally ambiguous compromise, of deciding which promises must be violated or which treasured goals must be sacrificed when confronted with opposing political force. These unpleasant decisions become the president’s alone to make, while liberal confederates flatter themselves that their hands are clean and that their refusal to share responsibility helps move the administration in a progressive direction.

Morally ambiguous compromise”— sound familiar?

Bill Clinton vowed not to be weaker than Republicans, so he attacked welfare, gutted our social safety net. He continued deregulating the financial industry like the Republicans before him. He introduced trade policies so corporations could manufacture their items in countries without minimum wage laws and import them back to cut costs, as well costing Americans jobs. (But it’s okay because they were helping the “job-creators.”) Clinton unleashed his “tough on crime” platform, which we rightly point to not as the root cause of mass incarceration but for exacerbating what had been done by Republicans. They did all the ground work, they loaded the gun; all Clinton had to do was pull the trigger. And pull the trigger, he did.

Of course, Hillary Clinton is not her husband, but if she wants to reminisce about the short-term economic boon of his administration, she cannot reject the long-term failures that accompany it. Indeed, she supported all of his policies at the time and most of them today. As Secretary of State she personally oversaw the writing and implementation of more trade deals! And people have the gall to feel offended when we suggest Hillary Clinton is a Republican? Given her history, political tactics, and platform, we might as well have the real thing.

Even Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary, economist Robert Reich, has come out in support of Bernie, feeling so strong about him that he stepped down from leadership in an organization to endorse him.

So where do we go from here? Can we bring the Democratic Party back to its roots, wave good riddance to the Clintons’ Neoliberalism, or is it too far gone? Some argue there is hope, for there is finally mainstream support for the progressive ideals championed by Elizabeth Warren, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders. There are rising young Democrats like Brian Sims, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tim Canova. Others say it is soiled by corruption, going as far as calling themselvesBerniecrats” and advocating a new Progressive Party. Given that the Green Party has the social democratic ideals we seek with protections against big money and corruption built into its platform, I suspect misguided resentment lingers against the Green Party for Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential bid. It’s worth noting that Green candidate Jill Stein’s plan to revitalize the economy and combat the changing climate is based on FDR’s New Deal. Young voters feel no allegiance to party labels, especially one that has undermined the one honest candidate since the beginning. One thing is certain: we must oust the residual Neoliberals and corporatists like Debbie Wasserman Schultz and learn not to repeat our mistakes. It is imperative to make this unfortunate and shameful time a mere episode in American politics, nothing more.

Democrats talk a different game, but are responsible to the same one percenters who fund Republicans, so once in office, Democrats govern pretty much like Republicans. In fact Democratic presidents and governors frequently enact the oppressive policies we won’t allow Republicans to enact. — Bruce Dixon, Black Agenda Report