Indignation as Distraction: Team Clinton Goes on Offense to Play Defense

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Indignation as Distraction: Team Clinton Goes on Offense to Play Defense

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves after being introduced onto the stage by husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, during a campaign rally at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa January 30, 2016. (Photo: REUTERS/Adrees Latif)

In the last Democratic debate, Hillary came out swinging, challenging Sanders on his statements about her “progressivism” and whether the millions she’s getting from Wall Street will influence her decisions should she become president. She hasn’t let up, and now a lot of her surrogates are piling on.

In the debate, she called Sanders’ description of her financial relationship with Wall Street and Big Banks an “artful smear.”  Well, leaving aside for the moment whether an accurate portrayal of the facts can be labeled as a smear, there was motive and method to her anger.

This is a tactic designed to put Sanders on the defensive.  It shouldn’t.  Her rapidly shifting policy positions and her courting of the business and billionaire class are fair game in a world in which the US officially went from a democratic republic to an Oligarchy, fueled largely by the boatloads of cash that corporations and rich folks shovel into campaigns. Here’s why.

The preferences of the average American … have only a minuscule, near-zero, impact … upon public policy.

Take a moment to wrap your head around this startling fact. It’s not hyperbole; it’s based on a thorough analysis of the empirical evidence. Looking at statistical data, Gilens and Page, authors of “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens,” concluded:

When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy. (emphasis added).

In other words, without firing a single shot, American democracy was overturned – not by a foreign enemy, but by the uber rich and corporations.

So yes, money in politics does matter, and it is fair game to hold those who take it accountable for it. 

Will Hillary be influenced by the money she collects? 

The answer to this is an obvious yes, because she already has been.  Locked in a dead heat battle with Bernie Sanders in Iowa, Hillary snuck off to Philadelphia to meet with Franklin Square Capital Investment Partners just two days before the caucuses. Leave the field of battle when you’re in a dead heat? That’s influence, folks. 

She cancelled meetings with Bain Capital – yes, that Bain Capital, the Mitt Romney economic wrecking ball, job-destroying, greed machine Matt Taibbi wrote about in Rolling Stone back in 2012 – only because the Sanders campaign called her on it.  That meeting was cancelled again, but it is rumored to be rescheduled sometime after the New Hampshire Primary, at a date the Clinton campaign refuses to disclose, according to a February 4thWashington Post’s piece.  If there’s nothing to hide, why stonewall on the new meeting date?

She also rescheduled a meeting with asset management firm, Black Rock Investment. Then of course there’s the $3.7 million she’s … er … earned in speaking fees since leaving the State Department.

In fact, as a recent analysis shows, the Clintons have gotten more than $153 million from financial interests since 2001. A sample of her other speech engagements includes Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Fidelity Investments, UBS and Bank of America, as well as various hedge funds and private equity firms like Apollo Management and Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts.

One has to ask why, exactly, these economically savvy, bottom-line types are giving Hillary, personally, and her campaign generally, so much money if she’s against them?  Have they been hoodwinked?

Hillary could go a long way toward demonstrating that she’s not in thrall to the financial interests who lavish money on her campaign by simply releasing the transcripts or the videos of her talks to these groups.  But don’t hold your breath on that.

Meanwhile, whether or not financial interests have bought her vote, one thing we know for sure – they have purchased access and the opportunity to influence that goes with it.

OK, how about this claim of being a Progressive? 

Seldom, if ever, in US politics have we seen such a rapid transformation from moderate centrist to progressive as Hillary is trying to pull off.

The list of things she’s … evolved … on is growing daily.  There’s TPP in particular and trade agreements in general; the Keystone XL (which she tacitly supported); support for an “all-of-the above” energy policy (including fracking); gay marriage; gun control laws; the Iraq war; and immigration, to name a few.

Her explanation for these shifts—that she’s changed her mind as she’s gotten new information—really doesn’t wash, for two reasons.

First, for many of these issues, there hasn’t been any new information.

What new information has there been on gay marriage?  None.

Opposing it was just as morally wrong in 2000, as it is today.  Same with trade agreements.  As structured, they have always created a race to the bottom in wages; a loss of manufacturing jobs here at home; an erosion of environmental, worker safety and consumer protection; and a loss of national sovereignty. They served the interests of corporation, not workers. Nothing new here, except people began to get wise the corporate con when folks like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders began to speak out against them.  The Iraq war was as stupid and unjustified in 2003, as it was in 2008.

Second, either she showed poor judgment on many of these issues, or she’s cynically shape-shifting for political advantage.

Her new-found progressivism on many of these issues begs a question, and strikes right at the heart of what she claims to be her strength – experience and toughness, particularly in foreign affairs. 

But is that really an advantage? Again, take Iraq.  She and Sanders had the same information, yet she voted for the invasion, and he voted against it.  Either Bernie was better at analyzing and understanding data than she, or she was pandering to – and cringing before – the Bush administration’s full scale PR war that made it unpopular to oppose the war.

Did she, in fact, learn from her previous mistake?  Apparently not. In her tenure as Secretary of State she was still echoing neocon talking points and was one of the most consistently hawkish members of the cabinet, and the architect of the disastrous Libyan policy. 

One has to ask, if her main advantage is experience, what good is it really, if she keeps getting it wrong?

Up until three months ago, the same could be asked of trade agreements or regulating the financial sector.

Finally, if she’s willing to change her views on Wall Street so cavalierly, it raises the legitimate question of how seriously we should take her protestations about money not influencing her.  It raises the possibility that she is motivated by ambition, as much as—or more than—conviction.

That’s why Hillary is using faux indignation to try to shut off debate. Hillary hopes to shut off the debate about her campaign financing and her new found progressivism with distraction, deception and outrage.  Suffice it to say, the angrier she, Bill and her other surrogates get, the more you know that Sanders is raising important and substantive issues she doesn’t want the voters to focus on.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and book one of a trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

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