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Let's not shy away from having a closer look at individual records when it comes to how we define what the word "progressive" actually means in practice. (Photo: AP / with overlay)

Hillary Clinton Turns Stand-Up Comic: "I’m a Progressive Who Gets Things Done"

Jeff Cohen

In her speech claiming victory after the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton proclaimed herself “a progressive who gets things done.” I had to laugh. And it wasn’t just because former President Bill Clinton – the centrist Triangulator-in-Chief – was standing behind her, beaming and clapping.

"Like her husband, Hillary can come off as either centrist or progressive depending on the audience. And depending on the season – left-leaning during primary election season, and corporate centrist in office."

A quick review of Hillary Clinton’s record shows that much of what she gets done is anti-progressive (not unlike President Clinton in the 1990s). For example:

Promoting Fracking Worldwide is Not Progressive: On behalf of Chevron and other US oil companies, Secretary Clinton and the State Department pushed fracking globally, as Mother Jones has documented: “How Hillary Clinton’s State Department Sold Fracking to the World.”

Boosting Corporate-Friendly Trade Deals is Not Progressive:  Secretary Clinton repeatedly praised the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – as it was being negotiated by the US Trade Representative and her State Department – and she recruited countries into the deal. In October, with Bernie Sanders climbing in the polls, Clinton said she no longer supported the pact, and prevaricated about her earlier boosterism.

Enabling Military Coups is Not Progressive:  When she headed the State Department, it enabled a military coup in Honduras that overthrew democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, a progressive. Clinton was briefed on the dishonesty that allowed aid to illegally reach the coup government.

Pocketing Millions from Corporate Lectures Fees is Not Progressive:  When Wall Street, Big Pharma and other corporate interests paid a soon-to-be presidential candidate an average of $230,000 for a speech, did Hillary Clinton think it was for her brilliant stand-up comedy? Or was it more akin to political bribery? Clinton now says these firms just wanted to hear the views of a former Secretary of State on our “complicated world” – or about the Bin Laden raid. But Politico reported in 2013 soon after one of her three speeches to Goldman Sachs: “Clinton offered a message that the collected plutocrats found reassuring, according to accounts offered by several attendees, declaring that the banker-bashing so popular within both political parties was unproductive and indeed foolish.” (Releasing the speech transcripts would help settle the matter.)

Escalating the Afghan War is Not Progressive:  As insider books on the Obama administration have revealed, Secretary Clinton was among the most hawkish of Obama’s advisors in country after country – for example, vociferously urging the failed and pointless 2009 troop surge in Afghanistan.

Chaotic Military Intervention in the Middle East and Libya is Not Progressive:  If not for Hillary Clinton’s 2002 Senate vote in support of Bush’s Iraq invasion, Obama would not have defeated her in 2008. As if having learned nothing from the post-invasion chaos in Iraq, Secretary Clinton was one of the strongest voices in 2011 urging Obama to militarily depose Qaddafi in Libya, a country now in total, deadly chaos.

On the campaign trail lately, Hillary Clinton is doing her best to sound much more progressive than her record in office, but she’s a rank amateur compared to her husband’s slickness on this score in the 1990s. President Bill Clinton did “get things done” – but some of his biggest initiatives were the opposite of progressive:   

1993:  Passage of the corporate-friendly trade deal NAFTA, which passed mostly with Republican support against the votes of most Democrats in Congress.

1996:  Passage of the Telecommunications Act, the biggest change in media law since the 1930s, which helped big media companies grow even bigger. Bill Clinton got this done by working closely with Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as both major parties received large donations from media and telecommunications corporations.

1996:  Repeal of federally-guaranteed welfare in the form of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a program enacted in 1935 during Franklyn Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Children’s Defense Fund – a group Hillary Clinton worked with and repeatedly invokes to shore up her “progressive” credentials – vehemently denounced repeal.

1999-2000:  Deregulation of Wall Street, working closely with right-wing Senator Phil Gramm. Among other things, President Clinton ended the 1933 Glass-Steagall legislation which had separated Main Street banks from the more speculative Wall Street banks (a measure Hillary Clinton says she is opposed to reinstituting). Dereg led directly to the 2007/2008 economic meltdown. 

I’m open to the argument that you can’t blame Hillary Clinton for these policies of her husband that were so hurtful to poor and working-class women and men – policies that she publicly defended or went quiet on. But she wraps herself today around the Bill Clinton presidency. And it’s not unprecedented for a first spouse to object to White House policy: Barbara Bush went public that she opposed her husband’s anti-choice position on abortion.

One policy from the 1990s that Hillary and Bill get joint custody of is healthcare; President Clinton chose Hillary to lead his administration’s healthcare initiative in 1993. Working with the biggest insurance companies (five giant firms had formed the Alliance for Managed Competition), Hillary Clinton proposed a convoluted proposal that kept big for-profit insurers in the heart of the system. Her “Managed Competition” scheme was so complex and bureaucratic that it never got out of committee in a Democrat-controlled Congress – but it did sideline a single-payer Medicare for All bill, a truly progressive measure that was backed by 100 members of Congress, labor unions, Consumers Union, and a grassroots movement. 

"The great news for progressives is that large numbers of young activists are joining a 'political revolution.' Whether Bernie wins or loses, let’s hope these young people not only transform the Democratic Party, but also the organizations that purport to represent the poor and working class, oppressed racial and sexual minorities, and the environment."

Like her husband, Hillary can come off as either centrist or progressive depending on the audience. And depending on the season – left-leaning during primary election season, and corporate centrist in office. Her current campaign for president has helped reveal not just a split between corporate Democrats and progressive Democrats, but a chasm between the leadership of liberal constituency groups and the progressive base of these groups.

Some labor unions have poured $5.5 million into the pro-Hillary SuperPAC, for example – funding a woman who sat on the board of one of our country’s worst union-busters, Walmart.

The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, endorsed Hillary over Bernie despite the fact that it took her until 2013 to support gay marriage, while Bernie had joined a minority of Congress members who voted against the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act signed by President Clinton in 1996.

The League of Conservation Voters endorsed Hillary over Bernie despite the fact that she pushed fracking worldwide while he staunchly opposed it, and he fought against the Keystone XL pipeline and its dirty oil from the beginning while she took until a few months ago – during campaign season – to express opposition. 

The great news for progressives is that large numbers of young activists are joining a “political revolution.” Whether Bernie wins or loses, let’s hope these young people not only transform the Democratic Party, but also the organizations that purport to represent the poor and working class, oppressed racial and sexual minorities, and the environment.

When that happens, the next time a corporate politician pretends to be a “progressive” during primary season, these groups will not be complicit in the masquerade.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is an activist and author. Cohen was an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC. He is the author of "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media" - and a co-founder of the online action group, www.RootsAction.org. His website is jeffcohen.org.

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