Hillary Clinton Is Trying Really Hard to Repel Progressives

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Hillary Clinton Is Trying Really Hard to Repel Progressives

Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton silhouetted by a stage light as she speaks at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, August 8, 2012. (Photo: Reuters/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool)

If you're looking for Hillary Clinton, Amy Chozick and Jonathan Martin observed in Sunday's edition of the New York Times, the best place to start is usually among "the country's most moneyed enclaves," where the former Secretary of State has been busy partying with Jimmy Buffett and ensuring her donors that "she would approach business leaders more like Mr. Clinton did during his administration, which was widely considered amicable to the private sector."

Throughout the build-up to the general election in November, Clinton has been forcefully criticized for her unwillingness to hold a press conference. But her attendance at high-dollar fundraisers, at which photos with the candidate can cost up to $10,000, has been impeccable.

"In the last two weeks of August," Chozick and Martin note, "Mrs. Clinton raked in roughly $50 million at 22 fund-raising events, averaging around $150,000 an hour, according to a New York Times tally."

Clinton assured young progressives during her unexpectedly competitive primary battle that she would fight for their interests: Although there may exist a philosophical divide in terms of the most effective path, she argued, the destination — for herself, Senator Bernie Sanders, and the millions pushing for foundational shifts in the balance of power in the United States — is the same.

But now that the primary fight is far behind her, she is doing what, as Thomas Frank puts it, "Democrats always do": Veering sharply rightward. Far from a promise to put first the needs of the most vulnerable, Clinton has instead frequently deployed what Daniel Denvir has called "the class equivalent of 'All Lives Matter,'" promising to represent "the struggling, the striving, the successful," no matter their official political affiliations.

Such rhetoric, while ostensibly a call for unity, is a common smokescreen, one often used to obscure the fact that the same powerful interests continue to dictate the policy direction of the nation.

But Clinton's platform — intended to appeal to all audiences, to the warmongers and the peace activists, to the poorest and the wealthiest — is hardly an abandonment of recent Democratic tendencies. It is, in fact, firmly in step with the ideological shifts that have taken place within the party over the last several decades.

"A movement once fleshed out in union halls and little magazines shifted into universities and major press, from the center of the country to its cities and elite enclaves," summarizes Emmett Rensin. "Minority voters remained, but bereft of the material and social capital required to dominate elite decision-making, they were largely excluded from an agenda driven by the new Democratic core: the educated, the coastal, and the professional."

Bill Clinton's presidency represented the first real triumph of the so-called New Democrats, a coalition that urged liberals to move away from their traditional alliance with labor and to cultivate a party more appealing to the interests of capital. President Obama, for his part, gladly carried the torch. And now Hillary Clinton is consolidating power by casting an even wider net, capturing reactionary billionaires and, on an almost daily basis, celebrating the endorsement of yet another Republican hawk.

The emergence of Donald Trump didn't spark these trends; he has merely intensified them, making the Democrats' job of welcoming into their coalition the wealthy constituencies alienated by his demagoguery and racism all the more seamless.

But as Thomas Edsall has observed, such a coalition — made up of both Wall Street financiers and minimum-wage workers — is by its very nature "unruly"; something has to give.

"Insofar as the Democratic Party is no longer a class-based alliance with common economic goals," Edsall writes, "how can it resolve the conflicts between its more privileged and less privileged wings?"

If recent history is any guide, Democrats will, by default, favor the interests of the powerful, the affluent, and the successful over those of everyone else.

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With this context in mind, the fact that Hillary Clinton has, over the last several months, "almost exclusively been fielding the concerns of the wealthiest Americans" while paying relatively little attention to low-income communities is entirely predictable.

And the fact that she is alienating progressives — or just blithely taking them for granted — seems to be of little concern: Indeed, Clinton's enthusiastic celebration of the support of odious billionaires like Michael Bloomberg and war criminals like Henry Kissinger — whose official endorsement she has reportedly been seeking — along with her selection of an anti-labor running mate and a pro-business transition team chair, indicates that she is content to continue her rightward sprint, hoping to pick up "moderate Republicans" to make up for voters she may lose along the way.

Even if Clinton defeats Trump by a comfortable margin, those hoping for anything resembling a "progressive mandate" — one that would hold Clinton's "feet to the fire" on such issues as wealth and income inequality, the minimum wage, deep poverty, climate change, American imperialism, and corporate trade pacts — are likely to be disappointed.

Disappointment, though, is often a product of false expectations. The important point is that we should not expect much more from the Democratic Party, a party in which, as Nathan Robinson puts it, "predatory lenders and workplace harassers are welcome, so long as they share the goal of making Hillary Clinton the President of the United States of America."

In their classic study examining the "right turn" of the American political establishment, Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers argue that, ultimately, policy decision-making comes down to the interests of the investors, those who funnel money into the political system expecting results in return, not the interests of the population as a whole. Today's political realities match, with a striking degree of accuracy, this analysis.

They also offered a prediction: As the GOP becomes more extreme, Democrats will "attempt to put together a coalition of business interests" along with "professionals, and other upper-income Americans who cannot accept Republican policies."

Democrats could, of course, aggressively pursue an ambitious agenda that would mobilize disaffected communities and have a transformative impact on the lives of those harmed by the spoils of globalization and corporate plunder.

"The reason they do not do this," Ferguson and Rogers write, "is not because they do not know how, but because they do not want to. And they do not want to because such a mobilization would require that the people mobilized actually be offered something, and elite Democrats have very little that they want to give. While they would like to defeat the Republicans, they are not about to subsidize a broad popular coalition inimical to their own economic interests."

In an interview with Vox's Jeff Stein, Kirk Voorhees, a truck driver and Bernie Sanders supporter from New Jersey, effectively summarized the above conclusion in the form of a question, one that has been asked, in different ways, by many others: "I find it hard to believe she'll do anything for me after taking all this money from these special interest groups. Why will she turn on those people when it's so easy to turn on us?"

Jake Johnson, staff writer

Jake Johnson

Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter: @johnsonjakep

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