To hear some people tell it, you’d think the Democrats had already nominated Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. But it’s 2014. This show has 3 seasons, and we’ve barely made it through the first episode.
The name of Clinton’s Super PAC – “Ready for Hillary” – suggests one of the main rhetorical bludgeons Democrats will use to enforce lockstep marching behind the former Senator: If you don’t want her to be president of the United States, you must not be “ready” to see a woman in the Oval Office.
But there are plenty of legitimate reasons why no one who calls themselves progressive or lefty should throw their support behind Clinton, a deeply conservative Democrat with the record – first as a Senator, then as Secretary of State – to prove it.
For one, she’s shown herself to be even more hawkish than Obama. While she was in Congress, Clinton vocally supported and voted for the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and even criticized the Bush administration for being too soft on Iran.
In her time in the State Department during Obama’s first term, she personally pushed for the administration’s most aggressive and disastrous foreign policies, from the so-called surge in Afghanistan (which, according to the military, failed on all counts) and extrajudicial killings (which have killed close to a thousand civilians in Pakistan alone) to the bombing campaign against Libya (which ended in regime change and plunged both that country and northern Africa into greater turmoil) and the covert training and arming of militias in Syria (which was supposed to oust Iran’s regional ally Bashar Al-Assad, but succeeded only in triggering a catastrophic civil war).
And of course, throughout, Clinton remained steadfast in her support for Israel, never uttering a word or lifting a finger in defense of the victims of Israeli militarism and apartheid – to which the US government is financially and diplomatically indispensable. As a Senator, she was silent during Israel’s month-long assault on Gaza that killed some 1400 Palestinians (more than 700 of them civilians) in 2008-2009, and four years later declared her “110%” support for a bombing campaign that left 102 Palestinian civilians dead.
In the economic realm, things look just as grim. Despite going back on her support for the wildly unpopular NAFTA – championed by her husband – Clinton supported other “free trade” agreements under Bush and Obama (like those with South Korea and Colombia). As I’ve written before on this blog, “free trade” deals undermine local economies and protections for both workers and consumers while deepening inequality – both in the US and abroad.
She has touted the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the most expansive and radically anti-democratic pact to date, which will severely limit the ability of nations to regulate and hold accountable the multinational corporations that operate in them.
In particular, Wall Street would be delighted to see the presidency of a Senator who, in 2001, voted to make it more difficult to erase personal debts through bankruptcy – a bill mainly backed by banks and credit card companies. And after helping Clinton and her husband make over $100 million since leaving the White House, the financial services industry know they’d have an ally (and probably a few of their own) in the next administration.
And herein lies the problem for the Clinton campaign: How can you pass yourself off to primary voters as a friend of the 99% when, in a single week, you made $400,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs?
Clinton may well stick to her line that she and Bill were “dead broke” after his second term. But the Clintons’ wealth and how they got it are no secret, and any rival, especially in the Democratic primary, is sure to pounce on her Romneyesque attempts at relatability. What is the “populist” Democratic base going to conclude about Clinton’s loyalties?
It’s true, we live in a country where laughing maniacally about bombing Iran doesn’t put an end to your presidential aspirations. But we also live in a country where young people under 30 (who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats) have a more favorable view of the word “socialism” than “capitalism”.
We live in a country where you can’t deport a record 2 million undocumented immigrants – a policy Clinton says she would escalate even further – without fierce resistance from leaders and activists in your base and a sizable drop-off in support from Latin@ voters.
And we live in a country where Herman Cain once led the polls in the Republican primary.
The story that the Democratic nomination is a foregone conclusion has some holes – and the party knows it. Already, Democrats in the media and blogosphere are urging progressives to give Clinton a political blank check and pooh-poohing the chances of Senator Bernie Sanders (a self-identified socialist) in a Democratic primary with a defensiveness that betrays the true uncertainty of a Clinton cakewalk.
They’re less knee-jerk in their dismissal of an Elizabeth Warren candidacy – a former strategist for Al Gore’s failed presidential bid openly states that Warren could win a primary against Clinton – but I think that openness comes, in part, from a place of perceived security: At this point, it looks like Warren isn’t running.
But that could change. The smart money is clearly still on the Anointed One, but politics isn’t about predictions – it’s about possibilities that, all too often, aren’t obvious until after they’ve been realized.
And lest we forget, running to Clinton’s left has worked before.
The fact is, there are very few concrete policy differences between Warren and Sanders, and the willingness of party insiders to take a hypothetical challenge from Warren seriously suggests to me that the independent Senator from Vermont has a better shot than it may appear.
After all, an all-time-high 42% of US voters identify as “independents”: Whether they’re progressives, libertarians, leftists, or anything else, Americans – and young Americans most of all – have seen unconditional support for leaders in both parties bear the fruit of 14 years of endless war and a neoliberalism whose bubble has burst for good.
Obi-Wan Kenobi said, “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” It may look like the cult of personality around Hillary Clinton would make her an even “more effective evil” than Obama. It may look like 2016 is too close for a reasonably progressive candidate to mount a serious challenge. But we live in interesting times. And below the surface, people and ideas are moving in conflicting directions all the time, movements that are only clear in hindsight.
Probably the most realistic goal is a few left-leaning cabinet appointments and a civil society more willing to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire. There’s no need and no justification for optimism. But if we take our pessimism seriously, and not as an excuse for inaction, maybe we can make things a little bit better.