Sunday, October 28, 2007

Liberal Journal Man on Hillary: "Cross her off your list."

The following is a guest-post from the author of the Liberal Journal blog. I invited him to write this post so that I could offer counter-points to his points one by one:

Francis Holland graciously invited me to write this column on the Democratic race, so first, I would like to thank him for this opportunity.

Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the Democratic Presidential candidate in 2008 appears more inevitable with each passing moment. Her numbers are strong across all Democratic constituencies, including African Americans. But I’m writing not only because I think other candidates offer more, but also to encourage folks to completely cross her off the list for the Democratic nomination.

Pragmatism over Principle

There are principles which we should stand firm in. Democrats have become so accustomed to losing elections that we have desperately reached for centrism as a key to power. We are afraid to stand up for what we believe in because those who do, like Dennis Kucinich, are marginalized. But should we be pragmatic? If so, then why not bring Zell Miller back to the Party so we can win a seat in Georgia?

Look at the Democratic Congress now. It has operated out of fear and concession, and their approval stands worse than Bush’s. That doesn’t mean Americans believe in Bush’s worldview, but that Democrats are unwilling to mount a strong challenge. They are too weak to end this war, restore checks and balances, and a whole slew of other issues. Should we conform our views to the government, or should government conform its views to ours? It seems support of Hillary for pragmatic purposes would be in favor of the former.

The most common arguments against what I’ve said appear to be concessions to practicality. For example, ‘Well, Hillary is a machine, only she can beat the right wing.’ Or, ‘You can’t expect the huge reform we all want, so why not go with what we know, the person who will best represent our interests.’

I disagree with these premises. First, she is vulnerable. A poll a few months ago found that 52% of Americans would not vote for her, and 48% would. A poll released last week found the numbers virtually the same, with 50% saying they would never vote for her. Even supposing those numbers are a little fungible, that is an extremely low ceiling. John Kerry received 48% in his loss in 2004.

Hillary is the one candidate who the Republicans unite the most against. Republicans raise more money when they attack her specifically. A prominent Missouri Democrat stated that we can “write off” the state if she is the nominee. A South Carolina Democratic official also expressed concern of her ability to unite the GOP. That’s not to say they will absolutely be proven right, but it’s risky.

The Republican nominee will also likely play up her many suspect fundraising connections, such as:

Fugitive Norman Hsu bundled huge amounts of money for her. Hillary’s campaign only got rid of the donations after learning of his status, although it is a legitimate question whether she turned a blind eye. Initially, her campaign promised to return only the money from Hsu directly, then decided to return the whole $860,000 he bundled for her.

Other bundlers have somehow managed to procure donations in the thousands from working-class citizens in Chinatown. It is a legitimate question whether all of these folks are really giving the money out of their own pockets, or if it is being funneled through them by wealthier individuals. How well does this play in the swing states?

So I seriously question whether Clinton would be as strong in the general election as we’re told.

Second, should we negotiate our principles, as was done in the 1990s? Which brings me to…

The (Bill) Clinton Record

Hillary likes to run on her husband’s record when it’s convenient (she has said things were pretty good under husband), and distance herself from it when it’s not. Because of her record of centrism and triangulation since joining the Senate, her adherence to most of Bill’s ideas and because of her invocation of Bill’s record, I will look at Bill Clinton’s record as a whole. I think it’s only fair.

Bill Clinton’s presidency was more about style than substance. Bill Clinton came into office on a liberal platform but quickly deviated from it. The Clintons’ universal health care plan was ambitious, but failed because of pressure from the insurance industry and the Right. Honestly, I can’t fault them for trying on the healthcare issue. But instead of pushing it, Clinton began to move to the Right to appease his critics and hold onto the Presidency.

He completely turned his back on the unions which helped put him in office in 2002 when he pushed supported NAFTA, a conservative, free market policy goal. It was crafted by George Bush Sr. Later, Clinton supported Most Favored Nation (“MFN”) trading status with China. (Can you say lead toys and child labor?)

He also signed bills which cut back welfare, expanded the federal death penalty, passed a bill very favorable to the Telecom industry, cut capital gains taxes, and stayed clear of any attacks which be called pro-gay, as he implemented the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the military and passed the Defense of Marriage Act. (A further note on the death penalty: Bill went to Arkansas to personally witness the execution of African American Ricky Ray Rector, whose mental competency was highly in question.)

Bill Clinton’s accomplishments, meanwhile, can be counted on one hand. Legislatively, he passed the Family Medical Leave Act, worked with Republicans to balance the Budget, and increased the minimum wage. He also nominated two liberal-leaning members to the Supreme Court in Ruth Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer.

In the foreign policy realm, while the intervention in Kosovo has been seen as a success, he failed to intervene in Rwanda. It is said that the reaction of American soldiers being dragged through the streets in Somalia in 1993 made us averse to military interventions in Africa, and this is why Clinton did what he had to do—which was nothing. In my view, this is unforgivable. As Randall Robinson has pointed out, Clinton sold out black Caribbean nations.

We are told Clinton grew the economy. Unemployment and interest rates went down. But they have remained down with Bush. The economic situation of many working class Americans is such that they are working long hours for lower wages with fewer benefits. We have experienced a steady widening of the gap in income disparity. These trends started in the 1980s with Reagan, continued under Clinton, and also under Bush.

Clinton believes in the same pro-corporate and neoliberal trade views as the Republicans. Hillary has paid lip service to free trade, but has not fully repudiated our damaging free trade agreements which are currently in place. (Neither has Al Gore, and I haven’t left him off the hook on that either.)

So the Clinton presidency may have been the best of the last 30 years, but that isn’t saying much.

The (Hillary) Clinton Record

Hillary Clinton followed her husband’s appeasement in the Senate. She voted for the Iraq war in 2002, and for years stubbornly refused to call it a mistake. She also refused to set “a date certain” for withdrawal. Earlier this year she stated on troop withdrawals, "we cannot lose sight of our very real strategic national interests in this region."

She voted for the Patriot Act, and then a slightly less intrusive version of it in 2006. She has had a mixed record on trade, and supports, as her husband did, MFN status for China. She voted for No Child Left Behind. Then, she stated that it wasn’t working because Bush wasn’t funding it. Then, no, it was because the bill focuses on testing rather than learning. She has a mixed record on the death penalty, having stated support for it, but also DNA testing.

One of Bush’s post-9/11 stances has been the role of a powerful executive (or the “unitary executive”). We have seen how dangerous this can be. Yet Hillary seems to be looking forward to the widening executive power, having stated she is “a strong believer in executive authority.”

The prospects for our foreign policy under a Hillary regime are scary. Along with her 2002 vote for the Iraq war, Hillary recently voted for the Iran bill which declared its Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist organization.” Her explanation was that it would encourage diplomacy. If this sounds absurd, it is. Iran quickly moved to declare our own armed forces terrorist organizations. Hillary has called herself "an emphatic, unwavering supporter of Israel’s safety and security.”

To her credit, some of her notable achievements were voting against the nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, as well as the Bush tax cuts, and the Military Commissions Act.

The Right’s Second Choice

Some elements of the Right even see Hillary’s centrism/pragmatism to be an acceptable alternative:

Conservative blogger Patrick Ruffini called Hillary, “a George W. Bush Democrat.” Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said he could live with a Hillary presidency because, “Her liberalism, like her husband's -- flexible, disciplined, calculated, triangulated -- always leaves open the possibility that she would do the right thing for the blessedly wrong (i.e., self-interested, ambition-serving, politically expedient) reason.” Another Neocon and Fox News-er, Bill Kristol, said of Hillary, “Hillary Clinton is becoming the responsible Democrat who could become commander in chief in a post-9/11 world.”

Looking at fundraising, Hillary has raised as much from defense contractors as 60% of the entire Republican field. After the mess of Halliburton and Blackwater, why is she even accepting any of this dirty money, which has come from Bush’s crony contracts for this illegal war and the aftermath of Katrina?

Is this the person we want as our nominee? Would we feel the same way if her name was Joe Lieberman?

Is it also not hypocrisy for Democrats to rail against Fox News, when its owner, Rupert Murdoch, has admitted to using the network to manipulate support for the Iraq war, has held fundraisers for her? And what of her relationship to Alan Quasha, who bailed out Bush Jr. back in the 1980s? Now, Quasha’s business associate is one of Hillary’s top fundraisers.

A Critical Eye

Upon closer inspection, Hillary’s record, like her husband’s, is not one to brag about. The Bush and Clinton clans have become quite close, which has led Barbara Bush to call Bill Clinton like a “son.” This is the same Barbara Bush who said that Hurricane Katrina refugees were doing “very well” because they were underprivileged anyway.

Maybe the Bush-Clinton families have become closer and closer because they share the same broad economic viewpoints of neoliberal trade and the exploitation that comes along with it. Or maybe because they can always serve as perfect foils and pass the presidency back and forth.

These are serious questions for our nation and our democracy, which faces the prospect of continuous dual-family rule. Our democracy, which has been deteriorated through voter suppression, which has seen the executive branch expand itself so forcefully in the name of fighting terrorism, and whose foreign policy now resembles British imperialism.

Some may point to how much more America was ‘beloved’ in the eyes of the world during the Bill’s presidency. Why are we to believe any other Democrat wouldn’t do the same, or better?
Hillary has been a fairly strong liberal on social issues, but again, are we to believe that any other Democrat wouldn’t do the same, or better?

Black voters should also think about her husband’s actions, in the Caribbean, in Africa, in the Rector case. When white America really didn’t want to help black people, Bill folded. Do we want to return to that?

Shouldn’t we look at Hillary through the most critical eye? For instance, can we trust Rupert Murdoch’s judgment? Or Charles Krauthammer’s? Or the arms industry’s? Or the Israel Lobby’s? Should we even risk it?

It is my fervent belief that if we consider these and the other aforementioned questions, and in light of our other alternatives, such as Barack Obama, one cannot support her.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I have endorsed Dennis Kucinich, but Barack Obama would be my far and away favorite of the “electables”.)

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