Monday, September 10, 2007

Hillary Clinton: The Forrest Gump of Progressive Politics?

I've been watching the field develop in the Democratic primary and it strikes me that Hillary Clinton is the Forrest Gump of progressive politics. She seems to have just happened to be in all of the most important places at the most important times. Yet, while she could have been using these opportunities to make the world a much better place because of her access, she's done disappointingly little to advance the causes that would help out Americans.


Senator Clinton, during the governorship of her husband, was on the board of directors at WalMart. Yup, WalMart. Yes, she has recently come out and complained about the way WalMart treats its employees and even returned $5000 she received from the company as a campaign contribution. But if these longstanding practices bothered her so much, why didn't she do something when she had the opportunity as a member of the board of directors from 1986-1992?

"There's no evidence she did anything to improve the status of women or make it a very different place in ways Mrs. Clinton's Democratic base would care about," said Liza Featherstone, author of ''Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Worker's Rights at Wal-Mart."
Of course, that wasn't the only time she happened to be at a juncture where she could have done a lot to improve the lot of those less influential.

Foreign Policy

The Oval Office may be the only one place more central to the direction of the planet than the chambers of the US Senate where Clinton sat during the vote to authorize presidential power in going to war. Sure, now we're hearing noises from the Senator in which she claims,
"I will continue to do everything in my power to convince the President to change course and to work with my colleagues in the Senate to bring an end to this war as soon as possible."
Yet, she not only refuses to back away from claims of the the reasonableness of her vote, but does so using precisely the linguistic frame of Republican hawks adopting Bush's notion that the war in Iraq has made us safer when the best available work by experts in the field point in then opposite direction.

Campaign Finance Reform and Money in Politics

The influence of money, big money and the corporate interests behind it, is one of the biggest threats to Democracy in America. Legislation is so complex in language and structure that most normal folks can have no clue how much we're being fleeced when regulatory reform comes down the pike. But there are people who do get it and they hire well-paid insiders to act as their lobbyists who know just how to get bills moving with desirable language in them.

Where better to take a stand against these corrupting influences in politics than running for the highest office in the land? Other candidates have stood up in this way, but Senator Clinton's response was to embrace the lobbyists, saying,
"A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans...such as nurses, teachers and others who need a voice in the halls of government."
It is certainly true that groups like nurses, teachers, and unions have lobbyists, but to say (a) that the pull of those lobbyists is equal but opposite to those of moneyed interests and this gives us a level playing field for good legislation, and (b) that most, much less the most vulnerable, Americans are represented in some way by lobbyists is simply absurd.

I don't know whether it is fair to fold Bill Clinton's record into Hillary's, but with examples like the telecommunications bill that the Clinton administration shepherded through, big moneyed corporate interests and not those of the average American clearly reigned supreme. Indeed, the triangulation and "business-friendly Democrats" DLC line that we saw from Clinton may have enriched his campaign, but it served to undermine everything the Democratic Party was supposed to stand for. When left with money and no principles, what happened? The party lost control of every branch of government. Harry Truman was right that given the choice between a fake Republican and a real Republican, they'll pick the real one every time. Not because they agree with the Republican, but because they are repulsed by the phony. If Hillary takes over the Clinton machine and the same corporate footsie games are played, you will see the Democrats (continue to) squander this opportunity handed to them by the complete and utter failure of Republican governance and the result will be (here's my prediction) that the Dems will lose control of both one house by the
midterm and the other in the next Presidential year.

Health Care

But, perhaps the biggest Forrest Gump moment was health care. This is truly a major issue dogging this country in so many ways. And of course, as head of the commission looking at revamping the American health care system, Senator Clinton could have been a visionary, could have changed (and saved) lives. But what came out of it? nothing except a love letter to managed care and insurance companies.

When the book is written, my guess is that the health care debacle will have been Hillary Clinton's George Wallace moment. George Wallace, the arch-defender of racism who famously said,
"In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
was not always pro-segregation. Indeed, in his first run for Governor of Alabama, Wallace had spoken out against the Ku Klux Klan and was the moderate in the field. He lost to the candidate that was endorsed by the Klan. The lesson he took away was metamorphic. To his Friend and aide Seymore Trammell, he said,
"Seymore, you know why I lost that governor's race?... I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I'll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again."
The scars Hillary took away from the health care battle likely did the same thing and she will never be out-corporated again.

It seems that if Hillary Clinton really wanted to make this world a better place, she has had opportunities that are otherwise unthinkable to do exactly that. The record is sadly disappointing. I hope I am wrong should she get the nomination, but it seems that in these times in which we so badly need a Forrest Gump, someone with a big heart willing to change the direction of history at its most important moments, we may get stuck with Zelig.