The Neoliberal Narcissism of Elite Democrats: Three Presidents and a Columnist

There’s nothing like the hypocritical narcissism of the elite neoliberal Democrat. It’s something to see. First he elegantly embraces and advance “free market” doctrine that distributes wealth and power upward while spreading misery amongst the populace and destroying the Earth. Then he wants to be accorded progressive and humanitarian points when you preen with concern over the predictable terrible social and/or environmental toll that neoliberal policy takes. In classic narcissistic fashion, the elite Democratic neoliberal dissociates from the pain he inflicts, wrapping himself in Teflon as he feigns disapproval with the outcomes of the agenda he helped take forward. It’s always those evil crazy Republicans’ fault, of course.


Thomas Friedman on the Threat of Plutocracy


Look, for example, at a recent column by New York Times opinion writer and world famous neoliberal champion and Iraq Invasion supporter Thomas Friedman. Titled “Why Nations Fail,” it provides a favorable review of a recent book bearing the same title by M.I.T. economist Daron Acemoglu and Harvard political scientist James A. Robinson. Friedman offers great approval for Acemoglu and Robinson’s argument that (in Friedman’s words) “Nations thrive when they develop ‘inclusive’ political and economic institutions, and they fail when those institutions become ‘extractive’ and concentrate power and opportunity in the hands of only a few.” While most of Friedman’s column focuses on the threat of national failure in China, it ends with an approving reference to Acemoglu’s fear that “our huge growth in economic inequality [inside the U.S.] is undermining the inclusiveness of America’s institutions, too. The real problem is that economic inequality, when it becomes this large, translates into political inequality.’ When one person can write a check to finance your whole campaign, how inclusive will you be as an elected official to listen to competing voice?” [1]


Nice. So Freidman expects us to forget that his bestselling books The Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999) and The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century (2005) and his many columns and lucrative, corporate-funded talks over many years have been dedicated to spreading the vacuously vicious neoliberal doctrine of global capitalist “creative destruction” – all about the upward capitalist distribution of wealth and power. Friedman has consistently argued that planetary interconnectedness meant that “there is no alternative” (TINA) to corporate and financial globalization – the great destroyer of working classes, welfare programs, and domestic economies. (He has also honored the role of the imperial U.S. military in spreading and protecting the multinational corporate order.[2]) Like his surname-sake Milton, Thomas Friedman has done more than his part to bring the United States to it current point as by far and away the most wealth-top-heavy and unequal industrialized nation in the industrialized world – a broken society and failed state wherein the top 1 percent owns more than a third of the nation’s wealth  and a significantly larger share of its elected officials while more than 43 million Americans live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level and half the U.S. population is either officially poor or low income (living at less than half the poverty measure).


No wonder I did a double take when I noticed that Friedman’s “Why Nations Fail” column appeared on April First of this year. Is he trying, I wondered, to pull an April Fools on unsuspecting readers by claiming to oppose economic inequality?


Bill Clinton: “We’re All in This Together”


But let’s leave aside mere power-serving scribes and propagandists and look at some neoliberal narcissists who have actually held real power. Another good example of the syndrome diagnosed here (Democratic Party Neoliberal Narcissist Political Personality Disorder) is of course the uber-narcissist and former Democratic president Bill Clinton. Clinton’s latest book, titled “Back to Work” reminds Americans that “we’re all in this together” and bemoans the triumph of an egoistic, arch-capitalist ethos that says “you’re on your own.”


Nice. We are expected to throw his own richly capitalist, Wall Street-friendly history and record down Orwell’s “memory hole” along with Thomas Friedman’s service to the “extractive” few. Campaigning on the claim that he would restore “Hope” in America by “putting people first” over and above the big corporate interests and privileged few, Clinton quickly and decisively “put Wall Street in charge of national economic strategy”[3] once he gained power. His actions reflected his own participation in the rise of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). Formed by business-oriented party elites to increase the party’s distance from labor, environmentalism, blacks, and Civil Rights, the DLC’s mission was to steer the Democratic Party closer to the corporate, imperial, southern, suburban, and racially accomodationist center. Its goal was to advance post-partisan corporate convergence between Democratic and Republican agendas at the elite level and to impose economically and racially regressive polices behind the cloak of “progressive” and “pragmatic,” “get-things done” realism.   


Clinton's domestic agenda was first announced as a gigantic jobs-creation program coupled with a determined effort to guarantee health care for all. But, as Howard Zinn noted in an updated edition of his bestselling A People’s History of the United States, (originally published in 1980), Clinton quickly betrayed these declared campaign priorities by concentrating instead on reduction of the deficit, drastically increased under Reagan and George Bush the First. This emphasis "meant that there would be no bold programs of expenditures for universal health care, education, child care, housing, the environment, the arts, or job creation." Clinton's "small gestures" toward social justice did "not come close to what was needed in a nation where one-fourth of the children lived in poverty; where homeless people lived on the streets in every major city; where women could not look for work for lack of child care; where the air, the water were deteriorating dangerously." Clinton’s polices reflected his captivity to corporate and Wall Street interests that his key advisors, including former Goldman Sachs CEO Robert Rubin (Clinton’s Treasury Secretary) famously instructed him not to buck.


More than being merely inadequate to the needs of America's millions of truly disadvantaged citizens, the Clinton administration actually attacked the disproportionately non-white poor in numerous interrelated ways. Clinton signed a punitive neoliberal welfare "reform" bill that ended the federal government's guarantee of financial help to impoverished families with dependent children. By forcing poor families getting federal cash assistance (such families were mainly non-white single-parent units) to find employment without establishing concomitant government programs to create or directly provide livable wage jobs, Clinton flooded the nation's low- and poverty-wage and no-benefits job market with hundreds of thousands of defenseless new proletarians. He also scored points with the grinders of the poor by taking welfare benefits away from legal as well as illegal immigrants. It was all done in the name of "Personal Responsibility," "Work Opportunity," and "Reconciliation," to use the key Orwellian phrases of the Clinton-Gingrich welfare-elimination.


Meanwhile, Clinton increased economic insecurity in poor and working-class American communities by signing the investor rights North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) without requiring that it contain significant labor and environmental measures to protect American workers and consumers and livable ecology. NAFTA destroyed tens of thousands of American industrial jobs by tearing down long-established regulatory barriers to the free flow of capital and commodities across the U.S.-Mexican border.


Clinton claimed that "the era of big government is over." He was more than content, however, to sustain funding for the regressive, repressive, and militaristic "right hand of the state." His concern with balanced budgets did not extent to the prison- and military- industrial complexes. As Zinn observed, Clinton's federal government "continued to spend at least $250 billion a year to maintain the military machine" and thereby feed the coffers of the rich and powerful “defense” corporations that had long come to rely on the “Pentagon system” to feed investors bottom line. It was only the left hand of the state, the part that serves and poor and non-affluent majority, that Clinton targeted in his quest for deficit reduction.


Ironically (or fittingly) given its insistence on throwing poor people on to the mercies of the “free” labor market, where most Americans obtain (absurdly) health coverage, the Clinton administration ended without any serious effort to meaningfully deliver on its initial health insurance promises. It also failed to advance any meaningful initiative to protect the beleaguered rights of workers or to increase the woefully inadequate minimum wage. Revealingly described as “recognizably progressive” by Barack Obama in 2006,[4] the Clinton presidency was an excellent case study in what the late and formerly radical political commentator Christopher Hitchens once called the “essence of American politics….the manipulation of populism by elitism.”[5]


A recent front-page New York Times article details some of the terrible consequences of Clintons’ vicious “welfare reform.” The Times’ capable welfare reporter Jason DeParle notes that the nation’s family cash assistance program has been shockingly restricted in its capacity to respond to the drastic increase in poverty that followed the epic recession that began in 2007: “Even with $5 billion in new federal funds, caseloads rose just 15 percent from the lowest level in two generations. Compared with the 1990s peak, the national welfare rolls are still down by 68 percent. Just one in five poor children now receives cash aid, the lowest level in nearly 50 years [emphasis added].”


DeParle contr

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