Why Hillary Pretends to Love Obama
It is well understood in Beltway circles that Bill and Hillary Clinton loathe Barack Obama. They’ll never forgive him for the beating he and his team delivered to them in 2008 or for other slights, real and perceived. So what’s going on with Hillary’s decision to wrap herself in the flag of the Obama presidency during her debates with Bernie Sanders, calling out the upstart senator for having dared to observe that the president has disappointed and betrayed “progressives” in numerous political and policy areas?
During last night’s debate in Milwaukee Hillary ripped Sanders once again for writing a positive blurb for a book titled Buyer’s Remorse: How President Obama Let Progressives Down. Mrs. Clinton said “the kind of criticism that we heard from Sen. Sanders about our president, I expect from Republicans. I do not expect (it) from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama.”
Let’s forget for now the childish absurdity of saying that the right-wing Republicans make the same “kind of criticism” of Obama that Sanders advances (quite cautiously) from the president’s liberal, social-democratic left. What’s the deal? It’s not like the Obama administration is so wildly popular that Hillary would want to be strongly associated with it. And Sanders’ observation is, or at least should be, completely uncontroversial: the neoliberal Obama has done precisely what Hillary thinks it is practically treasonous for Bernie to observe. The Obamanable betrayal is extensive and ongoing in significant ways now with Obama’s effort to finalize the implementation of the arch-global-corporatist Trans Pacific Partnership. Obama has knifed the Democratic Party’s “progressive base” in the back again and again with sadistic regularity, as predicted by this writer and other left commentators who never drank the “hopey-changey” Kool Aid.
There are three basic reasons for Hillary’s recent practice of hitting Sanders over the head with the charge of insufficient respect for Barack Obama. First, for all her personal animus for the president, Hillary and Bill walk in the same basic corporate-neoliberal programmatic and ideological grooves as Obama, who of course took much of his own fake-progressive and equally Wall Street-captive playbook from the Clintons. For Hillary as for Barack, “progressive who gets things done” has the same basic translation: a corporate neoliberal who engages in the manipulation of populism by elitism and, well, the deception and betrayal of progressives.
Second, Hillary is appealing to big corporate and financial donors who know they have done very well indeed under Wall Street Barry. She wants them to understand that they will continue to enjoy stratospheric profits while the rest of the population gets tossed yet further over the cliff under a fifth fake-change Clinton-Obama term. The message deserves special emphasis now, the Clinton machine calculates, because the non-viable dysfunctionality of the Republican presidential candidates (Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich are all likely general election flops) means that Hillary stands to raise a lot of Wall Street cash that might otherwise gone to a GOP contender and because she is facing a tougher-than-expected primary challenge from an actual non-neoliberal progressive (Sanders) who might seriously try to cause some real problems for “the billionaire class.”
Third, Hillary is playing to racial identity politics as the presidential primary contest moves into states with larger Black electorates than those of disproportionately white Iowa and New Hampshire. By tying herself so closely to Obama and suggesting that Sanders (who can never go far enough to proclaim his basic underlying admiration for Obama) lacks proper respect for the nation’s first Black president, Hillary hopes to boost her Black vote count.
“A Special Place in Hell”
Of course, the main identity politics card that Hillary and her team and helpers are playing this time around has do with gender. She has repeatedly claimed that she simply cannot be a member of the establishment because, well, because she is a woman and therefore a down-and-outsider. So, really, Marie Antoinette was a Jacobin Sans Culotte. Margaret Thatcher was part of the English working class. Condoleezza Rice works on a killing line in a chicken slaughterhouse. Meg Whitman is a coal miner’s daughter and a struggling adjunct professor. Gloria Steinem works the night shift at a foundry under a welfare-to-work program. And Madeline Albright is a retired waitress scraping by on Social Security and Medicare. Right, just like Hillary and Bill Clinton were “damn-near broke” (Hillary claimed last year) after Bill left the White House. (There’s nothing quite like $625,000 in Goldman Sachs speaking fees to help one rise up from abject poverty and maybe even make a run for the presidency.)
The gender card needs to be played a bit more slickly than Ms. Steinem did on the eve of Hillary’s crushing New Hampshire defeat. The fake-left feminist icon told a television talk show host that young women were supporting Bernie in order to impress “boys.” Here’s the full quote: “When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie.” Nice. Gloria had to apologize but the grave generational damage to her feminist legacy was already done.
The pseudo-feminist foot-in the-mouth prize goes, however, to Ms. Albright, who told young women in New Hampshire that “there’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help each other.” By “women helping each other,” Albright meant voting for Hillary Clinton. During her latest debate with Sanders, remarkably enough, Hillary refused to distance herself from that incredibly noxious comment.
Special place in hell? If Hell exists, there’s a particularly hot corner of it waiting for Madeline Albright, who as Bill Clintons’ Secretary of State told CBS News that the murder of half a million Iraqi children by U.S.-led economic sanctions was a “price worth paying” for the advance of U.S. foreign policy objectives.
Albright intervened in the Kosovo crisis to undermine reasonable international efforts for a perfectly manageable peaceful solution to the conflict between the province’s ethnic Albanians and the Serbian government. She later told reporters off the record that “we intentionally set the bar too high for the Serbs to comply. They need some bombing and that’s what they are going to get.” Even Henry Kissinger was disgusted by the crass pretexts offered for what became known in Washington as “Madeline’s war,” which involved the ruthless airborne slaughter of Serbian civilians, including women and girls.
Another infamous Madeline Albright comment came in the form of a rhetorical question to U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell: “what’s the point of having this superb military you are always talking about, Colin, if we can’t use it?”
No We Can’t, Says Hillary
Hillary has her own date with the devil’s heating experts thanks to her long record of corporate and imperial depravity, including her deep-sixing of serious national health insurance reform in 1993, her support for the vicious bipartisan slashing of poor families’ entitlement to basic family cash assistance in 1996, her vote (as a U.S. Senator in the fall of 2002) authorizing George W. Bush to mass-murderously invade Iraq if he wanted to (he did), and her leading contributions (as Obama’s Secretary of State) to mass Muslim and Arab death and dislocation in pursuit of “humanitarian” regime-change in Libya and Syria. A lot of women and girls have died and been terribly injured thanks to the policies that the establishment corporate-imperial political actors Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton have advanced.
Here is a clever and angry reflection from a young female Sanders supporter, recently published by the Village Voice under the title “I’d Rather Go to Hell than Vote for Hillary Clinton”:
“The reason Wall Street is dropping zillions of quarters into Hillary’s Super PAC-Man machine isn’t because it wants change — it’s because Wall Street sees revenue in her promises of keeping things much the same. Under Hillary, our prisons will continue to punish for profit. Our schools will continue to be sold off to private contractors. And despite 87 percent of Democrats standing behind universal health care, Hillary insists it will ‘never, ever come to pass.’ Not from her, I guess, since she’s taken over $13 million from the health care industry….’We really can’t, America,’ says Hillary. ‘Nope. Not ever. We are a powerful nation, kids, but one run by the Great Market God. Leave your moral gag reflex at the door. Close that pesky Overton window, won’t you? And be a doll and bolt those tables to the floor. You’ll love the moneylenders, dear. I do. Hell, my daughter married one!’”
Bernie Sanders deserves some credit for deftly pricking the poisonous, puss-filled boil of Clintonism in the current election cycle. His unsurprising (to me at least) surge has helped many young voters see the Clintons for what they really are: sociopathic and imperial corporatists masquerading as liberal progressives. (That also accurately describes Obama, by the way.)
Spiritual Death and Strange Bedfellows
It’s a shame Sanders can’t seem to broaden his progressive vision much beyond U.S. shores. One of the more interesting moments in his campaign came during a recent New Hampshire CNN Town Hall event, when he was asked about his religious and spiritual values:
CNN host and former CIA employee Anderson Cooper: “You’re Jewish but you’ve said that you’re not actively involved with organized religion. What do you say to a voter out there who says – and who see faith as a guiding principle in their lives, and wants it to be a guiding principle for this country?”
Sanders: “It’s a guiding principle in my life, absolutely, it is. Everybody practices religion in a different manner. To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings. I believe that, as a human being, the pain that one person feels, if we have children who are hungry in America, if we have elderly people who can’t afford their prescription drugs, you know what, that impacts you, that impacts me. And I worry very much about a society where some people spiritually say, it doesn’t matter to me, I got it, I don’t care about other people. So my spirituality is that we are all in this together and that when children go hungry, when veterans sleep out on the street, it impacts me. That’s my very strong spiritual feeling.”
It was nice to see Sanders broaden the notion of meaningful “faith” and “spiritual feelings” beyond organized and theistic religion to include the notion of mutual concern for others and the common good – the idea that “we are all in this together.” I myself have long combined such basic socialistic humanism with a generally quiet atheism.
The problem with Sanders’ humanist spirituality here is that it is limited to the people of the United States, who make up just 5 percent of the human race. And that is consistent with the glaring absence from his campaign of any serious criticism of, or confrontation with, the giant U.S. Pentagon System, which accounts for half the world’s military spending and for 54 percent of U.S. federal discretionary spending while maintaining 1000 plus military installations across more than 100 “sovereign” nations. As the Green Party’s Jill Stein recently told me, “Many of our supporters are backing both campaigns [Sanders and the Greens] and that’s fine, but you don’t want to pledge allegiance to a Democratic Party that is at best, even under Sanders, pushing for a military budget that is bankrupting us financially and morally, a war on terror that is creating more terror, and treating the Saudis like they’re the solution rather than a cause of terrorism.” Sanders has endorsed Obama’s disastrous, jihad-fueling drone war program and “doesn’t stand up to the [Orwellian national security] deep state,” Sanders backed the F-35 fight jet boondoggle on the grounds that it would create jobs in his state, a striking expression of his commitment to military Keynesianism, which was employed specifically to undermine social-democratic welfare-state Keynesianism after World War II. And Sanders “supports [U.S-allied] governments that commit egregious human rights abuses,” including Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, which fuels terrorism across the world. Bernie’s “treatment of the Palestinians” is horrific, Stein notes.
There’s something very strange going on with Sanders and the head-chopping Saudi Arabian monarchy, the most reactionary government on Earth. Sanders’ Middle Eastern strategy relies on the Saudis taking the lead in the fight against terrorism. “They’ve got to get their hands dirty,” Bernie has told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “They’ve got to get their troops on the ground. They’ve got to win that war with our support.”
The war of terror is “a battle for the soul of Islam,” Sanders proclaims. It’s a war that he wants Saudi Arabia – yes the House of Saud – to lead. Seriously? Unreal. As Jeffrey St. Clair remarks: “Apparently Sanders skipped the briefing on how Islamic State’s apocalyptic ideology has been fueled by fire-breathing Wahhabi preachers financed by the Saudi royal family. The red senator also seems ignorant of the fact that ISIS functions as shock troops for the House of Saud in its proxy war against Iran, now raging in Yemen and Iraq, as well as Syria. You’d think that Bernie would be getting better advice from his friends in Israeli intelligence.”
Non-theistic nominal democratic socialism and Wahabbist monarchism make some very strange bedfellows indeed.
Does Sanders avoid the Empire question and fail to attack the Pentagon System because he is himself a loyal man of U.S. global Empire”? I asked Dr. Stein. “Who knows what goes on in his head?” she answered. The “reality is that he supports the war on terror,” which, Stein notes, has “cost $6 trillion over the past fifteen years. That’s $75,000 per household!”
Beyond the boundless bloody havoc that the permanent U.S. war of/on terror causes for human and other sentient beings abroad (a reflection of the “spiritual bankruptcy” that Jill Stein notes). Bernie’s progressive domestic policy agenda simply cannot be paid for unless and until the United States drastically slashes the nation’s giant “defense” (empire) budget. Again and again, the Clinton campaign and its supporters say that Sanders doesn’t show how he would pay for his ambitious social-Keynesian program. Again and again, Sanders remains silent on the enormous regressive and reactionary cost of the military-Keynesian project. A recent Counterpunch commentary by Ted Rall is titled “How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military.” Rall makes a very basic suggestion:
“A statement detailing his intent to reduce military spending — not just the on-the-books budget of the Pentagon, but also the “off the books” tax dollars that go to wars like the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the National Security Agency and other parts of the surveillance state that have expanded radically since 9/11 — would help answer one of Sanders’ critics’ most potent criticisms: that he’ll be an irresponsible Santa Gone Wild, giving away free college tuition and Medicare for all without a care in the world for how to pay for it.”
The statement Rall reasonably recommends never comes. It is simply unconscionable for Bernie to tell Americans that they can and should move towards a social-democratic welfare state on the model of Denmark without noting that Denmark spends a comparatively tiny percentage of its national budget on the military. Hello?
Do we really have to rehearse this conundrum yet again on the left, with Bernie Sanders? Seriously? In a series of lectures on the Canadian Broadcasting System, Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. reflected on the remarkable wave of race riots that washed across U.S. cities in the summers of 1966 and 1967. King blamed the riots to no small degree on Washington’s “war in [he might have better said ‘on’] Vietnam.” The military aggression against Southeast Asia, King noted, sent poor blacks to the front killing lines to a disproportionate degree. It advanced the notion that violence was a reasonable response and even a solution to social and political problems. It also stole resources from the federal government’s briefly declared and barely fought “War on Poverty.” As King ruefully observed at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, in his great anti-imperial speech, exactly one year to the day (perhaps more than a mere coincidence) before his execution in Memphis, Tennessee:
“There is…a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging [against poverty and racism] in America. A few years ago, there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor – both black and white – through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”
Budgetary matters and the particulars of Vietnam aside, King added that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
In answering what he called an urgent moral “call…beyond national allegiances” in the years 1966-68, King stood to the portside of leading U.S. 1960s social democrats like Bayard Rustin, A Phillip Randolph, and Michael Harrington. These and other left leaders (e.g. Max Shachtman and Tom Kahn) were unwilling to forthrightly oppose the US-imperial assault on Indochina because of their misplaced faith in pursuing the fight against poverty in alliance with the pro-war Democratic Party and the AFL-CIO. Rustin, Harrington, and Randolph were practical as well as moral fools on this score. Besides opposing the war on spiritual grounds, King understood very well that the expenses of empire precluded serious anti-poverty spending.
We all know what happened to left social movements and the struggle against poverty thanks in part to the victory of the Rustin-Randolph-Shachtman-Harrington-Sanders line over the Eugene Debs-Noam Chomsky-Dr. King- Jill Stein line on American empire and militarism. American entered Nixonland and graduated – with some transitional help from the imperial and neoliberal corporatism of the post-Watergate Carter administration – to the great capitalist Reagan Revolution in the 1980s.
I hate to say it, but there’s a special place in Hell for global war social democrats (Lenin called them “social chauvinists” with reason) and progressives who disregard the lessons of history and who fail to extend their spiritually uplifting calls for social justice, peace, and caring beyond national borders.
Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)