The Hillary Question

March 20, 2014

Hillary Rodham Clinton, official (67th) Secretary of State portrait, January 27, 2009. (Gage via Wikipedia, US Dept of State). In public domain.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, official (67th) Secretary of State portrait, January 27, 2009. (Gage via Wikipedia, US Dept of State). In public domain.

As it is Women’s History Month, it would be a real shame to let it go by without comment on the second attempt to crown former First Lady, US Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the next President of the United States. Only, this attempt at coronation has been underway literally since the week after President Barack Obama’s reelection in November ’12.

We have at least sixteen months before the campaigning for the ’16 election cycle heats up to luke-warm seriousness, and yet the Hillary-ites (my name for her branch of the Clintonites) have been out in force proclaiming Clinton to be the most qualified, the most deserving, with the most diverse set of experiences necessary to be the forty-fifth POTUS. And, by the way, she’s a woman, her supporters seem to emphasize at every turn, as if her gender alone makes her deserving of the office.

If it comes down to it in thirty-two months, I will hold my nose while voting for Hillary Clinton over her potential GOP opponent (as it’s as likely as a man-made black hole that the Republicans would put up a progressive the equivalent of a Teddy Roosevelt). But I cannot in good conscience support any effort to have her become the next president. It’s not about gender for me. Despite the Zionism she represented, I admired Golda Meir, not to mention, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi. Really, my issue with Hillary Clinton comes down to what two other people represent — the late Margaret Thatcher, and Mrs. Clinton’s husband, President Bill Clinton, our forty-second president.

My issues in detail:

1. Hillary Clinton’s election is a victory for American women. This bothers me more than any other argument. It’s similar to the argument for Obama that came out of the ’08 election — that this would be a victory for Blacks and forward-thinking Americans — especially for supporters who had no idea about his agenda. In Obama’s case, his agenda was a difficult one to know or articulate — he’d only been on the national stage for four years, and his excellent memoir Dreams from My Father (1995, 2004) didn’t often match his policy-specific proclamations (that is, on the infrequent occasions in which he made them).

Lilly Ledbetter discusses why Barack Obama (who would sign the equal pay act that is in her name) is the best candidate for working families, Pittsburgh, PA, October 9, 2008. (Blargh29 via Wikipedia). Released to public domain.

Lilly Ledbetter discusses why Barack Obama (who would sign the equal pay act that is in her name) is the best candidate for working families, Pittsburgh, PA, October 9, 2008. (Blargh29 via Wikipedia). Released to public domain.

In Hillary Clinton’s case, we have a record of her statements and policy prescriptions, going back to the mid-1990s. Despite the wishes of many Hillary-supporting feminists, Mrs. Clinton’s record on issues as far-ranging as reproductive rights, equal pay, women serving in the military, really, any progressive issues that affected women, has been inconsistent. Since the universal health care debacle she experienced in ’94, Clinton has spoken little in public about these issues. She proposed few bills related to women’s rights while serving one and a third terms (eight years) in the Senate, and wasn’t exactly front and center on issues like repealing DADT or DOMA or the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of ’09 during her time campaigning or during her years as Secretary of State.

Maybe there’s a really good argument to be made for supporting Hillary Clinton, but seeing her as a vanguard of feminism or progressive social justice shouldn’t be one of them. It seems that her supporters may be confusing femininity with feminism.

2. Hillary has lots of political experience for the office of President. Sure, she has experience, but I wouldn’t go so far to argue that Hillary Clinton’s experience is above and beyond anyone else’s. Despite her work on the universal healthcare bill in ’94, we shouldn’t count her time as First Lady. It’s not an elected or appointed office, which was one reason why Mrs. Clinton found herself in an antagonistic relationship with Congress and the American public.

So, that leaves her time in the Senate (which I commented on in 1.) and her time as Secretary of State. In the former position, there’s still the fact that she voted for action in Iraq in ’02. In the latter position, there’s the theme of inaction in terms of Iran, the Arab Spring, and yes, despite the right-wing hyperbole, Benghazi. It seems that John Kerry as Secretary of State has found himself doing a lot more in one year than Mrs. Clinton did in four. I’m not sure that Hillary Clinton’s experience is one that should be used as justification for a four-year-long victory lap conducted on her behalf by her supporters.

Logo of Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential campaign, December 13, 2008. (718 Bot via Wikipedia). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws -- low resolution/critical commentary re: Hillary Clinton's possible 2016 Presidential run, a subject of public interest.

Logo of Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential campaign, December 13, 2008. (718 Bot via Wikipedia). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws — low resolution/critical commentary re: Hillary Clinton’s possible 2016 Presidential run, a subject of public interest.

3. Hillary Clinton has a unique set of experiences that make her preeminently qualified to be President. No. Not buying this argument. Without a gun to my head, I can think of people whose combination of direct political experiences and diverse set of life experiences would be good potential candidates for President, even in ’16. Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Patty Murray, and Tammy Baldwin, and that’s just the Vice President and the US Senate. That Hillary Clinton learned how to be President by osmosis from being married to Bill isn’t comforting at all. If she follows POTUS 42′s strategy of testing-the-wind-with-right-index-finger triangulation, we will all suffer for it. Plus, by this definition, shouldn’t Michelle Obama run for President in ’16 also?

Would Hillary Clinton be a terrible choice? No. But she would be an uninspiring one, one whose organizational and management skills would be in question from day one, precisely because of the political and other experiential baggage she’s carried for more than twenty years. The office of President is already one that’s been bought and paid for in recent decades. The coronation of Hillary Clinton, if successful, will continue this trend, and to the detriment of every ordinary American, male, female and transgender.


Why Obama Is Only A Failed Centrist President

January 7, 2013

Photo portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson [our last transformational President] in the Oval Office, leaning on a chair, March 10, 1964. (Arnold Newman, White House Press Office via Wikipedia). In public domain.

Photo portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson [our last transformational President] in the Oval Office, leaning on a chair, March 10, 1964. (Arnold Newman, White House Press Office via Wikipedia). In public domain.

I don’t say what I have to say about President Barack Obama lightly. But in light of the recent “fiscal cliff deal”  and the negotiations process that preceded it, I’ve now become convinced that Obama will be seen as a pretty good president. Period. Obama hasn’t been a unique president, despite his race or relatively humble beginnings. Obama is hardly a great president, either. Nor will Obama be a transformational president. If anything, Obama falls right in line with every American president since the election of Richard Nixon in 1968.

Photo of living presidents with then President-Elect Barack Obama in the Oval Office, January 7, 2009. (http://npr.org).

Photo of living presidents with then President-Elect Barack Obama in the Oval Office, January 7, 2009. (http://npr.org).

The fact is, Obama is a centrist president, beholden to the military-industrial complex, prison-industrial complex, Wall Street and corporate interests, just like Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43 before him. That Obama is Black and intellectual in his approach matters little in terms of actual policies or in the path that he and his administration have taken toward incremental policies and half-baked compromises. Based on some of Obama’s policies, I could even make the argument that the President is a borderline neo-conservative, although I don’t think you can generalize this argument to every policy.

This has been an argument I’ve made in my US History courses over the past couple of years. When I’ve raised the idea that Nixon was a liberal Republican, that President Bill Clinton was a neo-con (see the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 and TANF welfare reform in 1996 as but two examples), and that Obama is hardly a liberal at all, my students have collectively gasped. How dare I say that Nixon was more liberal than Clinton, that Obama is somewhere between a centrist and a neo-con!

But then I’ve worked with them through discussion to talk about the major domestic and foreign policy agendas of the past seven presidents in comparison to our current president. On so many issues, from the US relationship with Israel to the War on Drugs, from welfare reform to financial deregulation, from a re-escalation of the Vietnam War to the surge in Afghanistan, there hasn’t been a nanometer of space of difference in executive branch decision-making. Whether the people in these positions of power have been Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter and Cyrus Vance, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, or Obama and Hillary Clinton.

So I’ve had my students work through parts of Obama’s agenda. The surge and gradual drawing down of US military forces in Afghanistan, in which part of their role is nation-building. “How is that any different from Bush 43?,” I’ve asked. The historic Affordable Care Act, a so-called universal health care bill that fails to cover 20 million Americans and works through complex networks of government subsidies and private insurers, a neo-con plan that failed as an alternative to single-payer under Clinton in 1994. “How is this really a liberal or progressive idea?,” I’ve asked. The continuing War on Drugs, the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the highest rates of deportation of undocumented immigrants ever. “But yeah, Obama’s a liberal!,” I’ve said sarcastically in concluding this discussion with my students.

Some folks, like the reformed neo-con Bruce Bartlett, have compared the Democratic Party of recent years to the liberal Republicans of yesteryear. Bartlett, though, has stopped short of calling Democrats centrist neo-cons, which is in fact a much more apt description. Bartlett also stopped short in time, as he argued that the tipping point for the Democratic Party’s movement from left-of-center to right-of-center began with President Clinton in the 1990s. But that’s incorrect. The tipping point began when the Democratic Party’s New Deal coalition of labor unions and blue-collar Whites, Southern whites, Catholics and Blacks fell apart as part of a backlash against President Lyndon Johnson’s support of the Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty in the late-1960s.

Photo of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon at the  Ronald Reagan Presidential Library dedication, Simi Valley, CA, November 4, 1991. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times).

Photo of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library dedication, Simi Valley, CA, November 4, 1991. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times).

Most Americans, though, don’t have the knowledge or luxury of taking a long view of history and their lives in attempting to put Obama in context. The media’s constant coverage of every trumped-up, imagined or real crisis hardly helps matters, either. They assume on behalf of the public the idea that there are two equal and opposite sides to every issue and every argument, which means most journalists failed geometry in high school. As a result, most Americans believe that Obama’s a liberal because the media consistently makes the false claim that all Democrats are liberals and that a Black guy with a Harvard law degree who used to be a community organizer must be a liberal.

How is a budget cutting agenda that puts Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare on the table as entitlements (and not a paid-for weak social safety net) a liberal idea or policy agenda? How is coming out reluctantly in favor of gay marriage some great progressive stance, comparable to President Kennedy’s speech in favor of civil rights in 1963? How is consistently giving into oligarchic conservatives by pushing hard for a meager tax increase on the most privileged members of our nation — the people who benefited the most from 40 years of policies that have greatly increased the gap between rich and poor — part of a liberal strategy? It isn’t and they aren’t.

Obama being three steps to Congress’ left on gay marriage and a tax increase is an incredibly weak counterargument to the fact that he’s a centrist. And a failed one at that, as his centrism has been based on garnering bipartisan support of weak legislation in terms of socioeconomic appropriations and strong legislation in terms of defense and Big Brother-esque laws. Obama has pushed climate change, long-term unemployment and underemployment, social mobility and real education reform either off his presidential agenda or into the hands of the private sector.

Thank you, but no, Obama’s a centrist, not a liberal. If you want to see a liberal policymaker in action, the nearest place to go these days is Ottawa, not Washington.


Oligarchy: The Future Is Now

June 28, 2012

“History Repeats Itself: The Robber Barons of the Middle Ages and the Robber Barons of Today”, Puck, Samuel Ehrhardt (1889), June 28, 2012. (http://http://www.library.gsu.edu). In public domain.

Though many of us have been fighting this long war against neocon, reactionary, even fascist elements in American society over the course of the past four decades, it appears that, like the Fire Nation in the Avatar: The Last Airbender series (2004-08), that we’ve lost the war. I’m not predicting that Romney will beat Obama in November. But this election will be closer than it ought to be, thanks mostly to the SuperPAC maelstrom stirred up by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (2010) and our own get-rich-quick apathy with politics and responsibility in this country.

More importantly, though, is the reality that this election, even with an Obama win, is merely a chink in the armor that is our American oligarchy, now firmly established. With so much in regulations, social welfare, education, unionization, and other protections for the ordinary American rolled back, it’ll take at least a generation to undo the damage done since the Nixon years to our society, economy and environment. With so much wrong, though, it may well be too late to make course corrections without significant consequences for our nation and for the world.

That only in the past couple of years folks who weren’t staunch progressive or true leftist liberals have come to realize that the neocon endgame was a powerful plutocracy is testimony to the long, successful war of identity politics, wedge issues and other distractions that they have fought since ’68. The funny thing is, though, that for most of American history, our government has been a representative democratic oligarchy, especially for the poor or those whom are of color. How can you explain the history of slavery, even the half-century it took for non-landowning White males to get the right to vote?

“The ‘Brains’” Boss Tweed, by Thomas Nast (1871), June 28, 2012. (Vizu via Wikipedia). In public domain.

There have only been brief periods in American history in which the federal government has been responsive to the ordinary American citizen, a protector of the rights of the many and the minority over the rights of rich individuals and powerful economic interests. One of them came as a result of the Great Depression, the start of a nearly forty-year run where our government, despite its flaws and lies, frequently erred on the side of ordinary citizens. People can talk about the Clinton years being an oasis in the middle of a neocon desert, but between the vast expansion of credit, the tearing down of Glass-Steagall, NAFTA and other corporation-friendly policies, we now know that much of what occurred in the ’90s was a mirage.

What is different now — but not so different from the turn of the twentieth century — is the brazenness with which the rich and powerful flaunt their control over our lives. It’s as if they’ve drugged us, tied us down, and occasionally even tortured us, expecting no response or retaliation. And the media has played its role in this, too. From Kim Kardashian to the Real Housewives of RichLandUSA, and from American Idol to Mad Men to Dancing With The Stars. The rest of us just live vicariously through the oligarchy, or become raging and jealous while laughing at the folly of the rich in the process.

Even the wars we fight and the Supreme Court decisions made are steeped in oligarchy and the privileges of the rich and the corporate. That’s why we spent a decade in Iraq, billions on a military fighter we don’t need (F-22), and think that decisions that treat corporations as people and lower taxes for the wealthiest Americans are good for the country.

That’s why today’s Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act of 2010 — otherwise known as Obamacare — matters little in the larger scheme. Of course it matters that millions of Americans have access to healthcare. But even before the Supreme Court decision, the best most un- and under-insured Americans could hope for is a system in which they pay less for crappy health insurance. And health insurance isn’t same as healthcare, folks. Either way, the real winners long-term are private health insurance providers, and not ordinary Americans or the Obama Administration.

It is an unfortunate reality that over the past forty-five years, every aspect of government in this country has been infused with oligarchy. It takes tremendous and unyielding pressure for even a city government like New York (e.g., Rockefeller Laws, stop-and-frisk policy, decriminalization of marijuana) to bend to the demands of its own citizenry. Even then, protests, sit-in and petitions don’t always work (see Occupy Wall Street and the fifteen million protestors before the Second Gulf War as examples).

Mitt Romney Bain Capital “money shot,” October 13, 2011. (http://theatlantic.com via Boston Globe).

So, what to do? I haven’t given up hope, but I can’t spend the days I have left — whether it be moments or decades — waiting for the worm to turn. Next best thing is to hope that my son will drink of my wisdom and learn to fight against this kind of ruling class when he is old enough to do so.


An Honest & Open Conversation on Race?

July 26, 2010

"The Chase" Screenshot from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Source: Donald Earl Collins

A few days ago, in the midst of the NAACP-Tea Party-FOX News-Shirley Sherrod-USDA-White House-Obama Administration scandals, one of my Facebook friends asked the question, “Can’t we ever have an open and honest conversation about race?” I didn’t give her a direct reply, mostly because I spent the better part of a decade attempting to answer that question through my first book Fear of a “Black” America.

But I also didn’t feel like being bothered. Though I remain hopeful, my level of optimism is nowhere near where it was in ’94, when I started work on the doctoral thesis that turned into my first book six years ago. Still, it’s an important question, to which the answer’s generally “No!,” mostly because that level of honesty is hard to come by in a nation like ours, so full of itself, so rich and imperialistic, “smiling, crying insularity,” as U2 would say.

About thirteen years ago, former President Bill Clinton attempted to open up an open and honest and

Staff of President Clinton's Initiative on Race, June 1997.

bipartisan discussion of race. President Clinton’s Initiative on Race, which started with widespread media coverage of the President’s speech at the University of California, San Diego commencement on June 14, 1997, ended with a report buried in Monicagate obscurity on September 18, 1998. President Clinton stated that the Initiative on Race was about making out “of our many different strands one America — a nation at peace with itself bound together by shared values and aspirations and opportunities and real respect for our differences.”

The seven-member Advisory Board included the late trailblazing Black historian John Hope Franklin, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, former Mississippi governor William Winter, former CEO of Nissan Motor U.S.A. Robert Thomas, lawyer Angela Oh, Linda Chavez-Thompson, and Bronx, New York minister Suzan Johnson Cook. Three White men, one African American man, one African American woman, one Hispanic woman, and one Asian American woman, all born between 1915 and 1957, made up the Advisory Board that would give America the blueprint for beginning a sincere dialogue on race.

To say the least, the Advisory Board was not entirely representative of late-twentieth-century America. Despite each individual member’s prior accomplishments, there were a host of other scholars, ministers, CEOs, lawyers, union organizers, and former governors who should’ve been considered for this task. Beyond that, the Advisory Board’s lack of ideological (six liberals and one moderate) and age balance (the youngest person on the board was 41 in 1997) would make anyone wonder if they possessed broad enough perspectives to address race issues in 1968, much less during their 1997-98 tour on race.

The late John Hope Franklin, circa 2006.

The Advisory Board on Race – led by John Hope Franklin – traveled the nation in search of consensus but instead found controversy throughout their fifteen-month tenure. For example, Franklin refused to invite anti-affirmative action advocate Ward Connerly to an Advisory Board meeting regarding racial diversity on college campuses on November 20, 1997, which violated the spirit of the President’s Initiative. Franklin stated that Connerly had “nothing to contribute” to the discussion on cultural differences. Connerly, as many of you already know, was a University of California regent who campaigned in 1996 for the passage of Proposition 209, which led directly to the repeal of all affirmative action programs for the state of California.

Regardless of what people like me think of Connerly, Clinton had created this mandate “so that we can better understand the causes of racial tension” — not to increase them. Not only

Ward Connerly, circa 2006.

that. It proved that the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom Generation couldn’t find a way to do what South Africa, Chile, Spain, Australia, Liberia and so many other countries have been able to do in the past half-century. Have an open and honest dialogue — a Truth and Reconciliation Commission — on issues like apartheid, political repression, ethnic cleansing, genocide and civil war. Maybe it rests with our generations — Gens X and Y — to make this so, to “make it plain,” as Malcolm X would’ve said.

The Advisory Board asserted in its final report that in crisscrossing the country, they had “engage[d] the American people in a focused examination of how racial differences have affected our society and how to meet the racial challenges that face us.” That was a bald-faced lie, and not just obfuscation. The Commission instead reflected in subtle ways the previous three decades of racial divisive and political exploitation thereof. Not much has changed since ’97 and ’98, and as long as Whites feel they have something to lose — and Blacks merely four centuries of things to get off their chests — I’m afraid not much will either.


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