(This article was inspired by a rant I was asked to give on KPFK's "Connect the Dots" by host Lila Garrett. After I finished, she asked me who I would vote for if it came down to Hillary versus Scott Walker. Listen live Monday, April 20 at 7 am PST or check the archive to find out how I answered.)
This week, Hillary announced her long-expected candidacy for the Presidency and hit the road in Iowa. Facebook is abuzz. I spend a lot of time on Facebook reading and posting articles and petitions and organizing campaigns and direct actions. And I tweet occasionally. So I have a good idea of what people are talking about.
This week I happened upon a post of a Facebook friend, who would consider herself a liberal Democrat, who stated that we have to get behind Hillary. Yes, she is not perfect, said my friend. But she is certainly better than the Republicans; and after all, what about the Supreme Court? When I commented on her post with my contrary opinion, she posted Paul Krugman's Monday column from the New York Times, presumably to buttress her argument.
Krugman's contention was that there are clear differences between the Democratic and Republican parties that are obvious for all to see. I read the examples he used to illustrate his point; and felt that his contentions were both wrong and overly simplistic. In this article, I contest his points but conclude that the question is irrelevant. In the corporate oligarchy we live in where Big Money controls the electoral process, the only way to turn things around is through a people-powered social movement.
First, he said that any Democrat would seek to maintain Social Security, whereas Republicans would seek to destroy Obamacare. So I had to point out to my friend the first president to put cuts to Social Security on the table was Obama, a Democrat, when he convened a commission chaired by right-wing extremist Alan Simpson and centrist Democrat Erskine Bowles. Thankfully, their draconian recommendations were blocked by progressive Democrats Xavier Becerra and Jan Shakowsky. But later Obama came out in favor of tying Social Security to the chained consumer price index instead of the plain old CPI, which would have meant an effective cut to seniors.
Next, Krugman said any Democrat would vote to retain the tax hikes on the rich. Well, what do middle class Americans care about retaining those insufficiently low tax hikes on the rich if this trade agreement Obama is pushing, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will outsource millions more high-paying American jobs and reduce the wages of 90% of American workers. As Secretary of State, Hillary pushed this agreement as part of the pivot to Asia, and she has refused to state an opinion about it since.
As Secretary of State, Hillary pushed this agreement as part of the pivot to Asia, and she has refused to state an opinion about it since.
Third, Krugman said any Democrat would preserve the financial reforms, which are proving to be more effective than originally expected. What kind of crack is he smoking? It is a well-known fact that Dodd-Frank was weak. It didn't break up the too-big-to-fail banks. It did not reinstate Glass-Steagall, which separated commercial from investment banking. And it has been gutted in its implementation.
Why should we believe that Hillary, who has been getting $200,000 speaking fees from these very same banks, $400,000 from Goldman Sachs in one six-day period alone, would put the screws to the banks? Of course, now in Iowa she is finally talking about the injustice of CEOs making 300 times what the average worker makes. But what in her past leads us to believe she would do something about this?
In fact, she will most probably hire the very same people, the Larry Summers, Tim Geithners and Robert Rubins of the world, whose financial deregulation caused the 2008 economic collapse in the first place. Her supporters from Big Finance are reacting with a collective "meh". They know she has to say these things to get the support of the base. They know she won't betray her big contributors, who are mostly big banks.
Fourth, Krugman says any Democrat would move forward on climate policy. Really? Is that why Bill Clinton and Obama agreed to nothing substantive and binding at UN climate talks in Kyoto, Oslo, and Copenhagen? Is that why Obama, much more than Bush, has expanded fracking in the US? He is also pushing liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals, which will make fracking explode. He wants to end the 40-year oil export ban and the 30-year ban on drilling off the East Coast. Any reduction in greenhouse gases he gets from his new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on plant emissions will be cancelled out by all this new drilling.
And why should we believe Hillary will be any different? As Secretary of State, she sold fracking to countries around the world as part of the Global Shale Initiative. Also, she refuses to come out against the KXL Pipeline.
She's not so good on food safety either. As we know, the TPP, which she probably supports, because she voted for every free trade deal besides Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), will override our rules preventing tainted Vietnam shrimp from entering the country. And the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the trade agreement with Europe, would override their ban on GMOs. Hillary doesn't even think there's anything wrong with GMOs. When she addressed the annual biotech conference last year, she said the only problem with GMOs was that they haven't been marketed better to the American people.
Something the Krugman piece didn't address is Hillary's position on war. We know she voted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and supported the bombing of Libya and Pakistan. And she has been unwavering in her support of Israel, which has been waging a terror campaign against the Palestinians in Gaza for years.
As Bob Scheer pointed out, and as an excellent article in Jacobin also pointed out, her concern for families is just lip service. The sanctions she supported in Iraq caused the death of 565,000 children according to the UN. And the bombing campaigns in those countries also have killed thousands of children.
Hillary will most probably hire the very same people, the Larry Summers, Tim Geithners and Robert Rubins of the world, whose financial deregulation caused the 2008 economic collapse in the first place.
Furthermore, as Scheer pointed out, in the 1992 campaign, she and Bill bragged about their welfare reform in Arkansas, which ended government assistance to children in poverty. Then, they proceeded to do the same thing federally when they dismantled the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. 70% of the poor people who depended upon that were children. Finally, how can people not recognize that the financial collapse—which caused so many people to lose their jobs and their homes—disproportionately impacted families?
You see, my Facebook friend is a regular person with a job and other interests. She is not a political and policy junkie like me. She doesn't know these specific facts, and she may not even remember the history of the Clinton presidency. She just goes by what she sees in the mainstream media. And of course, the mainstream media—including MSNBC, the supposed liberal network—love to focus on the horse race, which they present in a binary fashion: the Good Democrats versus the Bad Republicans. So it's no wonder people like my friend think there is a real difference between the two parties.
Would Hillary be better than Scott Walker? Of course. But Elizabeth Warren, who really gets it and has been and would be a fighter for the 99%, would be certainly better than Hillary. However, she insists she's not running. Bernie Sanders, who also gets it, is contemplating a run, and says he will announce his decision at the end of the month. I hope he runs as an Independent.
Yet whether the Democrats are better than the Republicans or Hillary is better than Scott Walker is not the point. If we really want to improve the lives of the 99%, we cannot keep putting all our eggs into the electoral basket. We cannot keep thinking that if we only get the right president, this country will change. What we need—and what Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have both called for in recent interviews—is a people-powered social movement where we the people get involved in the issues as well as the campaigns.
Hillary Clinton is right about one thing in her four-point platform, three of which are innocuous platitudes that no one would dispute. But her fourth point, getting money out of politics, is spot on. Until we can get rid of the outsized influence that big money from billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson have on our electoral system, we will never have a democracy. In fact, a recent Princeton study concluded that our political system can no longer be characterized as a democracy, but as an oligarchy.
However, with the Democratic and the Republican nominee each expected to rake in an unprecedented $1 billion over the next year, I hardly see that getting money out of politics is in the offing. But that doesn't mean that citizens cannot cannot get involved in people-powered movements revolving around issues.
People-powered movements have succeeded in banning fracking in Vermont, New York, and, just last week, in Maryland. And we got bans or moratoria in several cities and counties here in California.
People-powered movements have succeeded in banning fracking in Vermont, New York, and, just last week, in Maryland. And we got bans or moratoria in several cities and counties here in California. A people-powered movement succeeded against all odds in pressuring Obama and his FCC chairman, a former cable TV lobbyist, to buck Big Media and call for the reclassification the Internet as a common carrier to protect net neutrality. Now we won't have to worry about corporations and billionaires paying to have their content on the fast lane while the rest of us are relegated to the slow lane.
Everybody needs to get involved. You don't need to organize citizen lobby visits or protests or disrupt government meetings. You just need to pick one or two issues you are passionate about and join an organization working on that issue. If it's fracking, join Food and Water Watch, go to their monthly open houses and learn what you can do to help get a ban on fracking in your community. There are also people-powered movements fighting for low wage workers. The Fight for $15 movement had demonstrations in 200 cities recently. And the Black Lives Matter movement fighting for racial justice in policing has also taken off.
Anyone can do this, really. I have seen a friend of mine go from being completely apolitical and uninformed to addressing neighborhood councils about fracking simply by joining Food and Water Watch. This same friend just went to Portland for her spring vacation and asked me if anything was going on there to try to stop Oregon Senator Ron Wyden from co-sponsoring the TPP fast track bill. The next thing I knew, I saw pictures on Facebook of her going door to door in the Portland rain with flyers in her hand. Remember, this is on her vacation! Shout out to you Amy Turnbull. Once you get this in your blood, you can't stop. Take it from me.
If you don't have time to go to meetings or go door to door, then get informed about an issue and any pending legislation around that issue and contact your representatives. Write letters to the editor. But please, don't just post articles on Facebook committing to voting for Hillary Clinton and think that you are doing your civic duty. I hope I have convinced you that you are not.
I want to close with three quotes. The first is from the wonderful writer Alice Walker who said, "We are the ones we have been waiting for."
And the second from the fabulous documentary filmmaker Michael Moore: "Democracy is not a spectator sport, it's a participatory event. If we don't participate in it, it ceases to be a democracy."
And finally, "Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth."—William Faulkner