Right now the usual suspects are united in joy by Hillary Clinton’s official announcement of her candidacy for president (although anyone who seriously believed she was previously undecided on the issue probably also still believes in Santa Claus). By “usual suspects,” I mean self-styled “progressives” who think the Red/Blue divide reflects a serious disagreement in principle over issues like corporate power, U.S. military aggression and Empire. All we have to do is vote in a center-left politician (center-left meaning approximately one millimeter to the left of center), and America will return to the Good Laws of King FDR, put people before profits and beat its swords into plowshares.
Many of these people see American military aggression and the corporate capture of the state as something that began in January 2001, when George W. Bush began undoing all the progressive achievements of the Clinton administration. As Hillary Clinton’s flacks James Carville and Lanny Davis endlessly repeated in the 2008 primary campaign, “What was it about the Clinton administration you don’t like — the peace or the prosperity?”
Of course the idea that Bill Clinton was anything other than a serviceable presiding officer over what Marx called “the executive committee of the capitalist ruling class” is laughable. The foundations of the neoliberal corporate economy as we know it today, both domestic and global, were laid on his watch. He fully supported and sponsored the basic legal infrastructure of global corporate rule — NAFTA, the Uruguay Round of GATT, the Telecommunications Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The offshoring of manufacturing (itself the result in large part of that legal framework) and explosion of CEO pay got going in earnest during his administration. In addition, he fought a series of wars in the Balkans to enforce the corporate world order on Serbia, and his 1996 Counter-Terrorism Act was a prequel to the USA PATRIOT Act.
Today, HRC’s true believers constantly grasp at every comment she makes, and regurgitate it to their social media followers, as evidence that she’ll fight income inequality and take on Wall Street. Their hopes, however, rest entirely on what she says in speeches — or at any rate what she says in speeches when she’s not talking to Wall Street investment bankers when she thinks the cameras aren’t on.
The problem is, a lot of people say stuff, and most of it’s… um, manure. Let’s rewind to Summer 2000, when Al Gore suddenly started talking a lot about the “top 2%,” and spouting populist, pro-union rhetoric. Coincidentally, the UAW at the time were threatening to bolt for Nader. But of course Gore had Joe Lieberman to quietly reassure the business press that it was just “election year rhetoric.”
In 2008, we heard a lot of stuff from Obama about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping and Gitmo; and then in January 2009 Obama turned on a dime and enacted George Bush’s third term on such issues. Despite populist rhetoric about pulling out of NAFTA (which his team may have, a la Lieberman, reassured Canada was just rhetoric), Obama has doubled down on so-called “free trade agreements” like TPP during his administration.
But at least Obama in 2008 could do a plausible impression of someone who actually meant what he said. Hillary Clinton can’t for the life of her. Typically, three days after Clinton answers a question with her “I’m glad you asked me that” smile, news emerges proving it was a lie. Remember her story about landing under fire in Bosnia? And if you believe her vote to authorize the Iraq war was motivated by anything but concern for her future electability, say hello to the Easter Bunny for me.
Regardless of Hillary’s populist rhetoric today, the Clintons were part of an incredibly incestuous and corrupt, bipartisan good ol’ boy political culture in Arkansas. We have no reason to believe that the crooked business deals she participated in, her oversight of Walmart’s incredibly anti-worker policies while sitting on the Board of Directors, or her close ties to Monsanto, are not who she still is today.
Putting your hopes in electoral politics to end corporate rule is setting yourself up for betrayal. The idea that grass-roots political involvement can outweigh hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate campaign contributions is laughably naive. The main activity of the U.S. government, under either party, will be maintaining corporate rule over the country and over the world. You can take that to the bank.