I voted for my fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama twice. This time around, if the Democratic nominee for president is anyone other than Bernie Sanders, then, come the day of the general election, I am writing in “Marlon Brando.” I simply refuse to cast a vote for Hillary Clinton.
This primary isn’t about the next four or eight years. This primary is a war for the soul of the Democratic Party.
First, a quick list of important and relevant facts about which this piece is not. It’s not about how, when Bernie Sanders was marching with Martin Luther King, Jr., Hillary Clinton was on the side of Barry Goldwater, the Republican who made his opposition to both the Brown v. Board of Education opinion and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. It’s not about how, as a criminal defense attorney, Hillary Clinton slut-shamed a twelve year old alleged rape victim and then later bragged about it on the radio. It’s also not about how she opposed marriage equality as recently as 2013. Nor is it about her e-mail scandal—a serious offense, if for no reason other than the fact that it evinces a flagrant disregard for the rule of law.
No, this piece is not about any of those things. Rather, it’s about something much broader—and far more pernicious. This piece is about how Bill and Hillary Clinton have bastardized the Democratic party.
The Republicans are no longer the party of Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower. Today, they’re the party of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Neither are the Democrats any longer the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Today, they’re the party of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Make no mistake. Bill and Hillary Clinton transformed the Democratic Party—and, consequently, American politics as a whole.
Before going any further, a half-tangent, to address anyone who is now asking “but what about President Obama? He beat Hillary!” Focusing on deeds instead of words, Barack Obama is, by and large, a Clintonian Democrat. This fact is important because it shows better than anything else that Clintonian policies and strategies transcend the Clintons themselves, dominating the party as a whole. More on it soon. For now, suffice it to say that, in the 2008 primary, President Obama simply ran a better campaign and had timing on his side.
Of prominent Democrats, Clintonian ones are the vast majority. There are many reasons this is true, all of which overlap and reinforce each other. First, over the past two and a half decades, Clintonian Democrats seized control of the blue team in Washington, amassing tangible power. Congressional leadership and committee chairmanships, important federal posts filled by appointment, high-ranking positions within the DNC and DCCC, and on: almost all of them belong to Clintonian Democrats.
Second, they are the media’s favorites. Though this is not necessarily true of the reporters themselves, it’s definitely true of the corporate ownership. Third, Clintonian Democrats have at their disposal the most sophisticated fundraising machine that this country has ever seen. Wall Street banks and investment firms, media companies, the largest law and professional services firms, and corporate interests more generally: they all pony up. And, finally, they dominate the Democratic political operation. This means volunteer networks, handshake agreements with local bosses and chiefs, whisper campaigns, polling outfits, and on, all of which have a very real effect on voter turnout and public opinion.
So how is it that Clintonian Democrats came to possess so much power? To answer this question is to look at the policies that define this breed of Democrat. Yet, before turning to them, there is one last piece of the puzzle that needs to be put in place. In order to truly appreciate the massive shift in Democratic politics that the Clintons have produced, one needs to become familiar with a certain man.
That man is Rahm Emanuel. Today, Bill and Hillary Clinton are the king and queen of the Democrats, Barack Obama is the beloved prince, and Rahm Emanuel is the army general.
This is a man seemingly without scruple, and his impact on American politics simply cannot be understated. Though one should start by reading the New Yorker’s recent profile on him, do not be fooled. The reports of Rahm’s downfall are greatly exaggerated.
Rahm’s political style is simple: raise money and take no prisoners. Remember, this man’s nicknames are “Rahmbo” and “the Rahmfather.” Like Hillary Clinton, he does whatever it takes to win, and he stops at nothing to protect his image and the images of the people for whom he works. Those who oppose him receive retribution, and those who help him—namely by donating—receive favors. This is the guy who sent a dead fish to a reporter. Here in Chicago, the unfortunate few subject to his direct rule have some particularly egregious stories to tell.
His legislative style is even less inspiring. Simply put, he urges and takes the path of least resistance by passing whatever version of a law is easiest to pass. Then he spins it in the press and claims victory. A good way to score political points; a bad way to govern.
This unscrupulous fundraising operative—this assistant to the notorious Mayor Richard M. Daley, this ruthless congressional whip, this “deport as many illegals as possible” and “never let a serious crisis go to waste” White House advisor, this curiously-hired investment banker, this bad joke of a mayor—is arguably the most influential Democrat of the last thirty years. The Clintons listen to him, the Obamas listen to him, and the DNC and DCCC listen to him.
Why? In a word: money. The man knows how to bring in the donations. And this word is why, to understand both how the Clintonian Democrats have taken over the party and what a Clintonian Democrats is, one must understand Rahm Emanuel.
DEFINING “CLINTONIAN DEMOCRATS”
Above, there is a list of the four most important reasons why Clintonian Democrats are the most prominent ones, followed by a description of the man most responsible for executing the whole thing. Now, as promised, it’s time to turn to the “how.” How were Clintonian Democrats able to seize so much intra-party power, become the media favorites, raise so much money, and dominate the party’s political operation?
Well, to start, there is President Clinton’s Wall Street deregulation, most notably the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. This repeal ushered in an era of unprecedented Wall Street profitability and recklessness. And Wall Street is duly grateful to the Clintonian Democrats.
There’s also the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which allows for media cross-ownership and a whole host of other dubious practices. Thanks to this Act, a whopping total of six corporations now control the vast majority of the media. And these companies are duly grateful to the Clintonian Democrats.
There’s NAFTA, too. Though free trade is a good thing, the devil—as always—is in the details. NAFTA decimated American manufacturing and labor while enabling corporations to slash costs and increase their bottom lines exponentially. And these corporations are duly grateful to the Clintonian Democrats.
Then there’s the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which is the largest criminal law in the history of our country. It provided $9.7 billion in funding for prisons, created a host of new federal offenses and death penalty ones, and introduced the now-familiar “Three Strikes” rule. This law is directly responsible for a massive increase in incarceration rates, thereby fueling the prison-industrial complex in ways never before seen. And the prison-industrial complex is duly grateful to the Clintonian Democrats.
There’s more, but these four are enough. Clintonian Democrats are so far removed from the F.D.R. and J.F.K. glory eras that they don’t deserve to be called Democrats. Yet, they’re not pro-choice Republicans, either. They do things that Nixon, Reagan, and Bush have never even dreamed of—though it’s possible that that’s only because no Republican could ever get away with them. Indeed, as the Clintonian Democrats push the party to the right, the Republicans follow suit, straying further away from the center.
The Clintonian Democrats are not Democrats. They are simply another group of politicians and public officials who are beholden first and foremost to special interest donors and powerbrokers.
“But President Obama put the party back on track, right?” Well, no. It’s time to return to the assertion that Barack Obama is, by and large, a Clintonian Democrat.
CLINTONIAN POLICIES IN THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE
Four examples are all that are needed. The first is the easiest. President Obama chose Rahm Emanuel—and then Bill Daley, of the powerful Chicago family—as Chief of Staff. Rahm became the Democrat’s general not by working for any one person, but by furthering a specific strategy: the Clintonian Democrat one. That President Obama chose this man for such an important position spoke volumes. And Rahm’s fundraising network is duly grateful to the Clintonian Democrats.
The second is the most egregious. Eric Holder, the president’s former attorney general, was a shill for Wall Street. And Wall Street is duly grateful to the Clintonian Democrats.
The third is the Affordable Care Act. Yes, Obamacare provided millions of people with the opportunity to purchase affordable health insurance. That doesn’t make it any less of a gift to the insurance industry. Essentially, in exchange for dropping the pre-existing condition rule, insurance companies were able to charge their customers more for less while simultaneously gaining millions of new customers. Cha-ching. And the health care industry is duly grateful to the Clintonian Democrats.
The last is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This trade agreement makes NAFTA look like a deal penned by angels. The worst portion is the one that effectively allows corporations to overrule laws enacted by sovereign governments. And these corporations are duly grateful to the Clintonian Democrats.
THIS IS WAR
This piece characterized Bill and Hillary Clinton as a king and queen. It’s a good analogy. Yet, let’s take a second to expressly recognize something. This is America, where we know no royalty. Reading this, it’s easy to feel like the whole thing is a given—like our country is on an irreversible course towards corporatocracy. Nothing is further from the truth. This is America, where we the people hold the power, so long as we vote: in the primaries and the generals.
And this primary isn’t about the next four or eight years. This primary is a war for the soul of the Democratic Party.
In war, sacrifices must sometimes be made. If it means putting the Democratic party back on track, then true Democrats must be ready and willing to sacrifice the next four or eight years. The acts of a single presidency can easily be countered with the acts of the next one. Far more problematic is the possibility that Clintonian policies dominate the Democratic party for another generation: an unavoidable outcome, if Hillary becomes our next president.
From here, only one important point remains. Don’t let the Clinton campaign use the Supreme Court to fear-monger. The next president will probably replace one or more Justices. Still, no matter who dons the robes next, abortion rights and marriage equality simply are not going anywhere. Sacrificing this election to save the party from the Clintonian Democrats does not require sacrificing those rights.
Losing an election is bad. Losing the party is worse. This is why, if Hillary Clinton is the nominee—far from a given—I am writing in a dead man’s name for the general election. Now that I think on it, a live person voting for a deceased one is the inverse of the Chicago Way. Oh, how poetic it would be, to reject the Clintons in that fashion.