Obama’s true heir is Hillary Clinton. But that is a blessing for Bernie Sanders
by Kim Phillips-Fein, The Guardian
Sunday 31 January 2016 06.45 EST
On Clinton’s campaign website, the candidate recently posted a letter to her supporters entitled What President Obama’s Legacy Means to Me, in which she presents her whole campaign in terms of advancing his record on financial regulation, healthcare and foreign policy. She trumpets her role in the administration of her onetime political opponent, reminding readers of her place as trusted colleague and confidante.
Clinton really is the one carrying on Obama’s legacy – and it’s a legacy of which Sanders should want no part.
How can Sanders frame himself as Obama’s heir? And why would he want to? After all, his campaign is premised on responding to the crisis of the middle class in an era of skyrocketing inequality – a problem that has only deepened over the past eight years.
In terms of policy, his campaign proposals reflect a genuine departure. His promise to make health insurance truly universal and his commitment to a system of free public higher education represent attempts to remove these building blocks of economic security from the vagaries of the marketplace. True, Obama vetoed the Keystone pipeline, but Sanders envisions a major public investment in green infrastructure going well beyond anything seriously advanced by the president.
Obama’s legacy is problematic, and the lessons of 2008 more complex than they seemed at the time.
For the first-time voters who flocked to the polls that year, inspired by a candidate who spoke of lasting changes, the past eight years have been ones of political disappointment.
Instead of a challenge to the system that brought about the financial meltdown, they saw banks get bailouts while making few accommodations to people who lost their homes. Instead of taking steps toward economic equality, they got the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Instead of greater transparency, they got the NSA.
Even though Obama was elected in the midst of an economic crisis that prompted broad questioning of free markets and the power of business in America, today it seems that the Gilded Age is back and entrenched even more deeply than before. These defeats have only fueled a deeper sense of political estrangement.
Back in 2008, Clinton presented herself as the realist’s alternative to Obama the dreamer. She’s describing herself the same way today, only Obama has turned out to be a pragmatic politician as well. Now Clinton can argue that she, like Obama, is a politician for whom a tempered realism matters more than principle in the end. Obama has echoed this assessment, describing Clinton in his recent Politico interview as someone who knows that “translating values into governance” and “delivering the goods” is what politics is all about.
The problem is that this measured approach is exactly what’s led to the missed opportunities and myriad losses of the Obama presidency. Sanders should let Clinton claim Obama’s legacy: he should strike out for something new.
The Clintons’ sordid race game: No one will say it, but the Clintons’ rise was premised on repudiating black voters
by Corey Robin, Salon
Sunday, Jan 31, 2016 06:00 AM EST
Many of the liberal journalists who are supporting Hillary Clinton’s candidacy are too young to remember what the Clintons did to American politics and the Democratic Party in the 1990s. But even journalists who are old enough seem to have forgotten just how much the Clintons’ national ascendancy was premised on the repudiation of black voters and black interests. This was a move that was both inspired and applauded by a small but influential group of Beltway journalists and party strategists, who believed making the Democrats a white middle-class party was the only path back to the White House after wandering for 12 years in the Republican wilderness.
But for me, it’s as vivid as yesterday. I still remember Clinton pollster Stanley Greenberg’s American Prospect article (reposted in 2005), which claimed that the Democrats were “too identified with minorities and special interests to speak for average Americans.” Black people not being average Americans, you see. This article, American Prospect co-editor Paul Starr proudly proclaimed last year, is “widely recognized for its influence on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign” in 1992. Starr, incidentally, just penned a defense in Politico of Hillary Clinton as the only serious Democratic candidate.
What’s more, white people got the message: According to polls, white voters were more familiar with Clinton’s attack on Sister Souljah than they were with his economic plan. So did black people: Though they voted for Clinton, their share of the total voter turnout fell by 20 percent from 1988, when they cast their ballots for Michael Dukakis (and accounted for 20 percent of the vote for him and 10 percent of total turnout), and 1992, when they cast their ballots for Clinton (and accounted for 15 percent of the vote for him and 8 percent of total turnout).
Greenberg, for his part, celebrated all these changes in an influential book, arguing that this recalibrated focus “allowed for a Democratic Party that could once again represent people in the broadest sense.” It doesn’t take a close reader to know what that “people in the broadest sense” looked like.
(The) Dunning School, a Southern apologist account of the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, which dominated history textbooks and American politics more generally throughout the 20th century… holds that the great mistake of the Northern anti-slavery forces was that they pushed too hard, that instead of taking on the slaveholders’ revanchism they should have accommodated it.
But Clinton’s comment reflects less, I suspect, the history lessons she learned in school in the 1950s and 1960s than it does the political lessons she learned in the Arkansas governor’s mansion in the 1970s and 1980s. Namely, that in the face of white reactionary intransigence, the best thing to do is nip and tuck, compromise, conciliate, mollify, appease. In other words, be a Clinton. And not a Sanders.
Or a Lincoln.
In 1858, Lincoln was running for Senate in Illinois. His opponent was Stephen Douglas, whom Lincoln debated in a series of famous confrontations. Opposition to the expansion of slavery was the fundamental question dividing them.
By all rights, Lincoln should have received the support of opponents of slavery like Horace Greeley, the famed newspaperman. He finally would in 1860, but in 1858, Greeley backed Douglas. Which raised questions for many of Lincoln’s supporters of whether Greeley was on the take.
In a famous letter to Charles Wilson, Lincoln tried to damp down on that speculation. It wasn’t money that led Greeley to Douglas, Lincoln wrote. It was a more corrupting lure: the desire to be practical, calculated, sophisticated, realistic. That’s what led Greeley to his pact with the devil.
You know, not many colored folks in Iowa. For Hillary to eke out a win there proves nothing much. Should Bernie pull an upset or even a close defeat proves that many, many U.S. citizens are tired to the point of revolution against the Neolib Beltway Consensus.
That is why they’re scared, and they should be.