Hillary Clinton's not-so-strange right-wing bedfellows
The fact that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is so personally and politically odious should not blind us to the reality that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic alternative, is anything but a progressive. Paul Street explains.
HILLARY Clinton supporters got churlish when they heard media reports last spring that Clinton was favoured over Donald Trump by the right-wing billionaire Charles Koch and by leading arch-imperial foreign policy neoconservatives like Robert Kagan, Max Boot and Eliot Cohen. But unpleasant as many mainstream corporate and Clintonite Democrats might find such 'strange bedfellow' right-wing backing to be, an honest look at Hillary's record should make the support she is getting from such noxious, arch-authoritarian 'elites' as Koch, Kagan et al. less than surprising.
How outlandish is it, really, that some on the business and imperial right might prefer Clinton over Trump? In campaigning for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, Trump ran off the elite capitalist and imperial leash. He channelled some nasty things that have long been part of the Republican Party playbook: frustrated white nationalism, racism, nativism and male chauvinism. At the same time, however, he often sounded remarkably populist in ways that white working-class voters appreciated. He was critical of things that elite Republicans (and elite corporate Democrats) hold dear, including corporate globalisation, 'free trade' (investor rights) deals, global capital mobility and cheap labour immigration. He questioned imperialist adventures like the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of Libya, the destabilisation of Syria and the provocation of Russia. He's been a largely self-funded lone wolf and wild card who cannot be counted on to reliably make policy in accord with the nation's unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire. And he seized the nomination of a political organisation that may have ceased to be a functioning national political party.
Things are different with Clinton. She's a tried-and-true operative on behalf of the nation's capitalist and imperialist ruling class who sits atop the United States' only remaining fully effective national and major party, the Democrats. She's a deeply conservative right-winger on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts, consistent with the rightward drift of the Democratic Party (and the entire US party system) - a drift that she and her husband helped trailblaze back in the 1970s and 1980s.
'The conservatism that I was raised with'
In 1964, when Clinton was 18, she worked for the arch-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign. Asked about that high school episode on National Public Radio (NPR) in 1996, then First Lady Hillary said, 'That's right. And I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with. I don't recognise this new brand of Republicanism that is afoot now, which I consider to be very reactionary, not conservative in many respects. I am very proud that I was a Goldwater girl.'
It was a telling reflection. Clinton acknowledged that her ideological worldview was still rooted in the conservatism of her family of origin. Her problem with the reactionary Republicanism afoot in the US during the mid-1990s was that it was 'not conservative in many respects'. She spoke the language not of a liberal Democrat, but of a moderate Republican in the mode of Dwight Eisenhower or Richard Nixon.
The language was a perfect match for Hillary and Bill Clinton's politico-ideological history and trajectory. After graduating from Yale Law School, the Clintons went to Bill's home state of Arkansas. There they helped 'lay . the groundwork for what would eventually hit the national stage as the New Democrat movement, which took institutional form as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)' (Doug Henwood). The essence of the DLC was dismal, dollar-drenched 'neoliberal' abandonment of the Democratic Party's last lingering commitments to labour unions, social justice, civil rights, racial equality, the poor and environmental protection, and abject service to the 'competitive' bottomline concerns of Big Business.
The Clintons helped launch the New Democrat juggernaut by assaulting Arkansas' teacher unions (Hillary led the attack) and refusing to back the repeal of the state's anti-union 'right to work' law - this while Hillary began working for the Rose Law Firm, which 'represented the moneyed interests of Arkansas' (Henwood). When the Arkansas-based community-organising group ACORN passed a ballot measure lowering electrical rates for residential users and raising them for commercial businesses in the state's capital Little Rock, Rose deployed Hillary to shoot down the new rate schedule as an unconstitutional 'taking of property'.
During the Clintons' time in the White House, Bill advanced the neoliberal agenda beneath fake-progressive cover, in ways that no Republican president could have pulled off. Channelling Ronald Reagan by declaring that 'the era of big government is over', Bill collaborated with the right-wing Congress of his time to end poor families' entitlement to basic minimal family cash assistance. Hillary backed this vicious welfare 'reform' which has proved disastrous for millions of disadvantaged Americans. Bill earned the gratitude of Wall Street and corporate America by passing the arch-global-corporatist North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act (which had mandated a necessary separation between commercial deposit and investment banking), and by deregulating the burgeoning super-risky and high-stakes financial derivatives sector. Hillary took the lead role in White House efforts to pass a corporate-friendly version of health reform. The Clintons decided from the start to exclude the popular healthcare alternative - single payer - from the national healthcare 'discussion'. (Obama would do the same thing in 2009.)
The Clinton White House's hostility to 'big government' did not extend, however, to the United States' giant and globally unmatched mass incarceration state or to its vast global military empire. Bill's 1994 crime bill helped expand the nation's mostly Black and Latino prison population. He kept the nation's 'defence' (empire) budget - a giant welfare programme for high-tech military corporations - at Cold War levels despite the disappearance of the US' Cold War rival, the Soviet Union.
'Populist rhetoric is good politics'
Hillary's service to the rich and powerful has continued into the current millennium. As a Senator, she did the bidding of the financial industry by voting for a bill designed to make it more difficult for consumers to use bankruptcy laws to get out from crushing debt. As Secretary of State (2009-12), she repeatedly voiced strong support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a secretive, richly corporatist 12-nation Pacific 'free trade' agreement that promises to badly undermine wages, job security, environmental protections and popular governance at home and abroad. In Australia in November 2012, she said that the TPP 'sets the gold standard in trade agreements for open, free, transparent, [and] fair trade'.
Bernie Sanders supporters like to claim that they've been moving the eventual Democratic nominee Hillary 'to the left'. But nobody actually moves a dyed-in-the-wool Goldman Sachs-neoliberal-top-of-the Ivy League-Council of Foreign Relations-Eisenhower Democrat like Hillary or Bill Clinton or Barack Obama to the left. All that might shift somewhat to the portside is their purposely deceptive campaign rhetoric.
The US Chamber of Commerce knows this very well. A top Chamber lobbyist calmly observed last January that Hillary will be on board with the unpopular TPP after the 2016 election.
Nobody grasps the Machiavellian nature of her campaign rhetoric better than Hillary's Wall Street funders. A report in the widely read online insider Washington political journal Politico last year was titled 'Hillary's Wall Street Backers: "We Get It".' One Democrat at a top Wall Street firm even told Politico that Hillary's politically unavoidable populist rhetoric 'is a Rorschach test for how politically sophisticated [rich] people are … If someone is upset by this it's because they have no idea how populist the mood of the country still is'.
It's nothing new. In his bitter and acerbic book on and against the Clintons, No One Left to Lie to (2000), the then still-left Christopher Hitchens usefully described 'the essence of American politics' as 'the manipulation of populism by elitism'. It's a story that goes back as far as the 1820s but nobody has perfected the game more insidiously and effectively in the neoliberal era than the Clinton machine.
Partisan liberal Democrats don't like to hear it, but there's nothing all that surprising about the Koch brothers turning to Hillary over Trump. It's not at all difficult to believe that Bill Clinton will succeed in his recently reported efforts to court support from other Republican billionaires. It's not at all surprising that Wall Street and corporate America prefer the good friend they know.
There's also nothing all that strange or surprising about the support Hillary is getting from foreign policy neoconservatives. Let us turn now to her foreign policy history, showing why it makes perfect sense that top imperial neocons prefer Hillary to the at least outwardly 'isolationist' and anti-interventionist Trump.
Madeleine Albright: The first entry on Hillary's neocon foreign policy resume is Madeleine Albright. As First Lady, Hillary successfully lobbied her husband Bill to appoint Albright - a right-wing, Russia-hating Czech emigre dedicated to the provocative, ever-eastward expansion of NATO - as Secretary of State in 1997. Albright had already achieved notoriety as US Ambassador to the United Nations in May 1996 by telling CBS News reporter Leslie Stahl that the death of half a million Iraqi children due to US-led 'economic sanctions' was 'a price worth paying' for the advance of US goals in the Middle East. Even the legendarily blood-soaked US-imperial strategist Henry Kissinger (a good friend and backer of Hillary) was taken aback by Albright's determination to concoct an 'excuse to start bombing'.
Serbia: Another line on Hillary's neocon resume is Serbia. She urged an initially reluctant Bill Clinton to launch what became a two-and-a-half-month bombing campaign that killed many thousands of Serb civilians. In urging this carnage on the president, she used the false claim that lethal military force was required to stop Hitler-like 'genocide' in Yugoslavia.
This would become a leading Clinton war theme: the disingenuous and cynical assertion that foreign governments had to be targeted and overthrown by the world's only military superpower and its top European allies (claiming together to represent 'the international community') so as to protect innocents against modern-day Holocausts (like the one the Clinton administration unmentionably aided and abetted in Rwanda in 1994). It was a first and successful run for the thoroughly disingenuous Western principle of 'R2P: Responsibility to Protect'. The Clintons' assault on Serbia helped create the corrupt and criminal state of Kosovo, where a massive US military base stands guard over a nation that leads the world in the murderous harvesting of human organs.
Iraq: The third entry is Hillary's vote as a US Senator in October 2002 on behalf of a Congressional measure authorising the neocon-stocked George W Bush administration to criminally and mass-murderously invade Iraq on criminally false pretexts. Hillary did not admit that she'd 'gotten it wrong' on Iraq until 2014 (in her tedious memoir Hard Choices). The Clintons, it should be remembered, were on board with Republican necocons calling for Saddam Hussein's removal from power by the late 1990s, prior to the 9/11 attacks that Hillary helped Bush criminally connect to Iraq.
Honduras: The fourth line on Hillary's neocon resume is Honduras. With her appointment as Obama's Secretary of State (of all things), Hillary's first test on the foreign policy meaning of 'change' came in late June 2009. That was when a right-wing business and military coup overthrew Honduras' democratically elected and populist Hugo Chavez-admiring president, Manuel Zelaya. 'It is easy,' the veteran left journalist and author Diana Johnstone notes, 'to see what real change would have meant. The US could have vigorously condemned the coup and demanded that the legitimate President be reinstated. Considering US influence in Honduras, especially its powerful military bases there, US "resolve" would have given teeth to anti-coup protest.' Instead, Secretary Clinton played along with the coup regime's bogus claims that Zelaya had been trying to establish a dictatorship and that Hondurans had, after the coup, experienced 'free and fair elections' that restored 'democratic and constitutional government' in Honduras. The nation has been mired in corruption, poverty, misery, repression and extreme inequality ever since.
Libya: The fifth line is the destruction of Libya in the spring of 2011. As with Serbia and Iraq, the US targeted a self-designated 'dictator' for regime change, spreading false-flag propaganda about his supposed plans to 'kill his own people' with air attacks and foreign mercenaries. The removal of Muammar Gaddafi - 'a hero to black Africa' (Johnstone) because of his efforts to create a progressive pan-African Union and his decent treatment of Black Libyans - through US-led Western force turned Libya into a jihadist nightmare zone. It discredited 'R2P' across most of the world (though not in the heavily indoctrinated US).
Syria: Hillary stood in the vanguard of the Obama administration's R2P Libya policy. The same is true for the disastrous US-led destabilisation of Syria, which fuelled a civil war that has killed more than 350,000 people while helping create the barbaric Islamic State. Bleeding Syria (whose jihadists received weapons illegally transferred by the CIA through Libya with the criminal assistance of Secretary Clinton) is the sixth line on Hillary's neocon resume.
Russia and Ukraine: The seventh line is Russia. Hillary has consistently sought to demonise and isolate Moscow, absurdly blaming the bloody Ukraine crisis on '[Russian President Vladimir] Putin's imperialism' and endlessly justifying Washington's relentless provocation of Russia. Hillary's close ally Victoria Nuland (a top member of Hillary's State Department team) is Obama's Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and is married to the top imperial neocon Robert Kagan. Nuland played a central role in engineering a bloody right-wing coup that installed an anti-Russian and significantly fascist, neo-Nazi regime (in the name of 'democracy') in Ukraine in early 2014.
The coup reflected longstanding Clinton-led US efforts to absorb Russia's immediate western neighbour into the NATO orbit. The leading Russian historian Stephen Cohen explained the development of the broader US policy behind the Ukraine coup during a talk organised last year by the American Committee for East West Accord: 'This [Ukraine] problem began in the 1990s, when the Clinton Administration adopted a winner-take-all policy toward post-Soviet Russia . Russia gives, we take . This policy was adopted by the Clinton Administration but is pursued by every major US political party [all two of them - P.S.], every President, every American Congress, since President Clinton, to President Obama. This meant that the United States was entitled to a sphere or zone of influence as large as it wished, right up to Russia's borders, and Russia was entitled to no sphere of influence, at all, not even in Georgia . or in Ukraine (with which Russia had been intermarried for centuries).'
It's not for nothing that top right-wing Ukrainian oligarchs like Victor Pinchuk have contributed many millions of dollars (more than any other nation or national elite) to the global Clinton Foundation - a so-called charity that advances the global neoliberal agenda (including the European integration of the resource-rich Ukraine) of the US ruling class. Several 'training' graduates of the Global Clinton Initiative (a wing of the Clinton Foundation) currently sit in the right-wing Ukrainian Parliament.
Hillary's aggressive New Cold War-mongering contempt for Putin and Russia poses a significant threat of global nuclear war if she becomes president.
Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia: The eighth line is Hillary's chilling speech at the annual convention of the super-powerful Zionist lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last March. In her address, she condemned Palestinian terrorism without making any reference to the vicious and arch-criminal poverty, displacement, apartheid, mass murder and repression that racist Israel imposes on its Palestinian subjects. She promised to invite her good friend, Israel's blood-drenched Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to visit the White House (a swipe at Obama's testy relationship with Netanyahu) and slanderously accused what she called 'the alarming boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS' (the anti-apartheid/anti-racist boycott Israel movement) of 'antisemitism'.
Hillary has long and absurdly echoed Israeli propaganda by calling Iran a dangerous terrorist state (even preposterously calling it 'the world's chief sponsor of terrorism') and ridiculously describing it (also in accord with Israeli doctrine) as 'an existential threat to Israel'. Such ugly embrace of Israel and dismissal of Palestinian concerns is a longstanding and key part of the neocon playbook. It's nothing new for Hillary, who published a position paper in 2007 arguing that Israel's right to exist as a 'Jewish state' with 'an undivided Jerusalem as its capital . must never be questioned'.
In 2008, then Senator Clinton told AIPAC that 'Iran threatens to destroy Israel', called the Iranian Revolutionary Guard 'a terrorist organisation' and backed 'massive retaliation' if Iran attacked. 'I want the Iranians to know,' she said, 'that if I'm president, we will attack Iran. In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.'
Meanwhile, Hillary has long been a close friend of absolutist, monarchical Saudi Arabia - the actual leading sponsor of global terrorism after its chief sponsor the US. She's long advanced close US relations with the deeply reactionary, jihad-fuelling Saudis, who have donated at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation.
This, too, is straight out of the neocon playbook, as is her embrace of cluster bombs, toxic agents and nuclear weapons as 'deterrents' that 'keep the peace'.
Numerous liberals, progressives and leftists are understandably perturbed by the violence, racism, white nationalism, nativism and misogyny that exude from the rhetoric and persona of Republican presidential candidate Trump. But when it comes to the actual infliction of real violence primarily against non-white people (with all due respect for Serbs and Russian-speaking Ukrainians targeted by Hillary's allies and agents) and including many women, Hillary has the Donald trumped, of course.
Another irony deserves mention: the streams of refugees and migrants that Trump wants to build giant nationalist walls against are fed in no small part by the chaos Hillary has done so much to help the US Empire generate in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.
None of which is to deny that a climate change-denying, white nationalist and nativist Trump presidency would be certain to inflict significant murder and mayhem at home and abroad. You get your once-every-four-years 'input' this November with a choice between two of the most widely and justly loathed people in the nation and world, my fellow Americans. Ain't US 'democracy' grand?
Paul Street is an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in the US. He is the author of seven books, the latest being They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy. The above article is reproduced from Z Magazine (July/August 2016).
*Third World Resurgence No. 310/311, Jun/July 2016, pp 42-46