It’s been a happy holiday season for the American Empire’s next commander-in-chief Hillary Clinton. Her gifts have been remarkable. I am not referring to any special talent for inspiring voters and articulating a vision for democratic change. Mrs. Clinton is still a wooden and uninspiring campaigner. She remains an abject, Wall Street-sponsored corporatist beneath carefully constructed fake-progressive rhetoric. She’s still the same old “new Democrat” – a dismal, dollar-drenched servant to concentrated wealth and power – beneath deceptive, populist-mimicking oratory and branding.
She remains a hawkish and imperial militarist – the same politician who embraced George W. Bush’s monumentally criminal invasion of Iraq. The Clinton campaign makes no apologies for her eager advance (both as a U.S. Senator and as Barack Obama’s aggressively militarist Secretary of State) of policies that have destroyed Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, creating the context for the rise of the Islamic State. Or for her leadership role in the dangerous provocation of Russia in Ukraine and elsewhere. It’s not for nothing that U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has described her as a foreign policy “neocon.”
It’s fitting that Mrs. Clinton’s main campaign logo features an arrow pointing to the right. The direction suggests the neoliberal and imperial essence of her career and agenda, well to the starboard side of U.S. public opinion.
No, the main thing Santa Claus brought Hillary Clinton this holiday season is an unthreatening bunch of fellow contenders in the quadrennial two-party-big media-big money presidential electoral extravaganza that passes for meaningful democratic politics in the United States. Who is going to block the Clintons’ return to the White House? Certainly not Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, or any other among the xenophobic candidates of the ever more apocalyptically right wing, white-nationalist Republican Party.
The Republicans’ leading candidate, the bombastic real estate mogul and media buffoon Donald Trump, has the highest unfavorable rating among all presidential aspirants. His campaign seems consciously designed to push Blacks, Muslims, Latinos and women into the Democratic Party. Ted Cruz, Trump’s closest rival, is an open ideological apparatchik certain to alienate most voters outside the Tea Party FOX News (TPFN) cohort.
Hillary had to worry about a Republican opponent with the capacity to reach beyond the hard core Koch brother-fueled TPFN Republican base. But the GOP contenders with potential to do that – Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, or even John Kasich – have proven to be duds.
Beside their fatal liabilities in a general election, Trump and Cruz help hide Hillary’s own reckless and mass-murderous record. When compared with the leading Republican candidates’ inflammatory rhetoric, the language and manner of the empire’s next new clothes (Hillary) looks calm and careful. Who would you trust with the nuclear button? Who (to use Hillary’s campaign metaphor in 2008) do you want “getting that call at 3 in the morning”? Certainly NOT cartoon characters like The Donald, Ted Cruz or the ludicrous right-wing brain surgeon Ben Carson.
The Democratic candidate field is not much stronger. There are no young and telegenic rock-stars like Obama and pre-scandal John Edwards for the Clintons to contend with this time. The primary challenge the Clintons feared, with reason, was the liberal U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, but it turned out that “no meant no” when she declined fervent progressive entreaties to enlist.
Martin O’Malley has tried to build a brand as a younger and more liberal alternative, but’s it’s not taking (appropriately enough given his record of advancing racially disparate mass arrest and incarceration during his years as Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland). The listless Jim Webb and affable Lincoln Chaffee have already dropped out. Good old Uncle Joe Biden (who has the virtue of being less aggressively imperialist than Hillary) didn’t have the heart for another presidential run.
Yes, there’s the grim septuagenarian and nominal democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. It’s encouraging to see a candidate willing to identify himself with socialism (if that’s what he really wants to call his barely social-democratic New Deal liberalism) and “class analysis” attract large crowds and set new records for small campaign finance donations. The Sanders phenomenon speaks both to the distance of Cold War neo-McCarthyism and to the terrible, regressive consequences of U.S. neoliberal capitalism, creator of a New Gilded Age place where (as Sanders points out) the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.
True, Bernie is leading in New Hampshire and close in Iowa, causing irritation in the Clinton camp. Still, even if he were to win one or both of those states, it’s very difficult to seriously imagine a path to a Sanders nomination. Hillary’s financial and organizational advantages are steep. So is her advantage with the corporate media, which gives her one free pass after another while insipidly (if predictably) under-covering Sanders’ big rallies and over-covering The Donald’s every idiotic comment and gesture. Bernie Sanders is no Barack Obama.
Sanders seems to understand the harsh reality. He is willing to create some embarrassing moments for Hillary – on her revolting (and revealing) 2003 Iraq War vote and the outsized campaign contributions she has received from Wall Street executives. But the fact that he is not seriously trying to win the Democratic nomination is clear from his refusal to substantively and directly attack the longstanding neoliberal corporatism of his “good friend” Mrs. Clinton and from his willingness to assist her efforts to squelch public critique of her outrageous use of a private email server in her duties as Secretary State.
Meanwhile, Sanders’ underlying commitment to the U.S. imperial project and military Keynesian tends to render mute his call for progressive, social-democratic, and Scandinavia-inspired change. The costs, public-private investment pattern, and largely media-manufactured culture of America’s giant military empire and permanent war of/on terror cancel out social-democratic welfare-state Keynesianism in the “homeland.”
In the second Democratic presidential debate, Sanders admitted early on what “this [his] campaign is [really] about”: increasing voter excitement and turnout for the Democratic Party. Translation: Bernie is running to help the militant corporatist Hillary Clinton and the rotten, Wall Street-captive and imperial Democratic Party practice what the formerly left Christopher Hitchens caustically but all-too accurately called (in his 2000 book on the Clintons) “the essence of American politics….the manipulation of populism by elitism.” His role (unwitting or not) is to help Hillary’s eventual nomination look less like the advance finance-capitalized coronation that it is and to help create an, turnout-boosting illusory sense of meaningful popular debate within the Democratic Party. He’s a useful (not-so left) wing man for the Clinton machine, which is why the Clintons and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have been pleased with his campaign.
Meanwhile, the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have helped the corporate media replace anger over economic inequality (Sanders’ main issue) with fear of terrorism – a topic that favors Mrs. Clinton over Bernie – as U.S. voters’ top concern. More holiday cheer for Hillary!
The struggle for justice and a good society requires a powerful popular sociopolitical movement beneath and beyond the periodic, money-drenched, and highly time-staggered, major party candidate-centered elections that outrageously pass for democratic “politics” – the only “politics that matters” – in the U.S. Some of my fellow leftists think the Sanders phenomenon can assist that movement-building. I hope they are right.
Author Paul Street can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org