By Robert A. Vella
Hillary Clinton has continued attempts to reassure skeptical progressives that she no longer supports President Obama’s controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal, the likes of which have decimated the middle class in America and Europe over the last three decades. However, the delegates she named to the joint committee assigned to draft a new campaign platform for the Democratic Party have done the exact opposite. This duplicity on free trade and other critical issues was exposed yesterday in a stinging editorial by environmentalist Bill McKibben, one of the delegates named to the platform committee by Bernie Sanders.
And it was there that the essential dynamic quickly emerged. The Clinton campaign was ready to acknowledge serious problems: We need fair trade policy, inequality is a horrible problem, and unchecked climate change will wreck the planet. But when it came to specific policy changes, they often balked. Amendments against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and backing Medicare for all failed, with all the Clinton delegates voting against.
At which point we got (about 11 p.m., in a half-deserted hotel ballroom) to the climate section of the platform, and that’s where things got particularly obvious. We all agreed that America should be operating on 100 percent clean energy by 2050, but then I proposed, in one amendment after another, a series of ways we might actually get there. A carbon tax? Voted down 7-6 (one of the DNC delegates voted with each side). A ban on fracking? Voted down 7-6. An effort to keep fossils in the ground, at least on federal land? Voted down 7-6. A measure to mandate that federal agencies weigh the climate impact of their decisions? Voted down 7-6. Even a plan to keep fossil fuel companies from taking private land by eminent domain, voted down 7-6. (We did, however, reach unanimous consent on more bike paths!)
In other words, the Clinton campaign is at this point rhetorically committed to taking on our worst problems, but not willing to say how. Which is the slightly cynical way politicians have addressed issues for too long—and just the kind of slickness that the straightforward Sanders campaign rejected.
If Democrats – who are frustrated with Bernie Sanders and his progressive supporters – really want to understand why so many Americans distrust Hillary Clinton and the technocratic establishment she represents, they need to look no farther than what’s going on now inside the Democratic Party.
Will Democratic Party leaders be so introspective? No, and here’s why. Privately, they might tell you that what Sanders and the progressives want would be politically damaging to their election hopes should they be so bold on policy. On this point, I believe they are correct. Given the current composition of the American electorate, where the bulk of idealistic young people have disengaged from the political process, such a move leftward would be problematic at best in the short-term. However, that is not the real reason why Democrats have shifted so profoundly to the center.
Beginning with the campaign of Bill Clinton in 1992, Democrats moved sharply to the center of American politics in order to turn around a series of defeats to Republicans in presidential elections which was previously caused by the internal party divisions of their own making in 1968 over the Vietnam War and Civil Rights. Although Democrats lost the White House for the better part of two decades (leftist Baby Boomers stopped voting, and most of the others switched to the GOP), they still had managed to hold power in Congress and in the states. To regain the presidency, they felt compelled to sellout to moneyed interests, to the corporate technocracy, and to the neoliberal forces of globalism.
Gain the presidency, they did; but, the long-term costs were very high. Today, Democrats have suffered defeat after defeat in Congress and in the states because those idealist young people who otherwise would’ve refilled their populist ranks have abandoned the party in droves. To make another dramatic political shift back to the left, to re-energize their base, would be to embarrassingly reject the Clinton legacy and to lose the material support of the technocracy.
Yes, the Democratic leadership sold their souls; and, in the process, abandoned the very ideology and principles upon which the party was long based in favor of an ill-conceived notion of political pragmatism. If the ends justify the means, as that notion purports, then no unethical dalliance would seem prohibitive.
Keep these thoughts in mind as you read the following stories which suggest Hillary “reaching out” to disaffected Millennials, and President Obama trying to spin the populist uprising that voted Britain out of the European Union: