“Four more years! Four more years!”
Those were the chilling chants echoing around the 2004 Republican National Convention, prelude to the re-election of a right-wing fundamentalist, who launched a global war of terror, and whose administration fed lies to the public to launch an illegal war of aggression on Iraq. George W Bush’s fundamentalism did not stop at his cruise-missile evangelism. He enacted sweeping tax breaks for the wealthy, allowed his Vice-President (with long-standing connections to the oil industry) to write his energy policy, initiated an epic civil liberties grab by the security state, and rolled back regulations designed to protect workers and consumers.
In many of these actions—the war of terror, the Patriot Act, a punitive bankruptcy bill, the Iraq War—he was supported by a woman who was supposedly a leading progressive light in the Democratic Party. Presumed incumbent in 2008, Hillary Clinton went on to serve as Secretary of State for President Obama, in which office she reaffirmed her neoconservative credentials: she argued for an escalation of the war in Afghanistan; she lobbied for expanding the global war of terror; and she backed Middle Eastern dictators when they faced popular uprisings during the Arab Spring.
Now Clinton is positioning herself for another presidential bid, and is assumed to be in an even better position than in 2008. Her hatchet-men and –women in the Democratic Party are trying to scare other candidates off. Even more tellingly, Clinton is transforming herself into a flunky for the financial sector, telling the plutocrats that criticism of their greed and excess is “unproductive and indeed foolish”.
Mind-bogglingly, Clintons adorers in the Democratic Party do not seem put off by the knowledge that she disdains them and their cause, or her suggestion that there is no room for the grass roots (who are responsible for virtually all political advancements) in today’s Democratic Party. But not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea of the Clinton Coronation that the former Secretary of State and her husband are hoping to engineer. Former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer suggested that progressives should think twice about electing “the Hillary that says, ‘I’m already going to win the Democratic nomination, and so I can shift hard right on Day 1’”.
Criticising Obama as overly “corporatist”, Schweitzer argued that a Clinton presidency would likely constitute four more years of George W Bush: “We can’t afford any more hard fight. We had eight years of George Bush”.
Schweitzer, of course, is saying this in the hopes that he can emerge as a populist anti-Clinton candidate. But Schweitzer’s populism is not terribly progressive...more of a pose than anything serious. He and his defenders sell the former Governor as a “fiscal conservative and social liberal”, the ultimate political pass, wherein a politician declares themselves “progressive” on largely settled social questions while embracing doctrinaire right-wing positions on the economic issues which most impact people’s lives and which render many of their “socially liberal” questions moot.
Schweitzer and others of this mould are progressives of convenience. Given a cosy political environment, they will fund education, support healthcare reform, and protect pensions. But when faced by a budget crisis they fall back on the mantra that being able to claim they cut taxes and balanced a budget is more important than people’s livelihoods.
Schweitzer’s criticisms of Clinton are accurate. But if Democrats want to challenge Clinton and the neoliberal consensus she represents, they need someone who can simultaneously advance a populist critique of capitalism and suggest a remedy that involves more than wielding a cattle brand against unpopular opponents. Progressives will need a leader who doesn’t stop with criticism of unpopular corporate profiteering, but who can support them as they make the next step towards tackling many of the popular assumptions concerning the choices available to us as a society.
Regular readers will of course be unsurprised that I think that Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Massachusetts, would be the best candidate to support the working class as it seeks to reclaim our country from the plutocratic and corporate interests which are hijacking our governing system to aid their unconscionable profiteering. Warren has been consistent in pointing out the impunity with which financial criminals and profiteers operate in Washington, D.C. Her ability to connect our democratic deficit to the rampant inequality which has come to characterise life in the United States has the potential to make her a conduit for a reinvigorated progressive movement in the United States.
Unlike Obama and Clinton, who spent their Senate years scratching backs and sponsoring anodyne legislation, Warren is fashioning a record of advocacy which builds on her work for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and her consistent public critiques of the interests which engineer economic inequality to the detriment of the working class. Warren has spoken out strongly on banking regulation, student loan reform, and discrimination in hiring, as well as on the growing inequities of opportunity in the U.S.
Progressives can hope that Warren expands her advocacy to include pushing for energy reform, ending U.S. terrorism abroad, reforming the oversized security state, redistributing wealth which has been directed to an anti-social elite, protecting the labour rights of the working class, re-investing in education, shoring up the safety net, and investing in an economy which replaces monopoly with forms of collective ownership.
Given the speed with which business and party leaders are coalescing around Hillary Clinton, progressives can’t expect the Democratic Party to allow for a genuinely open primary, and must take the initiative and make it clear that a corporatist like Clinton is unacceptable to a country which needs to close its democratic deficit and address growing economic inequality, two sides of the same coin.