Sunday, March 30, 2014

If Not Hillary, Who? How About Elizabeth Warren?

Hillary Clinton’s juggernaut presidential campaign might be unannounced.  But Democrats of all political stripes are flocking to her bandwagon to proclaim the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State the inevitable candidate for the Democratic Party.  It would be foolhardy, they argue, for anyone else to challenge Clinton.  Many women in particular see in Clinton a strong role-model, someone who has broken barriers in a misogynistic and patriarchal political arena, and who has spoken out on the need for gender equality not just in the United States, but around the world.

The question got cheers and praise, not least from Clinton herself.

But when I read the question, I thought something quite different.  I thought of someone like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is neither a warmongering neoconservative nor a neoliberal in thrall to the 1% who dismissed the Occupy Wall Street movement as “foolish”.

The contrast is startling.

On the one hand we have a politician who rubber-stamped an obviously illegal and immoral war being sold by gibbering right-wing fundamentalists, recanted support for said war when she ran for higher office, but has subsequently re-stated her support in private for a textbook war of aggression which killed hundreds of thousands of people.  As a Senator, Hillary Clinton was a major backer of the financial sector, even when it demanded punitive bankruptcy laws which targeted the vulnerable middle and working class.

As Secretary of State, Clinton was a formidable advocate for expanding the War of Terror and escalating a purposeless U.S. war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa.  She set herself up as perhaps the foremost apologist for a gaggle of dictators across the Middle East, some of whom were toppled during the Arab Spring, others of whom weathered this democratic storm by relying on military and political muscle provided by the United States. 

Just as she found herself on the side of reactionaries abroad, Hillary Clinton is now allying herself unashamedly with the people who are refusing to contribute to the common good and who shamelessly equate being asked to pay their taxes with being taken to the gas chambers in Nazi Germany. 

In public, Clinton has a practised populist line.  But it sounds a little feeble knowing that she has embraced the political order ushered in by court decisions like Citizens United, which make big money rather than citizen power the arbiter of elections.  Clinton’s most critical constituency is on Wall Street, and she has gone to great lengths to reassure donors there that she has no time for a progressive approach to public policy which foregrounds the issue of economic inequality. 

Instead, she will devote herself to looking after the interests of those whose financial support puts her in high office.  The Occupy Wall Street movement and the progressives in her own party are irritants, barking about small matters like inequality when something much bigger is on the line...Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

In stark contrast, Elizabeth Warren has been standing up for people left behind by the political consensus which Hillary Clinton embodies.  While Hillary Clinton made her mark by lining up behind a popular, patriotic war, Elizabeth Warren is making hers by arguing for what is in the United States an unpopular cause: the use of democratically-elected institutions to regulate moneyed interests, to intervene in the economy to protect the working class, to create a framework to improve the life of the public, and to put the basic welfare of the few before the riches of the many.

Warren has been startlingly consistent in making the case for reform of our financial sector, our economic framework, and our democracy.  Clinton has been startlingly wrong in making the case for elites, in advocating for terror, and for contributing to the disintegration of democracy at home and abroad. 

In the early part of the twentieth century, while campaigning for the rights of women to vote, suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst declared that “in the course of our desperate struggle, we have to make a great many people uncomfortable”.  The icon of Britain’s women’s rights struggle described what in her view was the only way of breaking up the cosy consensus which consigned women to the margins of society:  “You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else, in fact you have to be there all the time and see that they do not snow you under, if you are really going to get your reform realised”. 

In her decade-plus bid for the presidency, Hillary Clinton has been conspicuously quiet when it comes to articulating progressive views about war and peace; about economic equality; and about the health of our democracy.  And if her tilts at high office give her bursts of progressivism, her actions have been consistently those of a bloodthirsty neocon prepared to do the bidding of the security state and financial sector as needed.

She is not a good role model for anyone in our country, and represents a violent, retrograde version of politics, one which has for too long dragged our country and its citizens down.

Elizabeth Warren, in contrast, articulates and represents a positive, progressive vision of the relationship between citizens, their state, and society.  She is optimistic about the capacity of our nation to flourish if it invests in its now-downtrodden majority, and is unafraid to confront those interests and individuals which are an impediment as we strive to make better lives for ourselves and our neighbours.  I think that makes Warren worthy of our support.

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