Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Shout Out to Billary

The pivotal moment in the 2008 Presidential campaign has already taken place. Before the South Carolina primary, Hillary Clinton diminished Martin Luther King’s role in passage of the 1964 Civil Rights bill and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Her husband, meanwhile, lied about presidential rival Barrack Obama’s record on the Iraq War and then dismissed Obama’s victory in South Carolina by suggesting that his black supporters vote for him only in the name of racial solidarity.

Ironically, right-wing harpy Ann Coulter, who gave a backhanded endorsement to Sen. Clinton vis-à-vis John McCain, essentially echoed that last argument. Coulter, in a February 8 speech to the Young America’s Foundation, said, “Barrack’s really been kind of coasting on his record, since his first big accomplishment of being born half-black. I keep hearing people say, 'Oh, Obama could never be elected because he's half-black. You know, 'cause we're just such a racist country.' What are they talking about? He wouldn't be running for president if he weren't half-black. He'd be [Sen.] Dick Durbin [D-IL] with less experience."

Coulter, who repeatedly referred to the Illinois senator as “B. Hussein Obama” in an effort to discredit him as an alleged closet Muslim, is a racist and an anti-Semite. The team of Clinton and Clinton are not. However, their injection of race into the campaign, and their efforts to paint Obama as the “black candidate,” reveals for the umpteenth time the cynicism, selfishness and ruthlessness deep in the heart of “Billary.”

This time the narcissism backfired. It is impossible to predict the end result of the Democratic primaries, but Mr. Clinton – reputedly the most gifted politician of our age – and Sen. Clinton deserve as much credit as anyone for Obama’s crushing success in South Carolina, his strong showing on Super Tuesday, and his eight-contest winning streak the past month. The Clintons showed an unlikable side to their personalities, a win-at-all costs ambition forgotten because the past seven years under George W. Bush have been so relentlessly awful.

African American voters recoiled first, but increasingly white men, the elderly, and even white women have also had an unpleasant reminder of Clinton-style politics. Some Democrats have a hazy fondness for the Clinton administration, which occurred during a 1990s high-tech bubble that artificially pumped up the economy but proved as damaging as the sub-prime lending crisis. Some are nostalgic for the higher wages and happier job market that reigned under the Man from Hope. In any case, many retain a sympathy for the Clintons because of the hypocritical Republican witch trial during the manufactured Monica Lewinsky scandal. These good feelings are largely undeserved.

I’m not sure why so many Democrats are so fond of the Clintons. The Clinton era (1993-2001) marked a period of defeat and retreat for the Democratic Party. When Bill Clinton became president, the Democrats controlled the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, and most of the statehouses in the country. It took only two years of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s political bungling on gays in the military, taxes on the middle class, and healthcare for the Democrats to become a minority party from sea to shining sea.

We should have known what would happen. While running for president in 1992, Bill Clinton proved that he was no soft-on-crime Democrat by signing the death warrant on a convicted killer who was so severely retarded that he asked to eat his last meal at some time after his execution was scheduled.

Through their co-presidency, Clinton and Clinton sold out every key Democratic constituency. Clinton betrayed one group of loyal voter by caving in to right-wing Republican homophobes on the issue of gay men and women openly serving in the military. Clinton then abandoned the middle class voters who had supported his candidacy in part due to his tax cut promises. Hillary Clinton then showed a complete lack of guts, and rather than advocating a single-payer health care system, she created a mish-mash proposal, hammered together with limited public input, too complex to understand and which made no one happy.

Bill then stabbed in the back labor unions through his alliance with Newt Gingrich and other conservative Republicans in getting the NAFTA “free-trade” agreement passed. Clinton embraced a policy that has almost destroyed the Mexican economy and has bled quality American blue and white-collar jobs. All this was done so that we might trade with partners who reward us by selling us lead-lined toys. Clinton also betrayed the poor and the many African Americans and Mexican Americans living in poverty with an onerous “welfare to work” law which did nothing to provide the underclass a living wage.

After the Clintons managed to demolish Democratic majorities in the Congress and in most of the country’s state legislatures and governor’s mansions, Bill Clinton decided to save his own political skin at the further expense of his party. The Clintonian “triangulation” strategy has been much discussed, but what needs to be emphasized is the degree to which this strategy harmed the Democratic Party at large.

Clinton posed himself as the “moderate” navigating and negotiating with right-wing Republicans and left-wing Democrats. He essentially painted himself as the sole sane voice in a sea of extreme ideologues. That tactic got Bill re-elected in 1996, but it did nothing to promote a winning progressive coalition that could overturn the new conservative hegemony in Washington.

With Hillary Clinton, it’s a case of déjà vu all over again. As senator, she surrendered to President Bush in voting for the authorization of the Iraq War. She sold out when Bush asked for a green light to attack Iran whenever he deems it necessary. She again gave Bush what he wanted, and helped shred the Bill of Rights in the process, by voting for the 2001 Patriot Act, which gave the White House widespread discretion to spy on Americans. In spite of the obvious threat to due process and other civil rights posed by this law, Clinton cratered to Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney again, voting to renew the Patriot Act in 2006.

As First Lady, she opposed a heartless bankruptcy bill that would strip protections from families sliding into bankruptcy because of a catastrophic illness, unemployment, or other hardships. In the 1990s, bankruptcy laws had required that divorced husbands first pay alimony and child support before getting to credit card payments and other debts due financial institutions. A Republican-backed bankruptcy bill was introduced that would give the claims of usurious credit card companies and banks the same priority as the financial obligations a father owes his children. President Clinton, to his credit, vetoed the bill just before leaving office in January 2001.

Meanwhile, Hillary became a senatorial candidate in 2000 and she received $210,000 in campaign contributions from finance and credit companies, commercial banks and credit unions, according to the Center for Public Responsiveness. Hillary then voted for a new bankruptcy bill almost identical to the one she previously opposed and her husband vetoed. The bill failed to become law. Now, as she’s running for president, she said although she supported this cruel legislation, she’s glad the bill didn’t pass. Pardon me while I scratch my head and try to summon the ghost of Franklin Roosevelt.

Meanwhile, a bankruptcy bill came up again in 2005 and this time it passed. Clinton was a no-show during the vote for a legitimate reason – her husband was having heart surgery – but it is hardly a profile in courage to claim she was opposed to the law when she wasn’t present for the roll call.

Included among the victims of this predatory legislation are the families of soldiers sent to the Iraq War Hillary Clinton supported before she was against it. According to the General Accounting Office, about 16,000 active duty members of the U.S. military file for bankruptcy each year. So many men and women dodging bullets in Iraq are members of the National Guard, or are in the reserve, and have been taken away from better-paying stateside jobs. Sent on extended, multiple tours, these troops have often been rewarded for their bravery and patriotism with a pink slip from their employers because of their lengthy absences.

The GI Protection Amendment, sponsored by Democratic senators Dick Durbin, Mary Landrieu, and Evan Bayh, would have shielded soldiers from losing their homes to creditors while deployed overseas, and also provided financial protections to the spouses of servicemen killed in action. The bill failed and most Republicans, who pose as supporters of the troops, voted against it. Clinton supported this measure, but these military families would not have been pushed into financial disaster had the New York senator consistently and firmly opposed an evil bill bought and paid for by the credit card lobby.

Yes, if Hillary Clinton got elected president, she would be ready on day one – to abandon the poor, the middle class, and union members who supported her on the way to the White House. She is by no means evil, and often is well intentioned. But like her husband, she is selfish. We’ve had enough egocentricity in the White House for the past 15 years. Fortunately, the mask is falling off. Sincere thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Clinton. You helped make Obama an electoral juggernaut.

Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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