Matt Taibbi wrote a very good rant on Thursday, Campaign 2016: Hillary Clinton’s Fake Populism Is a Hit. But I’m not sure he’s quite right to write off Clinton as a fake populist. I think the arguments against her could have been levied against FDR. Now I’m not saying that Clinton will actually turn against her class once she is president. In fact, I don’t think she will. She seems to be a total neoliberal, and if she wins the presidency, she will be the third New Democratic president we’ve had in a row. And sadly, in as much as the American voter notices, it doesn’t seem to care.
The real problem is buried in one thing that Taibbi focused on: the carried interest loophole — that bit of the tax code that allows people literally making billions of dollars to pay only a 15% tax rate. He commented facetiously, “Raise your hand if you really think that Hillary Clinton is going to repeal the carried interest tax break.” Anyone raising their hand it a complete idiot. As he noted, Obama promised to get rid of this loophole in 2008. And 2012. Yet the loophole has been around for thirty years. It ain’t going nowhere.
And the reason is clear as day. There are rich people who benefit greatly from this loophole. Some of them give massive amounts of money to the Republicans and some give massive amounts of money to the Democrats. And no national politician is going to forego that money that benefits them directly to do something that would be good and fair for the country as a whole. Now if the electorate stands up and demands something be done, it will be. Or if the electorate stands up and demands that we get money out of politics, it will be done. But otherwise: forget about it.
I’m tired of hearing about the “invisible primary.” Why don’t we just call it what it is: the money primary. The mainstream media is so corrupt that they define a “viable” candidate to be one that is able to raise a lot of money. But here is something that is almost never mention: money doesn’t matter that much in the general election. Jonathan Bernstein recently wrote, “Believe it or not, general-election presidential campaigns are where political spending matters the least.” So we’ve been sold this bill of goods about the importance of money. But all that does is give people with a lot of money that much more influence over our politics. Thank you, neutral press corps!
Just the same, I don’t agree with Taibbi’s larger point. I don’t mind Clinton’s pandering. The fact that she is reciting a “medley of Elizabeth Warren’s greatest stump hits” is a good thing. As Ezra Klein has written a lot about in the past, what politicians say really does matter. The fact that she is talking in a more populist way doesn’t mean she will get rid of carried interest loophole. (And even if she wanted to, I’m not sure Congress would go along.) But it does mean she is more likely to be somewhat more populist and somewhat less neoliberal than she would have been had she won in 2008. The problem is the system, not Hillary Clinton.