Our Political System, Not Hillary, Is the Problem

Hillary ClintonMatt 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.

Matt TaibbiAnd 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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Our Political System, Not Hillary, Is the Problem

  1. People have excoriated the Clintons for changing their style and their behavior in response to “polls and focus groups.” I see that as a good thing. A President Hillary Clinton seems like the type who would respond to direct action in the way that Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson were. Labor rights and civil rights had to be won and the best hope is to have a President in the White House who is willing to be pressured and willing to accommodate. Marching in Ferguson and fighting for $15 are probably the blueprint for liberalism in America going forward.

    With that said, I would prefer someone more liberal than Hillary Clinton in the White House. My biggest problem with Hillary Clinton serving one or two terms is that it will be very tough to get Progressive Democrat elected after her. To the extent that we still have some genuine swing voters; white, middle aged, middle income hardhats, salary men and housewives in Ohio and Florida and Virginia, I wonder what we tell them in in 2024. Are we to say, well, we have had Democrats in the White House for the last 16 years, your wages are stagnant or declining, you have few savings, your adult child are unemployed and deep in debt and you have no job security, so vote for another Democratic president in 2024!

    I doubt that our lower middle information voter will care to listen to the fact that Obama and Clinton were insipid neo-liberals or that the Congress was controlled by Republicans. I also would not even be all that upset if our Ohioan voted for a Republican in 2024. Sure the 2024 candidate will advocate trickle down Economics and more war but the 2024 will be be handsome, erudite and will have an exciting new name for high end tax cuts, perhaps “dynamic revenue reequilibration.”

    My main objection to the Clinton is that unless we put major pressure on her and the rest of the political establishment, she will do absolutely nothing of consequence and 12 or 16 years of Democrats in the White House will amount to almost nothing (and you know that the one big accomplishment, Obamacare, will amount to zero political capital. If it fails, it is a stain on all Democrats; if it ultimately succeeds, it will just be another successful program that is taken for granted). I understand that Clinton would act as a bulwark against Republican machinations but I also fear that 16 years of wishy washy liberalism will act as a launching pad for a truly odious and evil conservative in 2020 or 2024.

    • That’s right. The main thing is to have a politician who wants to please the right people. Ted Cruz would want to please the crazies and that’s why I don’t want him — or any other Republican — to be president. The question remains how much Clinton wants to please the American worker and how much she wants to please the American hedge fund manager.

      I already feel that way after eight years of Obama. I think he’s been an okay president. But the opportunity cost has been huge. We had a financial crisis in which too big to fail banks had to be bailed out. And now they are even bigger. Meanwhile, millions lost their homes while the rich only got richer. There is no doubt that there is a huge opportunity cost to Clinton in the White House. But what is the option? I would vote for just about any Democrat over her. But she’s super popular with Democratic voters. I can live with her in the White House.

      I wouldn’t worry too much, though. The truth is that we don’t know what’s going to happen. In the 1964 election, the Republicans were crushed. But they came back big in 1968. And then, with Watergate, they seemed to be done for. But just five years later we got Reagan. Of course, maybe that’s the way it works. Nothing will stop the Republicans and the smallest of things will stop the Democrats. I don’t know. Truthfully, my biggest concern is that a Democrat win in 2016, so that if Ginsburg dies, she won’t be replaced with a radical conservative. Otherwise, we’ll be screwed for the next 50 years.

    • Colin — I completely agree. In 2008 I was for Hillary over Obama precisely because Hillary seems like a politician who blows with the prevailing wind. Obama was then and is now a staunch neoliberal, he’s almost principled about it. I could see Hillary changing her policies because of public pressure. Not Obama.

      The tough part there is making sure we actually have public pressure on a hypothetical new president. Not gonna be easy, but there are people trying to do this. We can be a teensy bit hopeful!

      • This reminds me of an episode of This American Life, “Swing Set” just before the 2004 general election. Ezra Glass was having this conversation with this supposed swing voting doctor who normally voted Republican but hated George W Bush. The doctor kept making this claim that he disagreed with Bush and agreed with Kerry on the issues. But he was inclined to vote for Bush because he thought Bush really believed in the policies whereas Kerry was just trying to please the public. Got that: the doctor was voting for Bush because he believed that Bush really stood for those policies that the doctor hated. That’s just madness. And of course, it isn’t even true. Bush was every bit as big a panderer as Kerry.

        That issue was on my mind when I wrote this. I really don’t care what Hillary Clinton thinks deep down. The truth is that presidents stick pretty tightly to what they campaign on. She’s campaigning on campaigning finance reform at the moment. Does she really believe it? I don’t care!

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