Bernie Sanders has been called a lot of things by the Hillary Clinton campaign and its assorted hench-people. But “king”? That’s a new one, to say the least.
New and unexpected, considering the source: Chelsea Clinton, only child of the Clinton dynasty — which, besides the Bushes, is as close to a political royal family as exists in the US today.
For decades, the Clintons have epitomized political influence, money, and power — which they defend and extend by any and all means, including unprincipled attacks on their opponents.
And now, Chelsea Clinton is taking her turn at the family business.
Recently, Sanders — the self-described democratic socialist whose campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination is upsetting the Clinton apple cart — referenced the horrific incarceration rates in the US during campaign speeches. Sanders has promised that if he is elected president, by the end of his first term in 2020, he will make sure the US no longer has the highest number of its citizens languishing behind bars.
That stance won him the support of Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who was choked to death by a New York City police officer for selling loose cigarettes. Her powerful endorsement of Sanders spread across the Internet this month.
You might think the Clinton team would leave alone a decent sentiment like not wanting to lead the world in incarceration, however vague Sanders was about how he would accomplish this. But you’d be wrong. Chelsea Clinton had this to say about Sanders’s aspiration to slow the epidemic of mass incarceration: “We are not electing a king, we are electing a president.”
Saying that she was “worried” about Sanders’ plan, Clinton argued, “We need someone who understands what they have to do in the job [as president] but also in partnership with Congress, governors and mayors. My mother understands how the government works.”
Chelsea’s right. Her mother does know how government works — and for millions of people gravitating to Sanders, that’s exactly the problem.
She played a central role in winning support for President Bill Clinton’s crime bills in 1994 and 1996 — the first of which then-Representative Bernie Sanders supported, it’s worth noting — that required mandatory sentencing guidelines, accelerated spending on prisons, and put more police on the streets. In 1994, Hillary Clinton told a room of police officers: “We will be able to say, loudly and clearly, that for repeat, violent, criminal offenders — three strikes and you’re out. We are tired of putting you back in through the revolving door.”
So Hillary Clinton plays a central role in the presidential administration that kicked the era of mass incarceration into overdrive — and now she wants us to believe that she and Bill have had a change of heart and want to end the worst abuses of the system.
The modus operandi of the Clinton dynasty has been the same for decades: mouth liberal rhetoric during the party primaries, while standing for policies and politics that fall far short of the talk.
But Chelsea Clinton is breaking new ground in cynicism. In a 2014 Fast Company interview, she described how she went from job to job before settling in to the “family business.” Those jobs included a hedge fund analyst and NBC News special correspondent, before she landed a nice position at . . . the Clinton Foundation.
“I was curious if I could care about [money] on some fundamental level, and I couldn’t,” Clinton told Fast Company. It was a fascinating glimpse at the level of arrogant entitlement among those at the top of US society.
Actually, Chelsea’s talk about “trying to care about money” echoes something her mother said a few years ago. On a book tour for Hard Choices in 2014, Clinton described the family’s “money troubles.”
“We came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt,” Clinton told ABC News’s Diane Sawyer, as she led the news anchor through the family’s $5 million Washington home. “We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.”
The Clintons are so comfortably ensconced in money, power, and privilege that they don’t even hear how ensconced in money, power, and privilege they sound when they talk out loud.
The dynasty has had it both ways for decades. Early on, Bill Clinton crafted his image as “the man from Hope” while covering up his record of gutting public education and welfare spending as governor of Arkansas. He was the pro-corporate, social-safety-net-shredding candidate cloaked in populist rhetoric.
And now Chelsea Clinton is following the same path in appearances for her mother’s presidential campaign. Last month, she went after Sanders for his support of universal, single-payer health care, claiming that if Sanders got his way, he would dismantle Medicare. That was a patent lie — after all, Sanders often describes his preferred single-payer system as “Medicare for all.” But the Clintons were calculating that they could sow confusion by claiming that Sanders opposed the inadequate Obamacare system in place today.
It’s not just Chelsea, of course. Bill Clinton has also been set loose.
In New Hampshire, he donned a plaid shirt to decry the Sanders campaign as “hermetically sealed” and dishonest. He bitterly denounced Sanders and his supporters for their “personal attacks” on his wife, including the claim that she is part of the Washington establishment. Last week in Florida, he even compared Sanders partisans to Tea Party supporters in the Republican Party.
The real problem, however, is that for many people, the Sanders campaign represents something that the Clinton campaign never will be — a rejection of the miserable political and economic status quo.
Hillary Clinton is a savvy enough politician to recognize that she needs to shift left for at least the Democratic primary campaign. This week, for example, she warned an Illinois audience of the dangers of returning to the “robber baron” days.
But the people who will cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election aren’t stupid. They know Clinton has probably the strongest support from Wall Street of any presidential contender, Democrat or Republican. It’s clearer than ever to millions of people that Clinton isn’t part of the solution to the Washington status quo — she is the status quo.
That’s true when it comes to mass incarceration, too. Clinton claims she now sees the error of her husband’s ways, with his 1990s crime bills and law-and-order pandering — and so does Bill, for that matter. Of course, we wouldn’t be hearing anything of the sort without the mass protests in the streets in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, and many other cities in response to the epidemic of police murder.
Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, captured the dynamic in a must-read Nation article titled “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote”:
Bill says that he “overshot the mark” with his crime policies; and Hillary has put forth a plan to ban racial profiling, eliminate the sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine, and abolish private prisons, among other measures.
But what about a larger agenda that would not just reverse some of the policies adopted during the Clinton era, but would rebuild the communities decimated by them? If you listen closely here, you’ll notice that Hillary Clinton is still singing the same old tune in a slightly different key. She is arguing that we ought not be seduced by Bernie’s rhetoric because we must be “pragmatic,” “face political realities,” and not get tempted to believe that we can fight for economic justice and win.
When politicians start telling you that it is “unrealistic” to support candidates who want to build a movement for greater equality, fair wages, universal health care and an end to corporate control of our political system, it’s probably best to leave the room.
As for the Sanders campaign, Alexander made a valuable point in a subsequent comment on Facebook:
I do not endorse Bernie Sanders, as a candidate, because I do not believe the Democratic Party can be saved from itself, and therefore, I will not endorse any Democratic candidate. But I believe it is critically important that he is helping to build a popular consensus in favor of political revolution. I endorse the revolution.
If history is any guide, the Democratic Party establishment will find a way to mute the uprising now taking place and regain control for its anointed candidate.
But even if that happens, it won’t change the fact that huge numbers of people are demonstrating their unwillingness to go along with politics as usual and the stagnant two-party system. They’re tired of Washington’s “The king is dead, long live the king” politics.