Why did Bill and Hilary Clinton actually achieve so little, despite a quarter century atop American politics? A. They just like talking. B. Can’t deliver. C. System won’t let them.
Looking over the past quarter century, the political record of the two Clintons (for they always came as a pair) has been anything but impressive
An unsavory truth
This is a remarkable finding. After all, the two Clintons never lacked in ambition since they first hit the national and international stage over a quarter century ago. Nor did they lack plenty of time and opportunity to show their political wares and skills. Having 25 years in the top rung of American politics is a lot.
Three unsavory explanations
When it comes to assessing the two Clintons’ political record, there are only three logical choices:
Option 1: The Clintons never meant what they said — and just wanted to get elected (to enrich themselves grossly via speechifying after holding public office).
Option 2: The Clintons never harbored any such cynical intentions and really meant at all times what they said. They just proved politically incapable of executing much of anything they had advertised.
In retrospect, this would make them the “impotents” of American politics, taking the American people for a ride (while either being effectively hijacked by the Republicans or selling out to Republicans voluntarily).
Option 3: The poor political outcomes are truly none of the two Clintons’ fault. For all their shortcomings, they did try as hard as they could.
Their failure, in that interpretation, is due to the inner workings of the American political system. It is set up in such a manner that meaningful, transformative reforms can ever see the light of day.
Here is the real upshot: For independent voters – and this was the key source of Hillary Clinton’s electoral trouble in 2016 – the actual answer to which of these three questions is the correct one basically did not matter.
Why? None of them provided a real argument for her to be elected.
The road from 1992: Haven’t we seen this movie before
The evidence for this assertion loomed big right before all of our eyes during the 2016 campaign. We have just chosen not to look at it.
If you looked just at some of the main talking points of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, her second Presidential campaign, you would be forgiven for thinking that she ran mostly on the very same messages (aka political goals) as her husband Bill did back in 1992.
- Cut taxes for the middle class! And make the rich pay their fair share!
- Better education at every level! American workers can get training and retraining throughout their careers!
- America can achieve a high-skill, high wage economy!
- Tough, effective trade laws!
- Research and development for emerging technologies.
In case you wondered: Without exception, those five statements are excerpted verbatim from a 1992 campaign brochure for Bill Clinton.
Washing their hands of responsibility
These messages may still have sounded good for 2016. There was just one little problem: Who has been in power for the past 25 or so years?
With the exception of the eight unspeakable years under George W. Bush, the war monger, for 16 years it was the Clintons who ruled. The Democratic Party apparatus was firmly under their sway, even during the Obama years.
It’s about self-enrichment, stupid!
The Clintons have been masterful at turning politics into a personal business opportunity. They did not just aid and abet, but steered the process of the financialization of American society.
And it isn’t just Bill Clinton (or Hillary) who gave extremely highly paid speeches, usually to rich people or business audiences, usually to regale them with exhortations calling on rich Americans to create a fairer society.
Joe Stiglitz and Larry Summers, to name two “brilliant” economists, are always keen to do the same thing. They were part and parcel of the Clinton machine’s inequality-boosting policy apparatus – and then went on to write books and give mega-honorarium speeches, preferably to lament inequality trends in the United States.
Their “brilliance” lies in enriching themselves through the maldevelopments in society and the economy, which they either helped engineer, or were hapless bystanders to provide “liberal” intellectual cover for.
What a brilliant business model that is: First you mischievously but very deliberately create more unfairness – and then you give speeches to lament it.
This charade ably served two purposes:
1. The Clintons have long performed a quasi-religious rhetorical act, in which they castigate trends in American society, but are studiously silent on the question of who’s done it.
2. The people sitting in the audience take in the speech by whichever Clinton celebrates in front of them like that of a high priest puts on rather special performance act. That act is to castigate the rich for their own sins (and inducing them to expect catharsis from merely listening to the act).
The answer to the three-pronged riddle
In case you wonder about the answer to the question posed at the outset: The answer is a combination of the three.
- 60% answer 3 (it’s due to the structures of the U.S. political system)
- 30% answer 2 (Clintons aren’t that capable)
- 10% answer 1 (the Clintons were never serious about reforms)
That is not to say that the Clintons haven’t been effective. If they had run on a moderate Republican Party ticket, their record would be indeed quite solid.