In her new book What Happened? Hillary Clinton goes after Bernie Sanders with a vengeance. She claims that:
- Bernie is a snake oil salesman who makes preposterous promises;
- That he is partly responsible for Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” mantra; and
- That he is not a real Democrat and doesn’t really care about the party’s success.
So much for party unity in a time of peril.
Bernie, the Deranged Hitch-hiker, Promising Beautiful Abs?
Hillary ridicules Bernie for promising big, and in her opinion, unrealistic programs. To make her point she describes a scene from the movie, There’s Something About Mary:
A deranged hitch-hiker comes up with a brilliant plan. Instead of the famous “8 minute abs”exercise routine, he’s going to market “seven minute abs....” The driver played by Ben Stiller, says, “Why not six minute abs?” That’s what it was like in policy debates with Bernie. We would propose a bold infrastructure plan or ambitious new apprentice program for young people and Bernie would announce basically the same thing but bigger. One issue after the other it was like he kept promising four minute abs, or even no minute abs. Magic abs.
So what did Bernie, the “deranged hitch-hiker” offer?
- While Hillary wanted to tinker with Obamacare and continue its dependence on the private insurance industry, Bernie called for single-payer Medicare for All which would eliminate insurance industry involvement.
- While Hillary wanted to tighten a few bank regulations, Bernie called for the breakup of big banks, something she claimed was unnecessary.
- While Hillary offered a complex scheme that would reduce the cost of higher education for some lower income students, Bernie called for free higher education for all.
This was not “the same thing but bigger.” Rather, Sanders was, and still is, offering an entirely different vision for the relationship between financial elites and the American people. This is nothing new for Bernie, who for decades has been calling for social democratic policies much like those in northern Europe where higher education and health care are public goods, largely funded with hefty taxes on the wealthy.
In contrast, Hillary argued that for the most part the established order is working well for the American people. That’s why she was totally unprepared when Bernie’s perennial radical message hit home as most Americans became increasingly upset about Wall Street and runaway inequality. Hillary can’t admit the obvious: She shifted her positions in Bernie’s direction as her campaign saw how well those issues resonated in the primaries.
Bernie Created Crooked Hillary?
Because we agreed on so much, Bernie couldn’t make an argument against me in this area on policy, so he had to resort to innuendo and impugning my character. Some of his supporters, the so-called Bernie Bros, took to harassing my supporters on line. It got ugly and more than a little sexist. When I finally challenged Bernie during a debate to name a single time I changed a position because of a financial contribution, he couldn’t come up with anything. Nevertheless his attacks caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressive in the general election and paving the way for Trump’s ‘Crooked Hillary’ campaign.
This troubling passage should have been nixed by her editors. First it restates the delusional claim that Bernie could not make a substantive argument against her and therefore he had to resort to “innuendo and impugning” her character. Then, she impugns his character by implying that his campaign was somehow “more than a little sexist” because of what a very tiny fraction of his supporters said to her supporters. Then she purposely conflates her emails/server problem with her Wall Street problem. She seems to have conveniently forgotten that the “Lock her up” chant flowed from Trump’s attack on her emails, not her Wall Street speeches.
As we all know, Sanders took the email issue off the primary table when in their first debate he famously said, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!”
But taking $675,000 from Goldman Sachs for three speeches was indeed a major point of contention: “If Secretary Clinton gets paid $225,000 for each individual speech to Wall Street and Goldman Sachs, then those must be some great speeches! And if they’re so great, then she really ought to let us see them,” Sanders said repeatedly.
Written Like a True Wall Street Democrat
The paid speeches issue is not about “Crooked Hillary.” Rather it’s about the soul of the Democratic Party. It sets up a gigantic litmus test that divides the party into two kinds of people ― those who think it’s OK to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars from Wall Street, and those who think that’s a very bad idea. Actually the divide is even more fundamental: It’s between those who believe that runaway inequality is not that much of a problem and those who see it as a core issue of what ails our society.
Hillary just can’t believe that anyone could possibly think that taking that money from Wall Street would change her positions. She is absolutely correct because she already agrees with the fundamental premises that allow Wall Street to flourish at our expense. The Clintons deregulated Wall Street with great passion. They saw nothing wrong with helping big banks, hedge funds and private equity companies grow even bigger and more reckless. Instead they viewed Wall Street as a major engine of prosperity for America. Even the great crash of 2007-08 didn’t really change their perceptions.
Furthermore, Hillary and Bill see nothing wrong at all with making lots of money as quickly as possible. Their fortunes increased by more than $100 million since Bill left office. And Hillary raked in more than $9 million in speeches since she left the Obama administration.
Hillary gladly accepted $225,000 a speech from Wall Street ― nearly five times what the average worker makes in a year ― because she believed it was her due. She and Bill went to law school with many who are now financial elites. They are socially entwined. It just never dawned on Hillary that it might be bad optics to take all that money from Wall Street after its billionaires crashed our economy.
She is not alone. The Democratic Party is loaded with players whose primary goal in life is to do well by doing good. Yes, they have sympathy with progressive causes, but they care as much if not more about getting richer and richer.
Bernie and his supporters are far more suspicious of wealth accumulators and their enablers. They see our government as catering to the rich and contributing mightily to runaway inequality. This isn’t just a little problem that can be wished away by removing barriers to upward mobility, reducing student loan rates and instituting profitable public/private partnerships in poor communities. Runaway inequality is a core problem that is totally entwined with racial justice and rural/urban poverty. It must be reversed through programs that halt the financial strip-mining of our economy by moving money from Wall Street to Main Street like financial transaction taxes, ending the carried interest loophole, instituting public banks and a wide array of anti-Wall Street policies that corporate Democrats detest.
Instead, Hillary and the Democrats are conveniently convinced that you must take Wall Street money in order to compete. Here’s her justification: “There’s always a danger of spending too much time courting donors because of our insane campaign finance system.” She makes no mention that even within that “insane” system, Bernie out-raised her with millions of donations averaging $27.
Bernie is a Socialist, not a Democrat!
Hillary is quite aware of the fundamental divide between Bernie’s attack on runaway inequality and the party’s elite entanglements. She knows that he and his minions do not want a party that is a stepping stone for wealth enhancement for the few. That may be why she seems more than ready to expel them from the Democratic Party:
“But he isn’t a Democrat ― that’s not a smear. That’s what he says. He didn’t get into the race to make sure a Democrat wins the White House, he got in to disrupt the Democratic Party.”
Hillary is absolutely correct. The goal of progressives should be to disrupt the Democratic Party. We need a party that can fight against runaway inequality rather than enhance and profit from it. We need to a party free from enabling financial and corporate elites. We need a party that relies solely on contributions from the many and not the wealthy few. Unless that happens soon, the Democrats will continue to fail.
Why Attack the Berniecrats now?
Obviously Hillary is not interested in playing patty-cake for the sake of party unity in the Age of Trump. Screw that. She has accounts to settle.
Surely she and her confidents knew that these passages would anger Bernie’s followers. It would make us even less likely to want anything to do with a political party controlled by her wing. And that I believe is her point. She wants to purge the trouble-makers. She longs for the days when she and Bill could dine with Alan Greenspan and the super rich, and no one noticed or cared. But the financial crash, Occupy Wall Street, Elizabeth Warren and then Bernie and his passionate followers put enormous pressure on the cozy relations between Democratic officials and financial elites.
As Hillary makes clear, it is much easier to attack the radical reformers than to institute radical reforms.
Les Leopold is the author of Runaway Inequality: An Activist Guide to Economic Justice. Currently he is helping to organize a national network of runaway inequality trainers. He invites you to sign-up at runawayinequality.org