Buying Influence from Hillary Clinton: The Perils of Oversimplification

I think we are rather missing a major point about money in politics, at least in the United States.

Our politicians, by and large, are not taking campaign donations to order to personally enrich themselves. It's simply not a very efficient way to get wealthy in America. If you are willing to spend all of that time and energy dialing for dollars and exhibiting the stamina of a warhorse in campaigning, you would be far better off in the private sector. Not to mention, there are more than a few corrupt politicians who are rotting in prison because they got too personally greedy. Why take that kind of risk when the same commitment to sheer unbridled capitalism would be much more rewarding?

It's true that the revolving door means that almost any Congressman can expect to lead a very comfortable life as a lobbyist after leaving office. But most enter office with money, and those who don't know they can make far more doing far less tedious jobs. Getting rich is simply not their primary motivation. They raise so much money for their campaigns as a means to an end- to get in office and remain there.

It's about power. This is the seductive nectar every politician finds irresistible. Sometimes this ego-driven desire for agency is in the service of a grand and admirable vision for a more humane and fair society; sometimes it is far more about status. I think Obama is an excellent example of someone operating from an idealistic desire to improve the world, and Donald Trump is his exact opposite - pathologically obsessed with personal aggrandizement. But both have one thing in common - they're not really in it for the money.

And neither is Hillary Clinton. If that's what made her tick, she would have abjured becoming Secretary of State and simply continued to rake it in on the corporate speaking circuit. To boot she could have led a much more pleasant and less grueling existence teaching a class or two at an Ivy League University and cutting ribbons for the Clinton Global Initiative. But clearly, a comfy existence holds very little interest for HRC. (Nor for Bernie either, certainly.)

To my mind, it's pretty clear she's raised/accepted as much money as she has because she had every reason to believe that in the era of $1 billion presidential campaigns, a huge war chest represents a sine qua non to becoming President. Trump and Sanders both, in opposite ways, may yet prove that to not necessarily be the case, but can you really fault her for operating from that premise from the day she put together an exploratory committee?

Sanders has asked innumerable times why X, Y, and Z industry would contribute to a campaign without the expectation of something in return. He's not wrong, but what is that "something?" As Trump has pointed out (accurately, I hate to say), you're buying the minimum guarantee that a victorious candidate will take your calls. But access to an airing of your views hardly means you get what you want anymore. In the era of Citizens United, the perversely beneficial effect of so much money from so many entities is that the actual power of each contributor is diluted.

Yes, I'm making the shocking assertion that by saying yes to everybody, Hillary Clinton can afford to say no to anybody.

Of course it's a stunning accomplishment that Bernie Sanders has outflanked the Super Pac system and been fueled by the $27 contributor, and it's unquestionable that he has never been interested in personally getting rich. (I don't even think he plays golf.) But what's going to happen if he gets the nomination? Where is all of that money going to go when those presently willing to give it to Hillary know it won't even get them an answered phone call in a Sanders administration? In fact, can we even hope for a Sanders administration if his campaign budget is $200 million as opposed to $800 million for the GOP? (Just because money can't buy a victory doesn't mean that its lack can't make it much less likely.)

Which begs the question: If Hillary is taking this corporate money not to grant favors, but as a means to an end, what's the point of that end? Why does she want to be President, basically? What exactly does she want to do with that power?

I just don't buy the depiction of her on the Sanderisian left as someone who wakes up in the morning revved up by a Lady Macbethian ambition and a desire to advance an agenda that will make her corporate donors even greater Masters of the Universe. I think she is happy to take their money if it gets her to a place where she is most likely to achieve what she insists she wants to achieve - a more democratic and peaceful world, arresting climate change, equality for women, universal healthcare, an expanding middle class, a decline in poverty, a less racist and fairer criminal justice system etc. Denmark writ large, basically. Very much the same vision as Bernie Sanders, ironically.

We can argue about how much past is prologue, or to what degree she's been irrevocably influenced by admission into the world of the 1%. But to believe that she has been bought and paid for by campaign contributors means that you believe that she would consciously pursue policies in defense of the status quo even if she knew it would mean more war, more poverty, more inequality, more climate change and so on.

You don't have to be in denial about her flaws to be unable to imagine that's why Hillary Clinton wants to be President.