As the Democratic primary heats up, there's some debate over the definition of the term "progressive." Some of Hillary Clinton's most ardent supporters use this term to describe the former First Lady, senator, and Secretary of State. For evidence, they point to her history as a a feminist icon whose groundbreaking women's rights speech in Beijing, and fight for universal health care made her a household name. Others, like Joan Walsh of The Nation, have gone even farther to suggest the Clinton isn't just a progressive, but a socialist as well.
But let's clear something up: Hillary Clinton is no progressive; she and the New Democrats were barely even Democrats to begin with. Their rise to power in the 90s came at the price of embracing the laissez-faire economics and racial politics of the Reagan Revolution.
This isn't to say she's a Republican, at least not when compared to the current breed of Republicans (she'd fit in with Reagan and Bush Sr.), but to hear people laud her as a progressive is absurdity at its worst, and is belied by how the Clintons "play the game".
Though she claims that no donation has ever made her reconsider or change her position, from Wall Street to fossil fuels to foreign nations, those who donate to Hillary Clinton or the Clinton Foundation seem to fare better under her watch.
The Clinton Administration did more for the banks and Wall Street than perhaps any presidential administration in the history of the United States. As part of the third way platform, the New Democrats and the Clintons had adopted Reagan's economics. The 1990's saw three major pieces of financial deregulation: the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994 that allowed interstate banking; the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 that eliminated the Glass-Steagall, New Deal Era regulation prohibiting the merger of commercial and investment banks; and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 that deregulated derivatives and swaps.
The end result of these laws, according to the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, was the rise of too-big-to-fail financial institutions, and of course, the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.
There is evidence that, at least to some extent, Hillary Clinton, at the time, was more moderate than Bill. In 2000, after meeting with Elizabeth Warren, she fought against, and convinced her husband to veto a bankruptcy bill. However, she did vote for the bill's clone when she became a Senator, and "represented Wall Street."
Since that time, Hillary Clinton has received millions of dollars in speaking fees from Wall Street, stating "That's what they offered" (when in reality that's what she charged); she won't release the transcripts of her paid Wall Street speeches; she won the endorsement of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein in 2008, and his tacit support this time around; she and her affiliated superPACs have received huge donations from Wall Street financial institutions including banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, and the law firms representing them--throughout her career, these are her biggest donors.
Clinton has pushed back against criticisms of her relationship with Wall Street insisting that in 2007, she told them to "cut it out." However, ProPublica has found the incident to which she refers, and her tough retrospective talk does not exactly match the video.
Clinton gave a shout-out to her "wonderful donors" in the audience, and asked the bankers to voluntarily suspend foreclosures and freeze interest rates on adjustable subprime mortgages. She praised Wall Street for its role in creating the nation's wealth, then added that "too many American families are not sharing" in that prosperity.
She said the brewing economic troubles weren't mainly the fault of banks, "not by a long shot," but added they needed to shoulder responsibility for their role.
Clinton did threaten to propose legislation if Wall Street did not comply, and she did in fact follow through on her threat. However, none of her five attempts gained traction, and when a broad housing bill did become law in 2008, she was not among the "more than dozen senators credited by party leaders as playing a key role."
And then there is the questionable case of the private equity tax break. Clinton had publicly decried the tax break during her campaign for president, and in 2007, a bill came up that would have ended it. She declined to sign on.
But perhaps the most damning incident is the UBS bank affair which was first reported by Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, and then by The Atlantic:
The piece begins by detailing how Clinton helped the global bank.
"A few weeks after Hillary Clinton was sworn in as secretary of state in early 2009, she was summoned to Geneva by her Swiss counterpart to discuss an urgent matter. The Internal Revenue Service was suing UBS AG to get the identities of Americans with secret accounts," the newspaper reports. "If the case proceeded, Switzerland's largest bank would face an impossible choice: Violate Swiss secrecy laws by handing over the names, or refuse and face criminal charges in U.S. federal court. Within months, Mrs. Clinton announced a tentative legal settlement--an unusual intervention by the top U.S. diplomat. UBS ultimately turned over information on 4,450 accounts, a fraction of the 52,000 sought by the IRS."
Then reporters James V. Grimaldi and Rebecca Ballhaus lay out how UBS helped the Clintons. "Total donations by UBS to the Clinton Foundation grew from less than $60,000 through 2008 to a cumulative total of about $600,000 by the end of 2014, according to the foundation and the bank," they report. "The bank also joined the Clinton Foundation to launch entrepreneurship and inner-city loan programs, through which it lent $32 million. And it paid former president Bill Clinton $1.5 million to participate in a series of question-and-answer sessions with UBS Wealth Management Chief Executive Bob McCann, making UBS his biggest single corporate source of speech income disclosed since he left the White House."
Hillary Clinton's relationship with the financial sector goes way beyond cozy to the point of suggesting impropriety. Even some of her campaign's top strategists were at one point lobbyists against the Dodd-Frank regulatory bill she now touts. Her refusal to back a modern version of the Glass-Steagall banking reform even in a Democratic Primary is therefore understandable--even though the United States Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, as well as economist Joseph Stiglitz, and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich have all credited the repeal of the New Deal Era regulation as a major factor in causing the crash. Hillary says she wants to tweak Dodd-Frank, a bill considered "toothless" by many..
Hillary has also changed her tune on universal health care. In the 90's Clinton was a champion for a nationalized system, and in 1994, she gave a speech to Lehman Brothers Health Corporation in which she said a single-payer system was an "inevitability" by the year 2000. However, recently she has backtracked, claiming such a system will "never ever come to pass." Three days after her infamous comment she reaffirmed her "commitment" to it.
What is truly disturbing is the fact that, prior to her denouncing Bernie's plan, she received roughly $13.2 million from the health industry, including $5.8 million in speaking fees, and some of her closest advisors are also lobbyists who fought against the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.
Hillary Clinton insists that she didn't take a position on the Keystone XL Pipeline until she took a position. Many progressives, myself included, felt that her lack of a definite answer for so long was an answer unto itself. Nevertheless, even if you take her at her word, our mistake was reasonable.
It was Hillary Clinton who called fracking a "bridge to a clean economy." It was Clinton's State Department that, as Mother Jones put it, sold fracking to the world with the Global Shale Gas Initiative, "which aimed to help other nations develop their shale potential."
In late 2011, Clinton ... promised to instruct US embassies around the globe to step up their work on energy issues and "pursue more outreach to private-sector energy" firms, some of which had generously supported both her and President Obama's political campaigns.
In light of the rest of her record, is it any surprise to find out that Hillary's biggest campaign bundlers are fossil fuel industry lobbyists?
Clinton Foundation Donors
According to an investigation by the International Business Times, Hillary Clinton's State Department increased its sale of arms to countries like Saudi Arabia that donated to the Clinton Foundation, at a greater rate than countries that did not.
The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation, resulting in a 143 percent increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration. These extra sales were part of a broad increase in American military exports that accompanied Obama's arrival in the White House. The 143 percent increase in U.S. arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors compares to an 80 percent increase in such sales to all countries over the same time period.
Even if this spike in sales to her donors is purely coincidental, it looks pretty bad...
Campaign Finance Reform
Campaign finance reform is the meta-issue As Bernie Sanders has said, unless we reform our broken campaign finance system where corporations and unions can spend unlimited sums of money on politics, and can donate the maximum allowable amount to every candidate of their choosing, we stand little chance of making real progress.
At the MSNBC debate, when she was asked about what her top priorities would be in her first year and a half as president, Hillary Clinton's answer was noticeably lacking campaign finance reform. She covered job creation, solar panels, immigration reform and infrastructure. In the past, she has come out against Citizens United, but this response is indicative of where the former secretary ranks the issue--and that makes sense.
Why would Hillary Clinton be concerned with the current system when she is one of the biggest beneficiaries of it? If Hillary does manage to win the primary, it will be largely due to the influence-peddling that goes on in establishment politics.
It has been suggested by some that Hillary, as a woman, has had to play the game, and that underneath everything, Hillary is a progressive. While the first part may be true, she is no progressive. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has been publicly fighting against Wall Street and influence-peddling since the 90's. A careful review of Hillary's record paints a picture of a candidate who never predicted, and was caught off guard by the backlash from the progressive left against the Reagan Revolution and subsequent intermingling of money and politics.
Now that the pendulum is swinging, she has had to adapt--giving rise to the "progressive who likes to get things done." But it should be understood by Democratic voters that this is a re-branding. Clinton's new found progressive identity represents a shift from who she has been since she entered politics.