A timely takedown of a corporate candidate

August 24, 2016

Colin Patrick reviews Doug Henwood's exposé of Hillary Clinton and her long and sordid history as the best friend a ruling class could ever ask for.

WITH THE Trump campaign sputtering while Hillary Clinton mops up support from traditional Republicans and center-right swing voters, it is looking ever more likely that the Clinton family will be returning to the White House in November.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders supporters and other left-wing voters are being browbeaten into supporting Clinton as the "lesser evil"--and assailed if they don't as sexist, privileged, hopelessly idealistic and/or detached from reality, with the underlying threat that they will be scapegoated if she somehow finds a way to lose.

In this context, My Turn, Doug Henwood's sharp exposé of Hillary Clinton, is especially welcome.

In a dispassionate account of Hillary's political career that is both concise (150 small pages) and well-documented (332 footnotes), Henwood reviews Clinton's entire career, from her early days as an Arkansas corporate lawyer supporting her husband Bill's political career to the 2016 campaign.

The picture that emerges is of a politician who is steadfastly ruthless, duplicitous, frighteningly militaristic and contemptuous of democracy. Clinton's actual history, Henwood writes, "is an important antidote to liberals' fantasies about her as some sort of great progressive"--a fantasy that is largely the product of the shrewdly triangulating image-management that she, her husband and the Democrats more generally have perfected since the 1980s.

The Clintons on parade for Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1997
The Clintons on parade for Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1997 (White House)

EARLY IN the book, Henwood explains that he has focused on Clinton's past actions rather than her current policy proposals because it's this tangible track record that should lead us not to receive her more progressive-leaning proposals "with anything but profound skepticism."

This skepticism is justified not only because Clinton's record is that of a corporate-friendly war hawk, but also because she has a long history of giving deceptive explanations of that record. (The fact that the Clinton's infamous "triangulation" strategy requires such duplicity is one reason why the issue of her use of a private e-mail server is more than just a right-wing sideshow.)

Consider, for example, her vote in favor of the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq resolution that handed Bush the power to wage war in Iraq at his own discretion. Clinton has since described this vote as "a mistake," for the conveniently blame-shifting reason that Bush did not sufficiently pursue diplomatic alternatives to preemptive war.

While the authorization resolution was under consideration, however, Sen. Carl Levin introduced an amendment that would have made any U.S. invasion contingent on a United Nations resolution approving the use of force, giving Clinton a perfect opportunity to show--in deeds and not just words--her aversion to the unilateral use of American military force.

Not only did Clinton vote against the Levin Amendment, which failed by a wide margin, she justified her vote years later with a jingoistic arrogance and a contempt for international law that would not have been out of place in a Bush administration press release, explaining on Meet the Press: "The Levin amendment, in my view, gave the Security Council of the United Nations a veto over American presidential power."

Henwood also notes that Clinton helped to spread the falsehood that Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaeda, "essentially siding with Bush and Cheney to a degree that no other Democrat, even Joe Lieberman, approached," he writes.

She even chose not to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that downplayed Iraq's nuclear capabilities before casting her vote--even though many of the senators that voted against the resolution did so because of what it contained. "It's hard not to conclude," Henwood writes, "that she wanted to vote for war more than she wanted to know the truth."

SUCH AN approach to military engagement--the subversion of diplomacy and the selling of war on a raft of lies--would be better described as a war crime than a mistake, and it's an approach Clinton would repeat in Honduras and Libya in her role as secretary of state.

In Honduras, Clinton's State Department actively stalled the efforts of the Organization of American States to reinstate the democratically elected Manuel Zelaya.

Instead, she supported the effort to impose elections--rife with fraud and intimidation--meant to legitimate the coup that deposed him, which were presented to the public under the guise of "restoring democracy." Henwood quotes Greg Grandin, a historian of Latin America:

[E]arly on in the 2009 coup against Zelaya, when there was a real chance of restoring the reformist president, [Clinton] was working with the most retrograde elements in Honduras to consolidate the putsch...

Democrats who support Clinton for president would be sympathetic to the coalition that was trying to reverse the coup: environmentalists, LGBT activists, people trying to make the morning-after pill available, progressive religious folks, anti-mining and anti-biofuel peasants, and legal reformists trying to humanize Honduras' lethal police-prison regime. And Clinton betrayed them, serving them up to Honduras' crime-ridden oligarchy. Hundreds of good people have since been murdered by the people Clinton sided with in late 2009 and 2010.

Two years later, as armed conflict raged in Libya in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, the regime of Muammar el-Qaddafi regime approached the U.S. with a proposal for a peaceful transfer of power, in return for regime leaders being able to leave the country safely. "Was the offer genuine and workable?" David Mizner asked in an important article for Jacobin. "We'll never know, because Clinton shut down the negotiations."

Instead, Clinton subverted even the Pentagon's efforts at de-escalation, and infamously out-hawked Bush/Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates in favor of a more aggressive approach.

Henwood reports that the offensive was sold to the public with what were later revealed to be a raft of lies. The falsehoods included a rumor, fed to Clinton by Sidney Blumenthal, while he was coincidentally collecting $10,000 a month from the Clinton Foundation, that Qaddafi was giving Viagra to his troops to encourage rape.

It's also worth noting that as a senator in 2007, Clinton voted, along with every Republican senator and 14 other Democrats, against an amendment to a military appropriations bill that would have sharply restricted the use in densely populated areas of cluster bombs, which are notorious for leaving behind unexploded shells that years later have killed tends of thousands of people who come across them--disproportionately children, who often mistake them for balls or toys.

CLINTON'S HISTORY of neocon-style hawkishness is matched by her consistent record of putting the interests of the rich and powerful ahead of the public good.

While at Rose Law Firm in Arkansas, Hillary defended local businesses from a power rate hike, on the grounds that increases in their rates amounted to an unconstitutional "taking of property." "This is now a common right-wing argument against regulation," Henwood notes. "Hillary was one of its earliest architects."

As a senator, Hillary was one of only a few Democrats to support Bush's proposal to expand the work requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients--despite the downturn in the economy. Of course, TANF itself was the weakened social safety net that remained after Bill Clinton "ended welfare as we know it"--with Hillary's vocal support.

Senator Clinton also voted in favor of making it more difficult for individuals and families to file for bankruptcy, a gift to banks and credit card companies that was sharply criticized at the time by then-Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren.

Henwood details an under-discussed element of the Clinton family's long involvement in Haiti: the attempt by the Hillary Clinton's State Department to rescue Fruit of the Loom, Hanes and Levi's from an "attack on their property" that came in the form of the Haitian parliament unanimously passing an increase in the minimum wage to $5 a day.

Even after the Haitian government backtracked with a more modest, tiered proposal, the U.S. Embassy remained opposed, dismissing it as an economically unrealistic effort to pander to the "unemployed and underpaid masses."

Using international diplomacy to promote Corporate America's interests by overriding other nations' ability to pass labor, environmental and fair-use copyright regulations is of course at the heart of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an abomination that Hillary declared herself against last year after having helped to negotiate and promote the TPP as secretary of state.

THERE IS so much more. My Turn is both a quick read, but compact: nearly every line contains something you'll want to share with the Clinton supporters in your life. (You'll also want to tell them the ironic story behind the book's cover art, which some Clinton supporters have complained is sexist.)

But this raises a question of whether it's an effective method of weaning people away from the Democratic Party to simply inundate them with ever more facts about the record of people like Hillary Clinton.

In recent weeks, I've heard liberal supporters brush aside the fact that Bush-era neoconservatives are backing her candidacy--even though, 16 years ago, these same liberals used the threat of these same neocons to browbeat the left into supporting Gore over Nader.

I've also heard self-described radicals agree that Hillary is an extreme hawk who may well "start World War III," but then say that we still have to support her given who she's running against. I can almost hear their retort at the end of each paragraph I write in this article: "So do you prefer Trump?"

Here, we should keep in mind Henwood's note that while his book "is a polemic directed at a prominent figure," it is nevertheless vital to realize that "Hillary is not The Problem...By all orthodox measures, she is a highly intelligent and informed senior member of the political class. That is the problem."

Indeed, the problem is a system that narrows our choices to various shades of capitalist imperialism and austerity every election year without fail.

Until we manage to organize a genuine political alternative to it, we can expect the same dismal "choices," the same pressure to support the one that is (or at least seems to be) a bit less bad and a lot of ridicule from those who think it is level-headed and wise to surrender to the utter political alienation and defeatism of voting, year after year, for the "least worst" option.

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