Hillary: Hope or Hype?

Against the Current, No. 132, January/February 2008

Barri Boone

IN CASE YOU run into people who’ve fallen for the Clinton PR, or still are guided by endorsements of their trusted organizations or heroes –- such as UTU, Letter Carriers, Steven Spielberg, Wesley Clark, Rob Reiner or Heidi Fleiss — here are some materials to offer clues about what kind of president Hillary would actually make.

Begin with Her Way, The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton,” by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, Jr. (New York: Little Brown & Co., 2007; 438 pages, $29.98 hardcover). The authors acknowledge Hillary’s ability to exaggerate her accomplishments, hide unpleasantness, and pretend to have made no mistakes -– in these respects similar to other politicians — but give her credit for her singular ability to paint her own story. The book written by these two Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporters at the New York Times is packed with their research of the story behind her story.

Gerth and Van Natta uncover that Bill and Hillary “agreed to work together to revolutionize the Democratic Party and ultimately make the White House their home.  Once their ‘twenty year project’ was realized, with Bill’s victory in ‘92, their plan became even more ambitious: eight years as president for him, then eight years for her. Their audacious pact has remained a secret until now.”(9)

Before they were wed, while both in their mid-twenties, they agreed on the “twenty year project.” Bill would be the public face and Hillary the “behind-the-scenes-manager and enforcer.” (54) The plan they developed in the early ‘70s to have Bill capture the presidency was accomplished, and now we are witnessing phase two to have Hillary in the White House.

The two reporters examine their history, including the dozens of times that Hillary violated the Senate ethics rules, her consulting a secret energy task force while in the Senate, questionable legal work in Arkansas, new information about Vince Foster — issues which the authors see as problematic, although exaggerated by the reactionaries as grist for their impeachment mill — hiding Bill’s draft record, and her Iraq war votes supporting George W. Bush. Their examination is documented with 69 pages of notes and references.

There is a description of Hillary’s historic appointment five days after Bill’s election to the President’s Task Force on National Health Care Reform. Her plan was tagged “managed competition.” The government would force employers to provide health insurance for all, expecting that competition among insurance companies would keep the cost down. Her plan was more reliant on the government than a bipartisan measure supported by large businesses.

Hillary’s scheme would have had the government effectively promoting consolidation of the insurance industry into the hands of the biggest firms — wiping out the smaller ones. The latter ganged up to destroy her plan before it could get off the ground. The right wing liked to imply that her plan was close to the single payer plan modeled on Canada’s health care system — but many single payer supporters who attended Hillary’s meetings, hoping to influence her, found that she intentionally prevented single payer supporters from even being able to caucus with one another.

Then comes her decision to stay with Bill after the revelation that he had been lying to her about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, seen by many as further evidence of their “partnership built on power, not love or fidelity.” (195) The relevant issue of course isn’t Bill Clinton’s sexual behavior in or out of office, but the tendency to lie and cover up — and Hillary’s concern that he keep his relations with other women in the closet, lest the couple’s power trip be impacted.

Gerth and Van Natta point out more details in Hillary’s famous vote for the war in Iraq. She was on the Armed Services Committee in 2003 and had access to the National Intelligence Estimate, which convinced some like Bob Graham to vote against the resolution for war because he was not persuaded that Iraq had WMDs. Since Hillary did have access to the report and voted for the war, they question whether 1) she didn’t take the time to read it, 2) she read it and didn’t get it, or 3) she got it and voted for her career!

The Natural Manager

For those who want to understand Hillary from a more psychological viewpoint, there is Hillary’s Choice by Gail Sheehy (New York: Random House, 1999; 448 pages, paperback $16). This portrait sees Hillary as brainy, competitive, and a natural manager.

Her father was a Republican from a conservative, white enclave south of Chicago, and her mother was more liberal. In high school she was influenced by a both liberal Methodist minister and a reactionary teacher who welcomed Hillary into his anti-communist club.

She went to college at Wellesley, which gave her a path to intern in Washington. To her, urban issues were a cerebral task, not an experiential one. She really didn’t like people, just exceptionally smart ones. She avoided introspection.

Sheehy describes her response to events like the Vietnam war and the ghetto riots, “to work toward change by keeping her peers in line as they protested the status quo.” (54) When Hillary faced the choice of Yale law school or community organizing, she picked law for her “public service.”

Sheehy notes that Hillary’s political decisions have always been made based on polls and donors —- not something that distinguishes her from other conventional politicians, but not a characteristic of an ostensible candidate for change either.

For a recent overview of Hillary’s relation to labor issues, read “Hillary’s Labor Gambit” by Ari Berman (The Nation, August 27, 2007). Berman traces the Clintons’ labor positions preceding 1992, including support for NAFTA — which President Bill Clinton of course pulled out all the stops to enact — and hiring political strategist Mark Penn, who heads up a firm that helps corporations crush union organizing drives.

Berman points out that Hillary was a Wal-Mart board member, and concludes by quoting an AFL-CIO saying that there are “two Hillarys, and that the current one views labor as simply a box to check en route to the nomination.”

Simply a box to check: Looking at the record, isn’t that pretty much how she looks at all of us?

from ATC 132 (January/February 2008)