“In a two party system, if both parties ignore public opinion, there is no place voters can turn.”
There were two major revelations on the Friday before the 2nd presidential debate, one of which got a lot more media attention than the other. An 11 year old tape of Donald Trump saying more reprehensible things, even stating that sexual assault is perfectly fine if you’re famous, put him on the defensive and lost him the endorsements of many high profile Republicans.
Although Trump surrogates made the point that the tape was more than a decade old, it wasn’t as if it was some kind of youthful indiscretion, the man was 59 years old at the time. His excuse that it was, “locker room talk,” offers further proof of his unsuitability to lead a beauty contest let alone the most powerful country in the world.
However, there was a great deal of hypocrisy emanating from people who didn’t have much to say when Trump called Mexicans rapists and said he would ban Muslims from traveling to the United States, among so many other vile things. We’ve heard enough of this buffoon denigrating women in public to realize that he probably says (and does) much worse things in private.
The same day, in an odd coincidence, the latest Wikileaks went online. The documents, said to come from the Gmail account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, are part of a series of releases Julien Assange has referred to as an ‘October Surprise’. With thousands of documents made public so far, some of which directly contradict things Hillary Clinton has said during the campaign, the leak should have been big news but was largely overshadowed by Trump’s boorishness and only brought another round of Russia bashing from her campaign and the corporate press.
In fact, the Wikileaks documents were arguably more newsworthy than the Trump video, as they revealed some of the contents of Hillary Clinton’s paid speeches to big banks and other corporate interests that she’d refused to release during the campaign. Considering what they have exposed, maybe the establishment media’s silence should have been expected.
A second release on Monday and a third on Wednesday revealed even more potentially damaging information, pointing to possible media collusion with the Democrat’s campaign, as well as further information about how some of her surrogates felt about Clinton’s primary opponent Bernie Sanders and his supporters, who one Clinton supporter had called “self-righteous ideologues” in an email in the first release.
Even Donna Brazile, a supposedly neutral figure brought in to chair the DNC after the last series of leaks, seemed to have provided Clinton’s campaign with one of the questions for a March 12th townhall where the candidate faced off against Senator Sanders. Brazile, who was a contributor to CNN at the time, has publicly denied this.
It should be remembered that what happens in American media doesn’t happen in a vacuum and that it is often mirrored in other countries, especially English speaking ones. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn, the left wing Labor Party leader, has faced similar challenges from an openly hostile establishment and mainstream press as Bernie Sanders did during the American primary, although he seems to have weathered the storm.
A Two Headed Neoliberal Monster
John Podesta, whose emails, including various chains that had messages that appear to be from the candidate herself, is an interesting figure. A quintessential Washington insider, he served as Chief of Staff for Bill Clinton and later Counselor to President Obama. He was also President, then Chair, of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank that also produces the popular Think Progress blog.
Political influence seems to be a family affair. Podesta’s brother, Tony, is one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington, DC . A New York Times story from 2000 investigated the company the two brothers started, podesta.com, saying it, “boasts of its ability to build coalitions uniting Republicans and Democrats, corporations and consumer groups, and competing companies in the same industry.”
In Clinton’s paid speeches, as revealed by an an 80 page review of ‘flags’ from them contained in the leaks and posted to documentcloud.org by Intercept reporter Lee Fang, the candidate calls for two “moderate, pragmatic’ parties working in unison on most issues, especially trade. This sounds a lot like what podesta.com was created to do from another angle.
Even Clinton defenders should be willing to admit something she herself says multiple times over the course of the 80 pages: that she is out of touch with the struggles of ordinary people. In late October of 2013 she told a Goldman Sachs audience that “There is such a bias against people who have led successful and/or complicated lives. You know the divestment of assets, the stripping of all kinds of positions, the sale of stocks. It just becomes very onerous and unnecessary.”
This comes off as especially tone deaf when one understands the context, talking about the waning fortune of multi-millionaire former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin due to his time in government. On business, Clinton often sounds like a Republican, especially behind closed doors.
The main difference between Clinton’s Democrats and most of the Republican Party seems to be on some social issues (although even in this the differences are often cosmetic, Hillary Clinton long opposed gay marriage until it became politically expedient to support it) and the rhetoric they employ to woo voters. A big part of what allowed Trump to succeed is the fact that a large part of the Republican base believes that their leaders have failed to live up to their promises and racist dog whistles.
It says something about the sad state of the American left that one of their natural constituencies, working class whites, blames minorities, environmental regulations and even unions for the deterioration of their standard of living. Trump has offered a ham fisted critique of the establishment in this campaign, notable for its elevation of style over substance. The real challenge to neo-liberalism came from Bernie Sanders but the American media was at the ready to tar both men with the same ‘populist’ brush.
Clinton herself got close to the truth about politicians from both parties when she was quoted telling Goldman Sachs employees, “I mean, politics is like sausage being made, It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be. But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussion and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position.”
A New Era of Dissent
During last Sunday’s debate, Clinton often came back to Russia in replying to Trump’s attacks, mirroring the press’s reaction to the Wikileaks documents. This was one of the few areas where the Republican candidate was able to reply intelligently, although with all the anti-Russian propaganda in the air, its likely it was mostly lost on the audience, “I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example, but I don’t know Putin. But I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians, well she doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking.”
In order to spin the leaks, the Clinton campaign and now the Obama administration have claimed that they originated with the Russian government, which they have gone on to say is trying to help Trump win the election. These accusations allow for a bipartisan consensus to develop that Wikileaks is at the very best a dupe of the Kremlin, at worst an actual agent of the Russian government, although as even Trump knows, there is zero proof of this.
On Wednesday, after the leak of almost 1200 more emails, while speaking to journalists on a campaign flight, Podesta went even further in his theorizing, trying to tie occasional Trump surrogate, the odious Roger Stone, to the Russians and, by association, Wikileaks, saying, “I think there is definitely circumstantial evidence that Mr. Stone must have been witting about what was to come. It’s a reasonable assumption or at least a reasonable conclusion that Mr. Stone had advance warning about what Assange was going to do.”
If anyone outside of the political establishment were making such claims about an American ally, say Israel, trying to influence US elections based on such flimsy evidence they would be easily dismissed as a ‘conspiracy theorist’. The attempt to tie Roger Stone to Wikileaks requires an audience that knows nothing about either and, far too often, the mainstream American media fits this description.
Although Trump brought up the disastrous situation in Libya during the debate, which Clinton is still trying to claim as a success, his inability to present any evidence made what should have been a strong attack nearly incomprehensible. There is plenty of ammunition in her speeches, including one in which Clinton blames the chaos that ensued on the lack of ‘institutions’ in the country. This would probably come as a surprise to many ordinary Libyans who enjoyed the highest standard of living in Africa at the time of the NATO intervention and now face the daily dangers of a failed state.
It’s just my opinion, but the greatest gift the Clinton campaign could have received was an opponent like Trump, whose ignorance of almost everything has allowed her to coopt a lot of the Republican base while making very limited concessions to the left wing of the Democratic Party. As we have seen during the tenure of President Obama, gridlock in Washington rarely crosses over into international affairs, whether the issue is trade or a military intervention.
Russia has once again been put into the role of official enemy, with China waiting in the wings, and I don’t see Clinton or her surrogates doing anything to alleviate the tension. To the contrary, she seems to be calling for at minimum, a new Cold War. This no doubt pleases the defense contractors who have poured money into her campaign.
And it isn’t even on this alone that Secretary Clinton has demonized Russian President Putin and his government. In a speech in the summer of 2014, Clinton, who at the time was pro-fracking, claimed that the Russian government was sponsoring “phony environmental groups” to fight against pipeline projects and fracking.
A cynic might conclude that the claims of Russian puppeteers behind every group or individual who opposes Clinton are a deflection from the candidate’s actual record. What we’re learning from these hacks, which reveal a lot about her real thinking when it comes to international trade and foreign policy is that, as Noam Chomsky said years ago, “In the US, there is basically one party – the business party. It has two factions, called Democrats and Republicans, which are somewhat different but carry out variations on the same policies.”
Take for example, Senator John McCain. On Syria, on Russia and, until very recently, on the TPP there is very little difference between his positions and those of the former Secretary of State.
One silver lining from the likely Clinton victory is, unlike Obama in 2009, the American public is well aware of her flaws and the fact that she is an unrepentant neoliberal and hawk. Looking back, one of the most disappointing things about Obama’s victory was that a growing antiwar movement that crossed lines from the anti-interventionist right to the progressive left was stifled by the latter who would brook no criticism of the President. It seems unlikely that a President Clinton will be given the same leeway.
If we look beyond the US’s binary political system, we see a lot of hope for the future coming from mass movements, many of them leaderless in the conventional sense. From Standing Rock to Black Lives Matter to Occupy Wall Street, the concept of direct democracy is entering the politics of western democracies in ways that couldn’t have been imagined even a generation ago. While elites prepare to celebrate yet another victory for neoliberalism, dissent is growing on the margins and these voices will not be silenced, regardless of who’s in the White House.
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