To understand the dynamics underlying the Clinton-Sanders nomination contest, it’s helpful to remember the old adage that Democrats are supposed to be the party of ordinary working people. As the nomination process plays out, the 2016 race might be remembered as the party’s last gasp at being true to that narrative.
A party beholden to corporate power cannot simultaneously be the party of ordinary working people, and thus we can see the Democrats’ dilemma. Though the party distinguishes itself from the GOP in some ways – Democrats are more liberal on social issues, for example, and more inclined to defend programs like Medicare and Social Security – there can be no question that corporate money has undue influence on both major parties, not just the GOP. When Hillary Clinton was seen as the inevitable 2016 Democratic nominee, there was no reason to believe this status quo would be challenged. But the rise of Bernie Sanders changes everything.
The genius of the corporate coup that has overtaken US democracy is not that it dominates the GOP – the party that has long favored corporate power anyway – but that it has maneuvered even the opposition party into submission as well. The brightest minds on Wall Street are experts at hedging bets, and they play politics just as they play finance. Such dynamics are key to understanding not only the role of the Clinton candidacy in the eyes of corporate America, but the perceived threat posed by the Sanders campaign with its persistent advocacy for people over corporations.
Clinton, who once served on the board of Walmart, the gold standard of predatory corporatism, is so tight with corporate power that she’s now making efforts to downplay her relationships. CNBC reports that she is postponing fundraisers with Wall Street executives, no doubt concerned that voters are awakening to the toxic influence of corporations on politics and government. Already in the awkward position of explaining six-figure checks from Wall Street firms for speaking engagements and large charitable donations from major banks, Clinton realizes that she must try to distance herself from her corporate benefactors.
And the fat cats fully understand. “Don’t expect folks on Wall Street to be offended that Clinton is distancing herself from them,” CNBC reports. “In fact, they see it as smart politics and they understand that Wall Street banks are deeply unpopular.”
Indeed, everyone knows the game, and few are worried that Clinton – whose son-in-law is a former Goldman Sachs executive who now runs a hedge fund – is any kind of threat to the power structure. This explains why a leading banking executive called Clinton’s tough talk about Wall Street “theatrics” made necessary in response to the Sanders campaign, adding that he predicts she’ll be known as “Mrs. Wall Street” if elected.
These realities show that the “rigged system” concerns of ordinary voters are not overblown. In a stroke of strategic brilliance, corporate power has created a playing field where even its perceived opponents are advancing its agenda. And the fiction is propagated with impressive expertise, as moderate, corporate-friendly Democrats are portrayed in the mainstream media as “flaming liberals.” Even though Barack Obama, for example, filled his administration with Wall Street veterans and stalwarts after his election in 2008 – including Tim Geithner, Michael Froman, Larry Summers and a host of others – he is frequently described as a liberal not just by those on the right, but even in mainstream media.
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient,” says noted activist and author Noam Chomsky, “is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” As far as the corporate establishment is concerned, its good friend Hillary Clinton should define the liberal end of the “spectrum of acceptable opinion,” thus keeping the entire spectrum corporate-friendly. If she wins, conservative commentators will react with alarm and relentlessly lash out at her as a “dangerous liberal,” but corporate overlords will sleep well at night knowing everything is fine.
This is what has happened during the centrist Obama administration, which bailed out Wall Street without prosecuting even one executive responsible for bringing about the 2008 economic collapse. It also happened in the centrist administration of Bill Clinton, who was attacked by conservatives as an “extreme liberal” while doing little to earn the designation. The Clinton administration, with vocal support from the first lady, deregulated telecommunications and the financial sector, pushed hard for passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement – a tremendous gift to corporate interests and a major blow to the working class – and passed legislation on crime and welfare that was anything but liberal.
Such is the role that corporate America wants Hillary Clinton to play today. Defined as a liberal, she is in fact a consummate establishment Democrat: a hawkish corporate apologist who happens to be pro-choice. Yes, she is to the left of the GOP candidates – she doesn’t deny climate change, wants to preserve Obamacare and won’t entertain outlandish ideas like privatizing Social Security – but she’s still well within the bounds of acceptability to the US corporate oligarchy that does not want fundamental, systemic change. Rest assured, under her watch the system will stay rigged.