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Debate: Hillary Clinton Sounds Populist Tone, but Are Progressives Ready to Back Her in 2016?

Clinton has formally entered the 2016 race for the White House.

Former secretary of state, senator and first lady Hillary Clinton has formally entered the 2016 race for the White House in a second bid to become the first woman US president. We host a roundtable discussion with four guests: Joe Conason, editor-in-chief of The National Memo, co-editor of The Investigative Fund, and author of The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton; Michelle Goldberg, senior contributing writer at The Nation; longtime journalist Robert Scheer, editor of and author of many books; and Kshama Sawant, a Socialist city councilmember in Seattle and member of Socialist Alternative, a nationwide organization of social and economic justice activists.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Former secretary of state, senator and first lady, Hillary Clinton, has formally entered the 2016 race for the White House in a bid to become the first woman US president. If she wins the Democratic Party’s nomination, she’ll be the first woman presidential nominee in the party’s history. Clinton made her announcement in a two-minute video released online Sunday. In it, she focused on ordinary Americans starting new phases of life, including two men getting married, a woman preparing to retire, an interracial couple renovating their home, immigrants speaking Spanish, and a man starting a business.

GAY MAN: I’m getting married this summer to someone I really care about.

CHILD: I’m going to be in a play, and I’m going to be in a fish costume. We’re little tiny fishes.

RETIRING WOMAN: I’m getting ready to retire soon. Retirement means reinventing yourself, in many ways.

HOME RENOVATOR 1: Well, we’ve been doing a lot of home renovations.

HOME RENOVATOR 2: But most importantly, we really just want to teach our dog to quit eating the trash.

HOME RENOVATOR 1: And so, we have high hopes for 2015, that that’s going to happen.

WORKER: I’ve started a new career recently. This is a fifth generation company, which means a lot to me. This country was founded on hard work, and it really feels good to be a part of that.

HILLARY CLINTON: I’m getting ready to do something, too. I’m running for president. Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion, so you can do more than just get by: You can get ahead – and stay ahead. Because when families are strong, America is strong. So I’m hitting the road to earn your vote, because it’s your time. And I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton first ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 but lost to President Obama. Long considered the Democratic front-runner, she has been expected to declare her candidacy for months. Democratic candidates who may join her in her bid include former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Governor and Senator Lincoln Chafee, and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb. This comes as Senator Marco Rubio is expected to announce his bid today for the Republican presidential nomination. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky announced his plans to run last week, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz launched his candidacy in March.

Well, to discuss Clinton’s second bid for the White House, we host a roundtable discussion.

Here in New York, Joe Conason joins us, editor-in-chief of The National Memo, co-editor of The Investigative Fund and author of The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton.

We’re also joined by Michelle Goldberg, senior contributing writer at The Nation, author of several books, including The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World. Her latest article is headlined “Hillary Clinton’s Feminist Family Values.”

In Los Angeles, we’re joined by Robert Scheer, longtime journalist, editor of TruthDig, author of many books. His latest is They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy. Scheer is also the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street and also Playing President: My Close Encounters with Nixon, Carter, Bush I, [Reagan], and Clinton and How They Did Not Prepare Me for George W. Bush.

And in Seattle, we’re joined by Kshama Sawant, a Socialist city councilmember. She helped win a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all workers in Seattle in one of her first moves when she became a member of the City Council. She’s a member of the Socialist Alternative, a nationwide organization of social and economic justice activists. She is up for re-election this year.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Joe Conason, let’s begin with you. Your assessment of Hillary Clinton, her bid yesterday, the much-awaited announcement, and why you support her?

JOE CONASON: Well, I don’t support her. I’m neutral in the primary, as I was the last time, when she ran against Barack Obama. I didn’t endorse her then. In fact, I was probably tougher on her than I was on Obama. So the idea that I’m endorsing her for anything is not right.

But, I mean, I was interested yesterday to see her announce, because she is clearly striving for a different tone. Last time, I and others wrote about the kind of baroque kind of almost coronation that they seemed to expect in her campaign: She was inevitable; she had more money than Obama or anyone else, and therefore she was going to just cruise to the nomination. And, of course, that turned out to be completely wrong. They made many mistakes in that campaign. It was a campaign that was divided against itself, in many cases. And she lost narrowly, but she lost. And I think, looking back on that, this time she has attempted to roll out her candidacy this time in a very different way – a modest tone, a tone of “I want to be your champion,” a slightly populist tone that I think is appropriate to this moment. And we’ll see what happens from here.

AMY GOODMAN: Kshama Sawant in Seattle, your response to the rollout of Hillary Clinton’s campaign? But what we’re going to talk about today, overall, though, is her record – this is a person with a proven record – and assessing what that has been, from first lady to senator to secretary of state, a previous presidential candidate, and now again. Kshama?

KSHAMA SAWANT: Well, as Joe was saying, you know, she is now trying to use a veneer of a populist image. But look, this is a person who has hired 200 advisers to tell her how she can look populist without angering her wealthy donors. And ultimately the question is absolutely about her record as a warmongering secretary of state who used her position to emphasize the drone attacks, to be a vocal proponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and to use her position to promote the interests of multinational corporations at the expense of the interests of working people. And ultimately, you know, this candidate, if she is backed by the Democratic Party establishment apparatus, is going to be the Wall Street candidate. And fundamentally, we have to ask ourselves the question: Is the Democratic Party establishment ever, despite the populist imagery or rhetoric they may use, going to be – ever going to be a genuine vehicle in any way to promote the interests of working families?

And she’s been missing in action on the $15 demand. The $15 demand is taking over nationally, and she, like other people in the Democratic Party establishment, have been completely silent. She was on the board of Wal-Mart. Alice Walton has donated the maximum to her super PAC, to Ready for Hillary super PAC. And Wal-Mart is a corporation that has a a notorious union-busting record. And the $25,000 that Alice Walton donated to her is well more than the hourly employees at Wal-Mart make in a year, two-thirds of whom are women. And so I think we have to be very clear that she is going to represent the continuation of what we’ve seen in the last several decades, including Obama’s presidency, that this is going to be a Wall Street-controlled White House, and we need an alternative.

AMY GOODMAN: Michelle Goldberg, your response to the rollout yesterday and to your concerns about Hillary Clinton, whether you support her?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Well, I’m certainly going to support her versus whatever candidate the Republicans put up. You know, I’ve been pretty critical of Hillary Clinton over the years. I didn’t support her in 2008. In fact, I was furious with a lot of the older feminists who suggested that it was incumbent on women to vote for Hillary.

I was impressed with the rollout because, I mean, what’s interesting is that Hillary has been in public life for such a long time, and yet sometimes it can be hard to pin down exactly what she stands for, in part because she is a very changeable, chameleon-like candidate. You know, there was kind of Hillary the feminist lawyer, who worked on behalf of children’s rights. There’s the Hillary the senator, who sponsored a flag-burning amendment. You know, there’s now Hillary the grandmother, who’s talking about paid family leave and those sorts of things. My sense is, is that as many different kind of incarnations as she had, the one constant in her career, and maybe the place where she’s the most authentic, is in her concern for women and families, women and children – you know, the work that she did on maternal mortality when she was in the State Department, for example. And so, inasmuch as that’s going to be the center of this campaign and inasmuch as she is able to marry this kind of family-focused progressivism to women’s issues, like paid – or not women’s issues, family issues, but parental issues, like paid family leave, early childhood education, the sort of things that have never been at the center of a presidential election before, you know, not only do I think that that is a really good thing for feminism, but I also think that that is the best side of Hillary Clinton.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Scheer, your response to Hillary Clinton entering the 2016 presidential race?

ROBERT SCHEER: Yeah, I think it’s absurd to suggest she’s a friend of children who are in need or families. This is a woman who, when her husband was governor, I first met her at that time, when I went down to interview him for the Los Angeles Times and he was starting his presidential run. And they were bragging about their welfare reform, which destroyed what existed of support for poor children in Arkansas. Then, as president, her husband, with her full-throated approval, destroyed the aid to families with dependent children, which 70 percent of the people on that program were children. It was the major federal program to help poor people and poor families, and in the cynicism of the Clinton administration, they destroyed that program. And we have no – we don’t even have an accounting of poor children anymore. They’re off the radar. So, that’s just utter nonsense.

And then, her husband – you know, after all, she, again, was a full-throated support. She was very close to Robert Rubin, to Lawrence Summers, to the people in the Clinton administration who gave us the radical deregulation of Wall Street, which, you know, caused incredible misery and the Great Recession – the Clinton signing on the collateralized debt obligation law which allowed all that junk to be legal, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, the Financial Services Modernization Act, the reverse Glass-Steagall. So they’re the ones that opened the door to the Wall Street thieves that brought on the Great Recession. And then, as senator, she’s carried water for Wall Street faithfully.

And then, finally, you know, if we’re going to run for – of somebody who has experience as secretary of state, I’d rather support John Kerry. After all, it’s been a great relief to see Kerry as opposed to Hillary Clinton. We finally have some rational foreign policy and peacemaking with Iran, with Cuba. Where was Hillary Clinton? And let me say, one reason I could never vote for Hillary Clinton is that she – her attack on Edward Snowden, her attack on the whistleblowers, to call them traitors, to talk about these people. And here is a woman who knew what the government was doing in spying on the American people. You know, she didn’t tell us. She didn’t trust the State Department with her email, but she never told us that the State Department, the CIA and the NSA were spying on the emails of all the Americans. No, but she thinks that’s fine. She’s just going to keep her email in her garage, you know, so I find her to be a center of cynicism and opportunism, and really quite reckless.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Our guests are Robert Scheer in Los Angeles, Kshama Sawant in Seattle, Michelle Goldberg here in New York, as well as Joe Conason. This is Democracy Now! Hillary Clinton has entered the 2016 presidential race. We’ll be back in a minute.