Posted 6 months ago on June 19, 2014, 11:18 a.m. EST by flip
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A second example has to do with the next US presidential election. Two weeks ago, ABC News scored a high-profile interview with the all-but-formerly-declared Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In a remarkable part of the interview, ABC’s Diane Sawyer quizzed Clinton on how she expected ordinary working and middle class American voters to identify with a hyper-affluent couple like the Clintons, who’ve received more than $100 million for speaking engagements since leaving the White House. Clinton told Sawyer with a straight face that she and her husband, former US president Bill Clinton, left the White House down and out – in debt and having to “struggle” and “work…really hard” to get back on their feet:
SAWYER: You’ve made five million making speeches? The president’s made more than a hundred million dollars?
CLINTON: Well, you have no reason to remember, but we came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt. We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy. Bill has worked really hard and it’s been amazing to me. He’s worked very hard. First of all, we had to pay off all our debts. You know, you had to make double the money because of, obviously, taxes, and then pay off the debts and get us houses and take care of family members.
It’s hard not to treat Hillary’s story of post-presidential penury and her related tale of subsequent pulled-ourselves-up-by-our-bootstraps recovery with anything but dripping populist contempt. It is technically true that the Clinton’s left the presidency in debt. But, according to veteran political commentator John Dickerson, “the Clintons [in late 2000] were not unlike the couple with the winning Powerball ticket: broke at the moment but with the promise of significant riches ahead.” Before they left the White House, Bill and Hillary bought a $2 million home in upstate New York and a $3 million home in Washington DC. Hillary had already signed an $8 million book deal for her memoir Living History. By the end of 2001, the couple’s assets had soared to $30 million and their income exceeded $15 million, both far beyond their remaining debt of $5 million. By 2004 they were worth $50 million. Since leaving the White House, moreover, Bill Clinton has been paid almost $16 million in pension and benefits by the federal government.
Monetizing “Public Service”
The Clintons’ economic recovery had nothing to do with the Lottery – or with the kind of low-paid “hard work” that ordinary, Powerball-buying working-class Americans are commonly forced into by job loss and debt. Bill and Hillary hardly climbed from “dead broke” to super-wealthy status by putting in long night hours at the local Walmart and driving school buses and repairing city streets during the day. Their ascendancy into the upper reaches of the 1% had nothing to do with the American Dream of hard and honest labor leading to upward mobility.
No, they joined the long and lucrative conga line of former officeholders who have “monetized” their many years in “government service.” They cashed in royally on their “experience in public service,” mainly through “public speaking and headlining big events.” Hillary has received $200,000 and above for speaking to such hard-working entities as Goldman Sachs and techno-barons of Silicon Valley. She got a mind-boggling $450,000 for a speech at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) last November. As Nick Sorrentino noted on AgainstCronyCapitalism.org:
“We’ve heard of people getting outrageous speaking fees before. Ms. Clinton and her husband have made a small industry of it. But ask yourself why a group would pay half a million dollars to hear someone speak for 45 minutes? There’s something to be said for having a real headliner at a gathering. But a half-million dollars? No, there is more to it than draw. The bet is that the check from the CME won’t be forgotten in the event Ms. Clinton becomes president. Commodities traders know how to hedge their positions.”
Fittingly enough, the chief beneficiaries of Bill Clinton’s “public service” were the “private” financial elite, whom profited from key Clinton policies, including the investor rights North American Free Trade Agreement and the repeal of crucial financial regulations whose elimination helped create the economic collapse of 2007-2009.
The Essence of American Politics
I doubt that Hillary Clinton’s “dead broke” remarks will hurt her in 2016 to anything like the same degree that Braley’s “farmer from Iowa” comment will damage his chances this Fall. Hillary’s insult to working people is much more diffuse and indirect and it comes much further out from the election date. But these and other differences aside, both comments are emblematic of the deeply embedded elitism that pervades the corporate-captive Democratic Party as well the radically regressive GOP. Privileged candidates and office-holders in both of the two dominant Big Business-financed political organizations (both well to the right of the United States’ working class majority on numerous key issues) want ordinary Americans to think they understand and feel the pain of the non-affluent Many.
But they don’t. They are with and, often enough, from the Few. Their pretense of empathy for the struggling citizenry is a deceptive game, consistent with the formerly Left Christopher Hitchens’ onetime accurate description of “the essence of American politics” as “the manipulation of populism by elitism” (emphasis added). As Hitchens explained in his book on the Clintons No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family (Verso, 1999):
“that elite is most successful which can claim the heartiest allegiance of the fickle crowd; can present itself as most ‘in touch’ with popular concerns; can anticipate the tides and pulses of opinion; can, in short, be the least apparently ‘elitist.’ It’s no great distance from Huey Long’s robust cry of ‘Every man a king’ to the insipid ‘inclusiveness’ of [Bill Clinton’s slogan] ‘Putting People First,’ but the smarter elite managers have learned in the interlude that solid, measurable pledges have to be distinguished by a ‘reserve’ tag that earmarks them for the bankrollers and backers.” 
A perfect example of that “reserve tag” is Obama and the Democrats’ so-called Affordable Health Care Act. Designed by the Republican Heritage Foundation, it preserves the unchallenged profit-making and price- and rate-gouging power of the nation’s leading insurance and drug companies in cold defiance of public opinion. The single-payer model long favored by most Americans was banned from serious consideration in White House “reform” deliberations, consistent with then White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel’s advice to the president: “ignore the progressives.”
Real differences notwithstanding (it would be impossible to sell the two-party duopoly to the populace were there no differences at all between the two parties), the Democrats and the Republicans are “two wings of the same bird of prey” (Upton Sinclair, 1904 ) beholden to the same unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, white supremacy, patriarchy, state repression, eco-cide, and general state-capitalist institutional psychopathy. That shared captivity is no small part of why the incredibly unpopular and vicious GOP is still very much in play in US politics. Revealing gaffes like Bruce Braley’s last January and Hillary Clinton’s this June only help the Republicans play their own dark version of the populism-manipulating game.
Paul Street’s next book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014, http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810)