Whether you believe them in or not, government conspiracy theories involving fiendishly diabolical plots by brilliant evildoers just aren’t what they used to be. Consider, for example, the convenient death of Jeffrey Epstein. It was almost like they weren’t even trying.
Bill and Hillary Clinton “earned” — can a mortal earn such stratospheric sums? — “at least $30 million over the last 16 months, mainly from giving paid speeches to corporations, banks and other organizations,” The New York Times reports. “They have now earned more than $125 million on the [lecture] circuit since leaving the White House in 2001.”
This is an important issue. But the big story has little to with what actually matters.
Coverage of the Clintons’ spectacularly lucrative speaking career has focused on how it affects Hillary’s 2016 presidential campaign — specifically the political damage caused by the public’s growing perception that Hillary is out of touch with the common man and woman. It is a promising line of inquiry for her detractors (myself included).
Hillary is out of touch. She hasn’t been behind the wheel of an automobile for nearly 20 years, is a multi-multi-millionaire who nevertheless considered herself “dead broke” and still believes that she and her husband are not among “the truly well off.” (Maybe Bill still drives.) Ostentatious wealth coupled with tonedeafness didn’t help Mitt “47%” Romney in 2012, or John “I can’t remember how many houses I own” McCain in 2008 — and they were Republicans, a party that gleefully despises the poor and jobless. For a Democrat under heavy fire from her party’s progressive base — with Elizabeth Warren, Bill di Blasio and Bernie Sanders leading the charge — this stuff could be politically fatal.
But the media ought to focus on the real issue. FDR was wealthy, yet he created the social safety net as we know it (what’s left of it, anyway). JFK and RFK came from money, yet no one doubted their commitment to help the downtrodden. Liberals distrust Hillary due to her and her husband’s long record of kowtowing to Wall Street bankers and transnational corporations, supporting jobs-killing “free trade” agreements, backing the NSA’s intrusions into our privacy, and as an unrepentant militarist. Her progressivism appears to have died with her law career.
Conflict of interest: that’s why we should be concerned about all those $250,000 speeches.
The big question is: why do corporations and banks shell out a quarter of a million dollars for a Hill Talk?
Corporations and banks don’t pay big bucks to Hillary Clinton because they’re dying to hear what she has to say. After having been front and center on the national political scene for a quarter century, she and Bill don’t have new insights to share. And even if I’m wrong — even if you’re a CEO and you’re dying to learn her ultimate (new) recipe for baking cookies — you don’t have to invite her to speak to your company to get the dish. You can ask one of your CEO pals who already had her speak at his firm — or pay to attend one of the zillions of other lectures she gives.
This is not about Hillary’s message.
Corporations and banks bribe the Clintons to buy political favors. The speaking racket is a (flimsy) cover.
Like, there’s the time Goldman Sachs paid $200,000 for a Bill Talk a few months before the financial conglomerate lobbied Hill when she was secretary of state. At least 13 companies paid Bill and Hill at least $2.5 million in similar sleazy deals.
Those are just the brazen quid pro quo deals.
Among the companies that have lined Hillary’s pockets over the last 16 months are “a mix of corporations (GE, Cisco, Deutsche Bank), medical and pharmaceutical groups (the California Medical Association and the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association), and women’s organizations like the Commercial Real Estate Women Network,” the Times says. “Mr. Clinton’s speeches included a number of talks for financial firms, including Bank of America and UBS, as well as technology companies like Microsoft and Oracle.”
GE, Cisco and Deutsche Bank aren’t run by idiots. Nor are lobbying groups like the female realtors. Their boards know that Hillary may well become president. Even if she loses, those bribes — er, speaking fees — are a smart investment in DC influence. The Clintons have strong ties at the highest levels of the Democratic Party establishment and on Wall Street. If you’re GE, it makes sense to make nice with people whose help you might want someday, so they’re likelier to pick up the phone when you call to, say, grease the skids for a merger in danger of getting derailed by antitrust laws.
Laws governing the sale of political access are relatively clear, but rarely enforced. The ethics, however, are simple: honest people don’t take money from people they may be charged with governing or regulating in the future.
“Behind every great fortune,” Balzac maintained, “lies a crime.” If there were any justice, the Clintons would be in prison for a generation of criminal activity that has left America a corrupted, Third Worldified nation, poorer for having been looted by the companies and banks whose criminality they aided and abetted.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Distributed by Creators Syndicate (click the link to purchase for publication):
Hillary Clinton has everything she needs to run for president: money, name recognition, staff, organization. Everything except ideas.
The 2016 presidential campaign will begin in earnest in late summer. This hasn’t snuck up on her; she has known this was coming since at least 2008. Yet here she is, six months before the unofficial start of her run, starting to figure out what she’ll do if she wins.
“People close to Mrs. Clinton say she has not yet settled on a specific platform” on the economy, the New York Times notes in a report about a recent series of meetings she held with 200 economists in order to collect their assessments of the economy.
There’s nothing wrong with asking experts for suggestions about how to fix the problems you want to solve. But you should already have a vision for what America and its economy ought to look like. You should be born with your platform – and, if you decide to run, collect advice from your brain trust on a granular level, concerning how to realize your goals.
If you haven’t always known what you would do if you woke up tomorrow morning as president, and whom you would appoint to help you govern, you have no business running.
Unfortunately, the former senator’s lack of ideas isn’t unique. She reflects a disturbing shift in American politics that most people haven’t noticed because it snuck up on us over time: in the past, politicians ran on a slate of ideas. Now they campaign as personalities.
Look at political buttons from a century ago. FDR ran on “prosperity” and “jobs.” They’re vague — but they’re ideas. And when he won, FDR demanded that his ideas become laws within his first 100 days. Reagan declared that it was “morning in America.” What does that mean? It’s been 35 years, he served two terms, I still don’t know. “Yes we can,” Obama promised in 2008. Can what? It worked because your mind fills in the rest, but it says nothing. “Hope.” “Change.” For/to what?
Reading the diaries of Chief of Staff HR Haldeman, I was surprised to learn that the newly-elected Nixon administration – led by this reputedly hardheaded ideological warrior – spent much of its first year, 1969, recuperating from the campaign it had just won, learning how to use the White House phone system and how to liaise with Capitol Hill before finally sitting down to determine what it actually wanted to do domestically and vis-à-vis foreign policy. I realized that, at least dating back to the 1960 race between Nixon and JFK, presidential candidates haven’t gone into it with much of a vision of how they want to change America. Their primary goal is to get the job, to add the gig to their resume, satisfied that their face may someday end up on a stamp or maybe a coin, and that schoolchildren will forever have to memorize their names.
Think back to the first year of every presidency in recent memory. None, even those like Reagan and George W. Bush who eventually oversaw radical policy changes, pushed major legislation right out of the gate – which is surprising given that a president will never have as much political capital as when he first takes the office. Stepping in during the middle of a global economic crisis, Obama never proposed anything on the economic front and handed off his Affordable Care Act to congressional Democrats throughout his first year. Since 2009 Obama has come off like a guy who achieved everything he wanted simply by having been elected. Bush’s first year was derided as aimless and policy-free until 9/11 gave him a sense of purpose. No major policy prescriptions came out of the Clinton White House for much of his first term.
2016 is once again shaping up as a clash of personalities over ideas, a high school student council-style personal popularity contest – “who would you most rather have a beer with?” (or, in Clinton’s case, are you “likeable enough“?) – as opposed to a debate over the direction of the country. Writing in the Washington Examiner, Michael Barron asks: “Can Jeb Bush — or anyone — come up with a platform for primaries, general, and presidency?”
Implicit in this question is the curious fact that none of the likely contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have yet articulated a platform. Even the most ideologically grounded GOP candidate, Rand Paul, finds himself showcased in a New York Times profile as drifting to the so-called “center” of his party – i.e., away from libertarianism. Isn’t it a little late in the game to be drifting?
Instead of dealing with ideas Paul, who made headlines for filibustering against Obama’s drone strikes and aggressively criticizing NSA spying, is said to be facing “questions about his style and temperament.” Never mind what he wants to do. This is about style: “Does someone who can be so impetuous and unapologetic have the finesse and discipline to win over people who are more naturally inclined to vote for someone else?” asks the Times.
They say we get the candidates and the presidents we deserve, but that’s not true. The system is broken, and has been for a long time. What else can you say about politics that isn’t about politics, but primarily if not exclusively about personality?
We may or may not deserve it, but we need better.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
MoveOn Co-opts OWS Rhetoric, Dilutes Its Message
If Democrats were doing their jobs, there wouldn’t be an Occupy movement.
The last 40 years has left liberals and progressives without a party and working people without an advocate. The party of FDR, JFK and LBJ abandoned its principles, embracing and voting along with Reagan and two Bushes. Clinton’s biggest accomplishments, NAFTA and welfare reform, were GOP platform planks. These New Democrats were indistinguishable from Republicans, waging optional wars, exporting jobs overseas and coddling corrupt CEOs while the rest of us—disconnected from power, our needs repeatedly ignored—sat and watched in silent rage.
Barack Obama is merely the latest of these phony Democrats. He’s the most recent in a line of corporate stooges going back to Jimmy Carter.
The Occupiers revolted under Obama’s watch for two reasons. The gap between the promise of his soaring rhetoric and the basic indecency of his cold-blooded disregard for the poor and unemployed was too awful to ignore. Moreover, the post-2008 economic collapse pushed a dam of insults and pain and anger that had built up over years past its breaking point.
Haphazard and disorganized and ad hoc, the Occupy movement is an imperfect, spontaneous response that fills a yawning demand gap in the American marketplace of ideas. For the first time since 1972, the spectrum of Left from liberalism to progressivism to socialism to communism to left anarchism has an audience (if not much of an organization).
Now the very same Democrats who killed liberalism and blocked leftists from candidacies, appointments, even the slightest participation in discussion—are trying to co-opt the Occupy movement.
MoveOn.org, which began as a plea for the U.S. to “move on” during Bill Clinton’s impeachment for perjury, claims to be an independent, progressive activist group. It’s really a shill for center-right Democratic politicians like Obama, whom MoveOn endorsed in the 2008 primaries against Hillary Clinton, who was running to Obama’s left.
All decision-making within the Occupations is consensus-based. Nothing gets approved or done before it has been exhaustedly debated; actions must be approved by 90 to 100% of Occupiers at General Assemblies. It can be arduous.
Without respect for Occupy’s process, MoveOn brazenly stole the movement’s best-known meme for its November 17th “We Are The 99%” event. And no one said boo.
Some Occupier friends were flattered.
Why didn’t MoveOn ask permission from the Occupy movement? Because they wouldn’t have gotten it. “We’re just days from the Super Committee’s deadline to propose more cuts for the 99% or increased taxes for the 1%,” reads MoveOn’s ersatz Occupy “event.”
“So come out and help increase the pressure on Congress to tax Wall Street to create millions of jobs.”
Um, no. Lobbying Congress directly contradicts a fundamental tenet of the movement that began with Occupy Wall Street. Occupy doesn’t lobby. Occupy doesn’t endorse either of the corporate political parties. Occupy doesn’t care about this bill or that amendment. Occupy does not participate in stupid elections in which both candidates work for the 1%. Occupy exists in order to figure out how to get rid of the existing system and what should replace it.
What MoveOn did was shameful. They ought to apologize. Donating a year or two’s worth of their contributions to the Occupations would be small penance. Given how little MoveOn has accomplished since its founding, Occupy would likely make better use of the cash.
On December 7th it was the turn of another Democratic “Astroturf” organization, the “American Dream Movement,” to lift the Occupy movement’s radical rhetoric to promote a very different, milquetoast agenda.
The American Dream Movement was co-founded in June 2011 by former Obama political advisor Van Jones and—turning up like a bad penny!—MoveOn.org.
A written statement for the ADM’s “Take Back the Capitol” threatened to “make Wall Street pay” for enriching the richest 1% and to “track down those responsible for crashing the economy and causing millions of 99%-ers to lose their jobs and homes—while failing to pay their fair share of taxes.”
Sounds like Occupy. Which is great.
Somewhat less than awesome is the content of the “Take Back the Capitol”: begging Congressmen who ought to awaiting trial for corruption and treason for a few crumbs off the corporate table.
“Throughout Tuesday, demonstrators visited the offices of about 99 House and Senate members, from both parties, and most were refused meetings with lawmakers,” reported NPR.
What part of “we hate you” do these ACM fools not get?
Robert Townsend, an unemployed 48-year-old man from Milwaukee, managed to meet his Congressman, Republican Thomas Petri. “We asked him if he would vote for the jobs bill. He was evasive on that. And I asked him, ‘Tell me something positive that you’re doing for Wisconsin that will put us back to work.’ He mentioned something in Oshkosh, but that’s mostly for military people. He really didn’t have much of an answer. It’s like he had no commitment to addressing this problem.”
If Congress were responsive, if Democrats or Republicans cared about us or our needs, if Obama and his colleagues spent a tenth as much time and money on the unemployed as they do golfing and bombing and invading and shoveling trillions of dollars at Wall Street bankers, we wouldn’t need an Occupy movement.
But we won’t have one for long. Not if Occupy lets itself get Occupied by MoveOn and the Democrats.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
COLUMN: The Politics of Dopes
Barack Obama, Empty Suit
Barack Obama’s supporters compare him to John Kennedy, another great orator whose youth and short political resume opened him to complaints that he didn’t have enough experience to be president. But there’s no comparison. JFK served two terms in the House and won two terms in the Senate before asking us not to ask what he could do for us. If Obama wins, he will only have had four years in Congress, next to Kennedy’s fourteen. (Hillary Clinton, running as a grizzled veteran, would have eight.)
Ted Kennedy is a better analogy. At the start of his 1980 Democratic primary challenge to incumbent President Jimmy Carter, Kennedy was riding high in the polls. But when Roger Mudd of CBS News asked him why he wanted to be president, he fumbled. “Kennedy’s problem,” Paul Waldman wrote in The American Prospect in July 2007, “was not that he didn’t have a good reason to run–he had plenty of them.” His problem was the way he thought about that run. He thought about issues, he thought about the weaknesses of the president he was trying to supplant, he thought about the programs he wanted to institute. What he didn’t construct was a story that explained his candidacy to voters and offered a narrative structure for journalists to use when reporting on him.”
Successful presidential contenders, Waldman argues persuasively, answer Mudd’s classic question with a three-part story. First, the candidate “describes the state of the country and its government, clearly defining what is wrong.” Next comes “the place the candidate wants to take us, the better day being promised.” Then he tells us why he’s the person who can get us there.
Waldman is having a good week. Barack Obama, he predicted a full six months ago, had the best three-part campaign narrative of the major contenders. America’s biggest problem, Obama says, is “partisan bickering,” which he traces to the lingering ideological rifts of the 1960s protest era. His biracial heritage gives white voters a chance to prove they’re not racist. As a Gen Xer, he says he’s the guy to move us past the Boomers’ battles.
Of course, Obama’s three-part story ignores important issues that affect real people–jobs, college tuition costs, taxes, healthcare, Iraq. I’m 44, and I’ve never met anyone who thinks there’s “partisanship in Washington.” (Most voters complain that their party isn’t forceful enough.) It’s a lame sales pitch, though it may work.
What Obama has not done is answer the question: Why does he want to be president? The answer–that it would be a cool addition to his resume–is too unappealing to say out loud.
The night of the New Hampshire primary Obama declared (four times!): “There is something happening in America!” What’s happening? “Change,” he said, “is what’s happening in America.” Change to what? Obama didn’t say.
“Yes, we can,” Obama said (11 times). “Yes, we can, to justice and equality. Yes, we can, to opportunity and prosperity. Yes, we can heal this nation. Yes, we can repair this world. Yes, we can.” Great. How?
He cannot say.
All the candidates, except for John Edwards, want to be president because they want to be president. Winning the presidency is their goal. Like Robert Redford at the end of “The Candidate,” they have no idea what they’ll do if they get the gig.
In his memoirs Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman described moving into the White House after the grueling 1968 campaign. Nearly a year passed, grinding thousands of Americans and Vietnamese to death and dismemberment, as the incoming administration learned to use the phones and master the inner workings of the federal bureaucracy. Defeating Hubert Humphrey hadn’t left enough time to develop a coherent domestic or foreign policy. Setting an agenda was done on the fly, as Nixon’s officials responded to events.
Among presidents in the modern political era, only FDR and LBJ entered the Oval Office knowing what they wanted to do. (George W. Bush–or rather Dick Cheney–knew what he/they wanted to do but didn’t deign to tell us.) It’s no accident that they were two of the most effective leaders of the 20th century, or that their legislative agendas remain cherished legacies of American progress.
If I received a call tonight informing me that I needed to come to Washington because I had somehow been selected president, I would be ready to work tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock. I already know who I’d choose as my secretaries of state, defense and other cabinet appointees. Guantánamo would be shut down. The Department of Homeland Security would be abolished. We’d pull out of NAFTA and the WTO. Torture would be banned; habeas corpus restored. I have tax reform ready to go (soak corporations and the rich, companies that outsource U.S. jobs and use offshore tax shelters would be barred from selling goods to U.S. consumers), a detailed education policy (federal control would replace local control and funding of public schools, colleges and universities would be nationalized and made free) and a plan for healthcare (fully socialized). My foreign policy would go into effect at once: immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, an address to the United Nations apologizing for the wars and the torture and offering reparations, normalizing diplomatic relations with Iran, North Korea and Cuba, and cutting off aid to oppressive dictatorships.
I’m just a writer and cartoonist, but I know exactly what I’d do if I became president. Why doesn’t Barack Obama?
We ought to expect nothing less from the men and women–all professional politicians–who seek the most important office in the country, and on earth.
COPYRIGHT 2008 TED RALL