Robert Reich on Hillary Clinton – too smug, too superficial, and too sexist

In a recent article, Robert Reich writes:

“Does Hillary Clinton understand that the biggest divide in American politics is no longer between the right and the left, but between the anti-establishment and the establishment?

“I worry she doesn’t – at least not yet.

“A Democratic operative I’ve known since the Bill Clinton administration told me, ‘Now that she’s won the nomination, Hillary is moving to the middle. She’s going after moderate swing voters.’

“Presumably that’s why she tapped Tim Kaine to be her vice president. Kaine is as vanilla middle as you can get.

“The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a system rigged by big corporations, Wall Street, and the super-wealthy.

“In fairness, Hillary is only doing what she knows best. Moving to the putative center is what Bill Clinton did after the Democrats lost the House and Senate in 1994 …”

I often admire Reich’s advocacy on behalf of progressive causes, but I find his analysis here to be smug, superficial, and sexist.

To be fair, he doesn’t get everything wrong; Bill Clinton did move to the “putative center.” There is rising anger against “big corporations, Wall Street, and the super-wealthy.” And Tim Kaine is no radical.

Beyond that, however, I can’t find much to agree with here.

First: His observation that Clinton fails to understand that “the biggest divide in American politics is no longer between the right and the left, but between the anti-establishment and the establishment?” is wrong in a double sense. The biggest divide – and Hillary clearly understands this well – has never been between the right and left. And the main divide is not the clash between the “anti-establishment and the establishment.” Sure, the establishment/anti-establishment idea has increasingly fractured U.S. politics and shapes popular thinking. Bernie Sanders especially echoed this sentiment in his campaign. But it hasn’t replaced the main political division. And that division is between right-wing extremism on the one side and a broad, diverse, multi-class people’s movement on the other.

This divide between ultra-right extremism and the rest of us dates back to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and nearly 40 years later, shockingly, it remains our overarching reality, structuring politics, political possibilities, and the current elections.

Indeed, the main and immediate political challenge at the moment is to defeat Trump and the rest of the right wing down the ticket in a landslide. Such a rout would cause people here and worldwide to breathe a sigh of relief. But more: it would give a fresh impulse and a popular mandate to secure badly needed political, economic, and social reforms in the near term and over a longer horizon to vigorously challenge globalized production and financialization in their neoliberal form.

Second: Reich, who was Secretary of Labor in the Bill Clinton administration, complains that Hillary is “going after moderate voters.” But is there something wrong with reaching out to moderates? Should she ignore them? Dismiss them? Or cede them to Trump and the right wing? If there a pathway to a landslide victory in November that doesn’t include “moderate” as well as – this may sound heretical to some who are lost in pure and uncomplicated categories of class and social struggle – a chunk of traditional Republican voters, I’m not sure what that path is.

So the question isn’t why is Hillary reaching out to such voters, the question is why wouldn’t she? And the follow up question is: how can we help her? Of course, her campaign and the broad coalition that supports her should reach out to “first time” and “stay-at-home” voters – not to mention register new voters, too. In other words, employ, with some updating and on a broader scale, the playbook of President Obama’s two successful presidential runs.

Third: Reich – and he unfortunately has plenty of company on the left – locks Hillary into a tightly constructed political category from which he allows her no space to escape, when he writes, “Hillary is only doing what she knows best. Moving to the putative center is what Bill Clinton did after the Democrats lost the House and Senate in 1994 …”

Other than a conversation with a “Democratic operative,” Reich brings no evidence to bear on his claim that Hillary is tacking to the right. Perhaps, bowing to the Hillary-hating that is nearly a national pastime, that is all he thinks is necessary. Sorry Bob, it isn’t. Some facts have to be offered. But none are and a good part of the reason is that the facts strongly suggest otherwise. From the tenor of her primary campaign, to her search for common ground with Bernie Sanders, to her embrace of the unprecedentedly progressive convention platform, to her acceptance speech at the Democratic Party convention, and to her election campaigning so far, she has been breaking in a progressive direction on a broad range of class and democratic issues. (And the wall between “class and democratic issues” is very permeable; I use “interpenetrate” to capture their interaction and dynamic).

Despite this reality, Reich (and some others on the left) are stingy with their praise for Hillary and seldom if ever mention the significance of the glass ceiling that she will break if she is victorious. Instead, they are far more likely to critique – at times blast – her. I guess they think that to do otherwise might leave them open to criticism from others on the left, thereby tarnishing what is most precious to them – their progressive and radical credentials.

Moreover, Reich, without any qualification, assumes that what Bill did Hillary will do. In other words, she has to not only pay for the sins of her husband, but, as a dutiful woman and wife, she is programmed to repeat them, according to Reich. That kind of pigeon-holing insultingly dismisses HER and the possibility that HER thinking may have evolved in the face of the global economic crash, or sluggish recovery and persistent income stagnation, or the epidemic of shootings of young Black men and the challenges to the criminal justice system, or the upward climb of the planet’s temperature, or the growth and surge of popular movements, or policy failures of previous Democratic administrations, or even the narrowing limits of U.S. power projection in the global theater.

I’m sure Reich wouldn’t put himself into such an ideological iron cage, but he has no hesitation to dump Hilary there and turn her into a creature of the past destined to do what her husband did. It seems that in Reich’s world, once in the dog house, always in the dog house, especially if you are a smart woman who I’m guessing clashed with Reich on one thing or another in the past. This is a sexist and sloppy analysis. We should expect better from Robert Reich.

Do Elections Matter?

Below is a comment I made to someone who argued that “although elections are important, the mass movement is more important.”

This is a very poor way to frame things at this moment, or any moment for that matter. Don’t elections have a mass character, don’t they draw into them some of the main class and social movements without whom the country will never move to higher ground; and don’t they – and especially their outcome – create more or less favorable conditions for struggle on a broad range of issues. I have to think that the electoral and political arena will figure prominently in any kind of swing of the country to the left in the future – much like it did in Latin America. Damming electoral/legislative struggle with faint praise is no sign of political maturity nor a measure of one’s radicalism.

Setting Our Sights And Steering Our Course

The 1 per cent vs the 99 per cent – the slogan of the Occupy movement – is a broad, big tent notion that mirrors an objective economic reality in which the lion’s share of the wealth created by labor is appropriated by individuals and families at the very top of the income tier. But what it isn’t is an accurate estimate of the balance of class, social, and political forces across the country at this moment. Nor does it capture what the main political challenge is between now and when millions cast their votes in November. The country is far more divided than the Occupy slogan suggests. And the immediate political challenge isn’t to bring to heel corporate capital in toto, but to defeat Donald Trump and his Republican minions – and the sections of capital that support them – in a landslide this fall. In case it needs saying, doing the latter is a necessary step if we are to do the former.

I wish we could set our sights higher. But wishful thinking is never a good strategic, tactical, or programmatic guide. There is no substitute for clear eyed, sober, and dialectical thinking, framed, of course, by a larger political vision.

Which means – like it or not – that we still have ground to cover, stages of struggle to traverse, and tactics to elaborate before the American people square off directly and decisively against the dominant sections of the corporate/wealthy class – the 1 per cent. And even when we do, we will still need a politics that combines soberness and complexity with a readiness to seize the initiative. Simplistic schemes that rule out any change of tempo or tack, any alteration of demands and slogans, and any room for “unreliable and conditional” allies will do little to effect transformative social change – not to mention win the current election battle.

That said, even if the Occupy slogan doesn’t capture the main political dynamic of the present moment, its value lies in the fact that it stretches out our thinking, give us star to steer by, and serves as a reminder that building a sustained movement of the immense majority is a real – not wishful – possibility in the not too distant future.


Trump and His Political Pedigree

From an earlier post on my blog ( on the rise of Trump:

Which brings me back to Trump. If he isn’t a fascist, where does he sit on the political spectrum? Trump in my view is a right wing extremist and demagogue. He’s not alone however. He occupies that space with Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, and nearly all of the Republican Party leadership. Each is a product of the rise and combustible brew of right wing extremism, Christian evangelism, and neoliberalism. But what distinguishes Trump from his other mates is his reckless, unreliable, and unpredictable behavior. He is of the right, but he doesn’t answer to its beck and call. A team player he isn’t. To make matters worse, he embraces, unlike the other rebels and malcontents on the right, a less than consistent class and political ideology, at the level of rhetoric. None of these traits is held in high regard in the elite circles of the Republican Party or capitalist class. In short, he’s the Republican Party’s worst nightmare.

While a degree of autonomy usually operates in the relations between those who rule and those who govern, it is limited and relative. But the fear is that a Trump presidency could rupture that dynamic altogether, that he could become completely untethered from elite circles and destabilize capitalist hegemony and rule. But more immediately for the Republican Party leadership and the entire right wing movement, a Trump candidacy could result in massive defeat up and down the ticket in November and irreparably damage their future and the right wing political project.

Not Economic Issues Alone

Arguments to persuade white workers not to vote for Trump that focus only on economic policy are misguided in my opinion. No less important is to wonder aloud if working families and their children will be well served if the White House – and the enormous power to do good or evil associated with the office – is occupied by someone – Trump – who is so recklessness, erratic, lacking in elementary kindness, and mean spirited toward women, people of color, and immigrants. On its face, this doesn’t speak to “bread and butter” issues, but it does register, at least in my experience, with white working people’s sense of decency, modesty, fairness, human solidarity, and concern for the future.

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