Counterpunch, January 29, 2016
Hillary Clinton says the damnedest things, some more truthful than others. Below I run through some of my favorite Hillary quotes, adding some critical commentary and a concluding refection “lesser evil” voting.
“Neither Easily Defined” (1992)
Mrs. Clinton said something reliably factual at her high school alma mater in Park Ridge, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. “I was a [Barry] Goldwater Girl” as a teenager,” she recalled. “But…after leaving Main South [High School], I went to Wellesley [College], still a Republican, but [with] a different kind of attitude….and then gradually over time in college and [Yale] law school I evolved my own political beliefs, which frankly are in some ways neither easily defined, they’re not dogmatically Republican, dogmatically Democrat, [not] easily defined as liberal or conservative…”
This was an honest reflection on her evolution from right-wing Republican (Goldwater in 1964) to centrist “Rockefeller” Republican (pro-Nelson Rockefeller and anti-Richard Nixon in 1968) to centrist Democrat in the 1970s and since. Still, it’s not quite the whole story. There’s an accurate translation of the statement: “I became a neoliberal ‘third-way’ corporatist working in accord with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to move the Democratic Party further to the Big Business-friendly right and away from its prior outward commitments to labor unions, working people, the poor, minorities, civil rights, feminism, social welfare, economic regulation, and environmental protection. Bill and I and other such conservative Democrats moved to the right of Rockefeller, Eisenhower and even Richard Nixon on social and economic policy.”
That neoliberal position is the essence of what dollar Democrats like Barack Obama and the Clintons mean when they call themselves “progressives who like to get things done.” It has defined her wealth- and power-serving career in “public service.” That is something Hillary didn’t wish to fully articulate for a very basic reason: it doesn’t fit very well with the fake-progressive populism-posturing Democratic presidential candidates engage in every four years, few more skillfully than her husband in 1992.
“David, Tell Me Some Something Interesting” (1993)
“David, tell me something interesting.” That was then First Lady Hillary Clinton’s weary and exasperated response – as head of the White House’s health reform initiative – to Harvard medical professor David Himmelstein in 1993. Himmelstein was head of Physicians for a National Health Program. He had just told her about the remarkable possibilities of a comprehensive, single-payer “Canadian style” health plan, supported by more than two-thirds of the U.S. public. Beyond backing by a citizen super-majority, Himmelstein noted, single-payer would provide comprehensive coverage to the nation’s 40 million uninsured while retaining free choice in doctor selection and being certified by the Congressional Budget Office as “the most cost-effective plan on offer.”
There was no dishonesty in Hillary’s dismissive remark. Consistent with her neoliberal DLC world view, she really was bored and irritated by Himmelstein’s pitch. Along with the big insurance companies they deceptively railed against, the Clintons decided from the start to exclude the popular, social-democratic health insurance alternative (single-payer) from the national health care “discussion.” (Obama would do the same exact same thing in 2009.) What the First Lady advanced instead of the Canadian system that bored her was a hopelessly complex, secretly developed and corporatist system called “managed competition.”
“The Facts That Have Brought Us to This Fateful Vote” (2002)
The following statement comes from U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton’s October 2002 speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, where she supported Congress authorizing George W. Bush to arch-criminally invade Iraq if he wanted to (he did):
“Now, I believe the facts that have brought us to this fateful vote are not in doubt. Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who has tortured and killed his own people, even his own family members, to maintain his iron grip on power. …In 1998, the United States also changed its underlying policy toward Iraq from containment to regime change and began to examine options to effect such a change…In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members…Now this much is undisputed.”
It was good of Hillary to remind historians that Washington first shifted to a policy of regime change in Iraq under her husband’s presidency. Beyond that and other bits of obvious veracity (the formerly U.S.-sponsored Saddam was a murderous tyrant), Mrs. Clinton here just conveyed George W. Bush’s criminally deceptive, concocted, and flawed pretexts for criminally invading Iraq. Did Hillary believe those pretexts? Not likely. She was certainly aware that “the facts that have brought us to this fateful vote” were much disputed and indeed “fixed in advance” (in the words of British intelligence) by the Bush-Cheney administration.
“It’s Time for the United States to Start Thinking of Iraq as a Business Opportunity” (2011)
Eight years after the disastrous Iraq invasion that she advance-approved, Hillary spoke as Secretary of State to thirty senior US corporate executives gathered at a State Department Roundtable on Investment Opportunities in Iraq. “Iraq,” Madame Secretary Clinton informed her guests, “has one of the largest customer bases in the entire Arab world. It has one of the world’s largest supplies of oil. And so it’s time for the United States to start thinking of Iraq as a business opportunity. Iraq is projected to grow faster than China in the next two years. I am very excited about what’s possible, and I’m very hopeful about the future.”
It’s difficult to fathom the brazen, cold-blooded imperial and plutocratic hubris of this statement. Iraq stood (and stands today) devastated, millions killed, maimed, and displaced by a prolonged and monumentally illicit, immoral, and racist U.S. invasion and occupation. It’s technical and social infrastructure lay in ruins, thanks to the mass murderous war Hillary sanctioned. And here she was with a big smiley face, talking “excitement” and “possibility” for U.S. capitalists looking (she hoped) to make a profits killing in the U.S.-ruined nation.
Hillary spoke as if her spine-chilling claim marked some kind of recent discovery. In reality, the notion of Iraq as an oil-rich U.S. business opportunity this was at the heart of neoliberal-imperialist Council on Foreign Relations and US ruling-class thinking on the targeted nation well in advance of the invasion (for details, see Laurence Shoup’s recent and indispensable book Wall Street’s Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations and the Empire of Neoliberal Politics, 1976-2014) Iraq as an oil-rich business opportunity. By deleting that very basic fact, of which she was certainly aware, the Madame Secretary deceived by historical omission – a routine “elite” practice. .
“We Came, We Saw, He Died” (2011)
“We came, we saw, he died, ha ha.” That’s Hillary’s famous laughing 2011 remark on the U.S and European bombing of Libya, which hurled that nation into murderous sectarian turmoil, leading (among other terrible things) to the grisly murder of former Libyan head of state Momar Gadaffi. (Gadaffi is of course the “he” who died in Hillary’s comment). The video of Hillary’s television studio aside (provided in the hyperlink just given) is quite disturbing. She made little effort to hide her perverse glee over Gadaffi’s ugly demise.
Of course, thousands more have died in Libya and North Africa thanks to the chaos that Obama and his fellow “humanitarian” imperialist Hillary Clinton unleashed in Libya. The victims include J. Christopher Stevens, the former US diplomat (under Secretary Clinton) in Libya, who perished on September 11th 2012 when Islamic militants unleashed by the U.S. and the West attacked the US consular offices in Benghazi, Libya.
“A Response to Inflammatory Material Posted on the Internet”
Which brings me to Hillary Clinton’s official statement on Stevens’ demise. In the months leading up to the Benghazi assault, her top staff made it clear to Secretary Clinton that the U.S. mission in Benghazi was vulnerable to attack by heavily armed Islamist militias who were roaming the city’s streets. Hillary was hardly unaware that numerous violent incidents had jarred Benghazi over recent months. She knew that the US mission there had in August sent her a cable warning of its inability to defend itself. Why didn’t Hillary take action to protect the US mission in Benghazi, or to close it? And what was Stevens doing in an under-protected, highly exposed hot-spot like Benghazi in the first place? Mrs. Clinton figured, incorrectly, that the CIA – the actual US agency behind the Benghazi mission – would provide adequate security if the “diplomatic post” was attacked. She calculated that CIA Director David Patraeus was the relevant authority responsible for the Benghazi mission, which was a front for the “intelligence” agency’s arming of rebels in Syria. As conservative author Edward Klein rightly notes:
“the American effort in Benghazi was from first to last a CIA operation. Of the forty or so Americans officials stationed in Benghazi, only seven worked for the State Department. The consulate’s primary purpose was to provide cover for the thirty-plus Americans who worked for the CIA…Hillary personally ordered the consulate to remain open in order to accommodate the CIA’s mission. As she knew all too well, the CIA was involved in the clandestine – and probably illegal – transfer of weapons out of eastern Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of rebel groups fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Those weapons, including rocket launchers, were purchased from al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in Libya. And many of those arms were finding their way back into the hands of al-Qaeda fighters in Syria and terrorists in other parts of the Middle East…All of this was being done [illegally] without the knowledge or consent of the United States Congress…in an operation that had many of the earmarks for the Iran-Contra Scandal…”
Stevens was in Benghazi to oversee CIA arms smuggling there, as Hillary knew. The U.S. Benghazi consulate, attacked as part of a jihadist upsurge sparked by U.S.-imposed regime change in Libya, was part of the U.S. effort to bring about regime change in Syria – an effort the Secretary Clinton was leading. And, as we know now, the Washington-led campaign against the Assad regime in Syria has created critical context for the revival of jihadism in Iraq and for the rise of the arch-reactionary Islamic State across vast swaths of Syria and Iraq.
Here, then, is Hillary Clinton’s official pronouncement on the night that Stevens was killed:
“I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today…Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
Thus was an incident that emerged from blood-soaked and jihad-fueling US imperialism in the Middle East wrapped in the deceptive flag of America’s supposed noble commitment to tolerance and diversity in its grand humanitarian struggle with Islamist fanatics.
Hillary’s preposterous statement – suggesting that the US mission was assaulted because of Islamist anger over an online video mocking the Muslim prophet Mohammad – was probably forced on her by Barack Obama. With less than two months leading up to his re-election, Obama could not let anything close to the truth about Benghazi come out. The reality of what happened there undermined two of his leading campaign claims: that he had won the “War on Terror” and swept Middle Eastern jihadists into the dustbin of history, and that he had successfully kept the U.S. out of another war in the Middle East by refusing to get involved in Syria. (Benghazi also raised unpleasant questions about Obama’s violation of federal law requiring Congressional oversight of the CIA and his continuation of George W. Bush’s policy of illegally pursuing regime change in foreign nations.)
“America Leads by Engaging Societies and People, the Sources of Legitimacy”
The Benghazi episode is reminiscent of Tricky Dick Nixon and his scheming National Security advisor Henry Kissinger. Which reminds me… here is an interesting passage from a review Hillary published on Kissinger’s latest book in the Washington Post in September of 2014
“Henry Kissinger…sounds surprisingly idealistic. Even when there are tensions between our values and other objectives, America, he reminds us, succeeds by standing up for our values, not shirking them, and leads by engaging peoples and societies, the sources of legitimacy, not governments alone. …our levers of leadership are not just about keeping our military strong and our diplomacy agile; they are about standing up for human rights, about advancing the rights and role of women and girls, about creating the space for a flourishing civil society and the conditions for broad-based development… ‘Any system of world order, to be sustainable, must be accepted as just — not only by leaders, but also by citizens,’ he writes.”
It takes powerful imperial indoctrination medicine to suggest that Henry Kissinger, of all people, is a friend of democracy. Some of Kissinger’s crimes were usefully synopsized by liberal commentator David Corn the day after Hillary’s book review was published:
“Chile: Nixon and Kissinger plotted to thwart the democratic election of a socialist president. The eventual outcome: a military coup and a military dictatorship that killed thousands of Chileans.
Argentina: Kissinger gave a ‘green light’ to the military junta’s dirty war against political opponents that led to the deaths of an estimated 30,000.
East Timor: Another ‘green light’ from Kissinger, this one for the Indonesian military dictatorship’s bloody invasion of East Timor that yielded up to 200,000 deaths.
Cambodia: The secret bombing there during the Nixon phase of the Vietnam War killed between 150,000 and 500,000 civilians.
Bangladesh: Kissinger and Nixon turned a blind eye to—arguably, they tacitly approved—Pakistan’s genocidal slaughter of 300,000 Bengalis, most of them Hindus.”
How’s all that for “engaging people’s and societies”?!
As the great democracy-promoter Henry Kissinger explained the National Security Council’s 40 Committee regarding Chile in the spring of 1970: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”
Kissinger’s “idealistic” commitment to popular governance was also evident in the “democratic” United States itself in the fall of 1968. In a shamelessly treasonous action that Richard Nixon rewarded with the post of National Security Advisor, Kissinger played a critical role helping Nixon undermine the Lyndon Johnson administration’s peace negotiations with North Vietnam. As an infiltrator of Johnson’s negotiating team, Kissinger helped prevent a likely peace accord and thereby prolonged Washington’s “crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (Noam Chomsky) for years, at vast human cost. Kissinger’s subversive, anti-democratic, and (it bears repeating) treasonous actions helped put Hillary’s purported enemy Richard Nixon in the White House, for Johnson’s failure to secure a peace treaty contributed to Nixon’s defeat of Hubert Humphrey in November of 1968.
“I Represented New York on 9/11”
Another fine Hillary quote came during the second Democratic presidential debate last fall in Des Moines, Iowa. The comment in question came in response to a CBS debate moderator and Bernie Sanders pointing out that her campaign had received millions of dollars in election contributions and speaking fees from leading Wall Street financial institutions while Sanders relies on small contributions from ordinary middle- and working-class Americans. Here’s what Hillary said:
“Oh, wait a minute, senator. You know, not only do I have hundreds of thousands of donors, most of them small, I am very proud that for the first time a majority of my donors are women, 60 percent. So I – I represented New York. And I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked. Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy. And it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.”
It’s good (if true) that most of Hillary’s individual donors are female and that she has a large number of donors. But leading major party presidential candidates typically get donations from hundreds of thousands of people. The fact remains that Mrs. Clinton is heavily and disproportionately funded by predominantly male Wall Street elites, who back her because they quite reasonably see her as a good friend of the nation’s global corporate and financial aristocracy. The bigger problem with her statement, however, was her suggestion that the reason for her heavily Wall Street-tilted campaign finance profile is the fact that she was a Senator from New York, home to Wall Street, when lower Manhattan was attacked. Here she expected voters, viewers, and media commentators to forget that she was already a heavily Wall Street-sponsored politician when she ran for the U.S. Senate in 1999 and 2000. The sponsorship continues to this day, reflecting the Clintons’ long record of serving “elite” financial interests by working (among other things) to keep serious financial regulation and break-up (much less overdue nationalization) at bay.
“A Beacon of Progressive Hope”
Here’s another whopper from Hillary Clinton – well, from one of her campaign’s recent flyers in Iowa: “Over the last eight years, this house has been a beacon of hope where progressive values have been protected [and] struggles for equality have been championed.” The flyer’s claim is Orwellian nonsense. The Obama White House has been anything but a progressive beacon. In reality, Obama’s presidency, like Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s before it, it has functioned precisely as predicted by the left historian Laurence Shop in Z Magazine in February of 2008:
“Every four years many Americans put their hopes in an electoral process, hopes that a savior can be elected – someone who will make their daily lives more livable, someone who will raise wages, create well-paying jobs, enforce union rights, provide adequate health care, rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, and end war and militarism. In actuality, the leading ‘electable’ presidential candidates have all been well vetted by the hidden primary of the ruling class and are tied to corporate power in multiple ways. They will stay safely within the bounds set by those who rule America behind the scenes, making sure that members of the plutocracy continue to be the main beneficiaries of the system…It is clear that, at best, U.S. ‘democracy’ is a guided one; at its worst it is a corrupt farce, amounting to manipulation, with the larger population objects of propaganda in a controlled and trivialized electoral process” (L. Shoup, “Election 2008,” Z Magazine, February 2008).
For my latest summary of some of the Big Business-friendly details on all that, please see my latest ZNet article, titled “Hillary Goes Hopey-Changey in Iowa.”
“But Instead, You Know, We Had Reconstruction…”
Just a few days ago, in Iowa, Hillary Clinton was asked which past U.S. president inspired her the most. Despite her recent “Hopey-Changey”-ness, she didn’t pick Obama, who she privately loathes. In choosing Abraham Lincoln, she made an incredibly reactionary comment:
“You know, he was willing to reconcile and forgive. And I don’t know what our country might have been like had he not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant, that might possibly have brought people back together more quickly…But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the re-instigation of segregation and Jim Crow. We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant. So, I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path.”
How’s that for a DLC-like neoliberal and racist Southern white-pleasing take on the nation’s halting and all-too short-lived efforts to attack some of the terrible consequences of centuries of Black chattel slavery during the late 1860s and early 1870s? Let me offer a useful critique from the liberal, faux-radical Black Hillary-backer (and Sanders-dis-respecter) Ta Nahesi Coates, writing from Paris:
“Clinton, whether she knows it or not, is retelling a racist—though popular—version of American history which held sway in this country until relatively recently. Sometimes going under the handle of ‘The Dunning School,’ and other times going under the ‘Lost Cause’ label, the basic idea is that Reconstruction was a mistake brought about by vengeful Northern radicals. The result was a savage and corrupt government which in turn left former Confederates, as Clinton puts, it ‘discouraged and defiant.’”
“Notably absent from [this racist account] is the fact that Lincoln was killed by a white supremacist, that Johnson was a white supremacist who tried to curtail virtually all rights black people enjoyed, that the ‘hope’ of white Southerners lay in the pillage of black labor, that this was accomplished through a century-long campaign of domestic terrorism, and that for most of that history the federal government looked the other way, while state and local governments were complicit.”
“Yet until relatively recently, this self-serving version of history was dominant. It is almost certainly the version fed to Hillary Clinton during her school years, and possibly even as a college student. Hillary Clinton is no longer a college student. And the fact that a presidential candidate would imply that Jim Crow and Reconstruction were equal, that the era of lynching and white supremacist violence would have been prevented had that same violence not killed Lincoln, and that the violence was simply the result of rancor, the absence of a forgiving spirit, and an understandably ‘discouraged’ South is chilling.”
Strategic Voting: No Can Do
Coates’ historical critique is well-crafted and on point (though I must say that the Dunning School has been out of fashion for well more than a generation in halfway respectable U.S. academic history departments). Still, it is distressing to see that Coates still (even after his candidate so clearly demonstrated the white national racial/racist amnesia Coates has dedicated much of his writing to challenging) can’t bring himself – even from the other side of an ocean – to come out from under Hillary Clinton’s racist skirt. As he explains at the end of his clever essay on Hillary’s racial amnesia: “This is not a brief for staying home, because such a thing doesn’t actually exist. In the American system of government, refusing to vote for the less-than-ideal is a vote for something much worse. Even when you don’t choose, you choose.”
Translation: “all decent and anti-racist Americans must vote for the arch-corporatist neoliberal War Hawk Hillary Clinton next November.” The “radical” Coates is a militant liberal Lesser Evilist who thinks that Bernie Sanders does not exist.
As an actual left radical living in a presidentially disputed state (Iowa), I am painfully aware of the moral logic behind the quadrennial arguments of left thinkers telling progressives in contested states to engage in “strategic voting”: to vote “for” the “lesser evil” Democratic candidate to block the horrific Republican candidate. I have a quick and visceral response to the counsel: it’s easier said than done! Try it sometime, fellow leftists counseling me from “safe states.” I’ll leave aside some troubling questions about some of the different ways in which the Democrats might reasonably be seen as the worse and “more effective” (Glen Ford’s term) evil in the U.S. capitalist party and elections system. Forget all that for now and just look back at the soul-numbing, socio-pathological mendacity evident in the limited selection of Hillary Clinton quotations presented in this essay. If you can digest all that and still make your hand poke a ballot hole for a third Clinton administration than you are either a better or worse election “choice” responder than me. I just can’t pull it off and no amount of liberal or progressive Democratic name-calling – “spoiler,” “Nader,” “sexist” (false, Hillary is no progressive friend of women) – is going to fix that. Sorry.