Thursday, February 11, 2016

Hillary Clinton's Dilemma: the Centrist Third Way Policies of Bill's Presidency vs. Young Women

Bernie Sanders is popular among young women Democrats. That is not because they are uninformed, but because they and their generation have suffered the most from the fallout of Bill Clinton's era of economic prosperity for everyone but the middle-class and the poor.

As one observer has noted, the Hillary Clinton campaign has failed to create a "story of Hillary Clinton" that lends itself to effective campaigning. Her history could write such a story, but apparently somebody thinks she can discuss a wide range of issues in a bland way and get elected. She can't and here is why.

Hillary has to carry the weight of Bill Clinton's Presidency. That was not a very "progressive" period in the White House, more pro-capitalism and far more conservative than today's Democratic voters. She must repudiate the centrist Third Way philosophy of governance embraced by Bill.

I say "repudiate" because she can't disown Bill's Presidency as in the first year of his Presidency he quickly set up the Task Force on National Health Care Reform, headed by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, to come up with a comprehensive plan to provide universal health care for all Americans.

That health care plan remains the most prominent national proposal associated with Hillary Clinton, dubbed by Republicans at the time "Hillarycare" a full 15 years prior to Obama's election. But Hillarycare can be viewed from hindsight and if anything it was at least as (if not more) insurance company oriented and provider oriented than Obamacare.

The core element of the proposed plan was an enforced mandate for employers to provide health insurance coverage to all of their employees. But it required each US citizen and permanent resident alien to become enrolled in a qualified health plan and forbade their disenrollment until covered by another plan. It proposed the establishment of corporate "regional alliances" of health providers to be subject to a fee-for-service schedule. It did list minimum coverages and maximum annual out-of-pocket expenses for each plan. And, yes, people below a certain set income level were to pay nothing.The act listed funding to be sent to the states just for the administration of this plan, beginning at $13.5 billion in 1993 and reaching a whopping $38.3 billion in 2003. I have no idea what it would cost today, but a "single-payer plan" would likely be cheaper.

A "single-payer plan" has never been proposed by the Clintons. Most voting Democrats in their gut favor "Medicare for all" and hate insurance companies. And the irony is today young adults find themselves buying health insurance directly because of either or both their circumstances and post-Obamacare choices of many employers. If I were those young people instead of an old person on single-payer Medicare, I'd probably feel the Bern also.

Then we have Bill Clinton's free-wheeling banking policies. There was the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, a cornerstone of Depression-era regulation. He also signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which exempted credit-default swaps from regulation. In 1995 Clinton loosened housing rules by rewriting the Community Reinvestment Act, which put added pressure on banks to lend in low-income neighborhoods. Heated political debate by Bill Clinton notwithstanding, these policies certainly played a role in creating a permissive lending environment that led to The Great Recession and to the bank bailout. Logically, informed young Democrats today attribute part of their financial woes to Bill Clinton.

On the "Morning Joe" show the morning after the New Hampshire Primary Donald Trump explained the New Hampshire results: "The only thing he [Bernie Sanders] does know, and he’s right about, is that we’re being ripped off; he says that constantly; and I guess he and I are the only two that really say that."

Trump is right. And while pundits dismiss this as pandering to voters' anger and frustration, both Trump and Sanders frame the problem as that of the political economy of intertwined economic and political systems. All working class voters, not just the younger ones, know that there is something like this wrong in our country and believe correctly that this does them harm. The informed young Democrat realizes that the path to their stress was paved by Bill Clinton.

Hillary has a big problem to overcome. The schoolgirl who campaigned for Barry Goldwater as an adult has an image as conservative Democrat on economic issues and her campaign people seem to have no memory of the basics. "It's the economy, stupid" is a slight variation of the phrase "The economy, stupid" which James Carville had coined as a campaign strategist of Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign against sitting president George H. W. Bush.

What "It's the economy, stupid" means is there are no other issues that matter to the voters if you aren't in front of key issues associated with the economy. The Clinton Campaign in fact does have a detailed economic plan. It's something that probably could get pushed through Congress over a period of time. If you are a middle-of-the-road Republican or a Conservative Democrat it would appeal.

But from a democratic socialist point of view it's full of "trickle-down" proposals - incentives in the form of tax breaks to encourage employers to compensate employees through profit sharing plans which frequently will mean giving employees shares in the company while taking tax breaks. It might be possible to not only get it through Congress but get widespread implementation because it is a corporate tax break that sounds beneficial to employees. It would be beneficial unless the company's stock tanks. (Have you checked your 401(k) in the past two months!)

Then we have to look further at the social polices of the Clinton Administration which, so far, tend to define Hillary ideologically.

There was the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 which even Bill Clinton acknowledges resulted in at the federal level an increase in incarceration of mostly black men which led to prison overcrowding and it did encourage states to do a number of things that had the same result. The legal system relied on plea bargains to minimize the increased case load which was predictable. The bill expanded the death penalty. Most startling to many is that the bill effectively eliminated the ability of lower income prison inmates to receive college educations during their term of imprisonment, thus ensuring the education level of most inmates remains unimproved over the period of their incarceration.

There were a number of good intentions in the bill, but in the end its economic impact on the poor has been terrible. The only saving grace for Hillary Clinton, who gave a speech supporting the bill, is that Bernie Sanders voted for the bill after giving one of his Democratic Socialist speeches filled with platitudes.

One can't discuss the social policies of the Clinton Administration without discussing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). A Republican bill, President Bill Clinton signed PRWORA into law on August 22, 1996, saying it was the "best chance we will have in a long, long time" to fulfill his 1992 campaign promise of "ending welfare as we know it." According to a Washington Post article at the time:
Clinton's acquiescence to a bill far less generous to the poor than the one he initially proposed strips an issue that GOP presidential candidate Robert J. Dole had planned to use against the president in this fall's campaign. But it also revealed a deep ideological fissure in Clinton's own party....

But there was unusually sharp criticism from liberals. "My president – he's a winner . . . and the kids are the losers," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.).
That Hillary Clinton supported the bill even in 2008 when she was supporting Obama for reelection is clear from a New York Times article which has been quoted regularly because it can be quoted out of context:
Mrs. Clinton expressed no misgivings about the 1996 legislation, saying that it was a needed — and enormously successful — first step toward making poor families self-sufficient.

“Welfare should have been a temporary way station for people who needed immediate assistance,” she said. “It should not be considered an anti-poverty program. It simply did not work.”
Actually, the bill was not as devastating to the poor as expected as forcing families to rely on work instead of government money went comparatively well from 1996 to 2000 because the economy was booming. But there is a timing problem for Hillary as explained in this AP article:

More than 1 million low-income residents in 21 states could soon lose their government food stamps if they fail to meet work requirements that began kicking in this month.

...Recent experience in other states indicates that most of those affected will probably not meet the work requirements and will be cut off from food stamps.

For many people, "it means less food, less adequate nutrition. And over the span of time, that can certainly have an impact on health — and the health care system," said Dave Krepcho, president and chief executive of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. Advocates say some adults trying to find work face a host of obstacles, including criminal records, disabilities or lack of a driver's license.

The work-for-food requirements were first enacted under the 1996 welfare reform law signed by President Bill Clinton and sponsored by then-Rep. John Kasich, who is now Ohio's governor and a Republican candidate for president.
 What has been saving the Clinton campaign on this issue is explained in this article:
What’s missing from Bernie’s “full-throated” progressive agenda, however, is welfare.

While Sanders frequently repeats and laments the statistic that one in five American children live in poverty, neither he nor Clinton has put forward a specific plan to address it. And neither spends much time talking about food stamps, housing subsidies, or the Earned Income Tax Credit, all essential programs for the poor.
But as the article reports Sanders voted against the bill and harshly condemned it in his 1997 book. As he begins to campaign outside states that have overwhelmingly white middle-class populations, this could become a serious problem for Clinton.

Further there are those that remember Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act. In a June 1996 interview in the gay and lesbian magazine The Advocate, Clinton said, "I remain opposed to same-sex marriage. I believe marriage is an institution for the union of a man and a woman. This has been my long-standing position, and it is not being reviewed or reconsidered." Yes, he did criticize it as "divisive and unnecessary." And in more recent times he acknowledged part of his reason for signing the bill was to avoid associating himself politically with the then-unpopular cause of same-sex marriage while he was running for reelection. Like it or not, Hillary needs to recognize that the inaccessibility to same-sex marriage had significant negative economic impacts on gays and lesbians. And only one House Republican, only 65 House Democrats, and Independent Bernie Sanders voted against DOMA.

Unfortunately, Bill Clinton embraced the centrist Third Way philosophy of governance. It is a hopeful philosophical construct that seeks the pursuit of greater egalitarianism in society through action to increase the distribution of skills, capacities, and productive endowments, while rejecting income redistribution as the means to achieve this. In doing this, it pretends to be a kind of change on democratic socialism that Bill Clinton embraced. To quote one Republican we all know: "I gotta ask the supporters of all that, 'How's that hopey, changey stuff working out?'"

The problem is the centrist Third Way is not a variant on democratic socialism or even the philosopihical traditions of the New Deal and Great Society. It is a deviant. And every well-informed young black lesbian who grew up in a single-parent household knows this.

Now I have to let a young woman explain her view in this quote from an article by Clio Chang, an editorial intern at the New Republic and former a policy associate at The Century Foundation:
Is it so outlandish to think that the circumstances in which each generation grew up would affect their political preferences? Particularly when those circumstances are of immense historical importance, like the Great Recession? While those who entered the workforce during Bill Clinton’s presidency may remember his legacy as an era of economic prosperity, that wealth hasn’t trickled down to today’s millennials. Two decades later, they are just as likely to hear criticisms of Clinton’s policies, such as welfare reform, DOMA, and mandatory minimum sentences. Indeed, when you take into account the root causes of the financial crisis, income inequality, and wage stagnation, the Clinton years start to look like part of a neoliberal-conservative consensus, as opposed to a liberal outlier between two Bush administrations. At a time when more young voters seem to be following all the correct steps for success—graduating high school, getting a college degree—but are still floundering, it’s no wonder that they are drawn to Sanders’s stacked-deck rhetoric.

While Hillary is not her husband’s keeper—and is certainly running on a much more progressive agenda—she is tied to several of her husband’s policies. Take, for example, the welfare reform bill (for which Hillary rounded up votes in Congress), which is now highly criticized for having contributed to keeping millions of women and children in deep poverty. Or her past comments about black children in gangs being super-predators. Clinton has not promoted these policies in her campaign, but she has not rejected them either. And, while Bill and his supporters may have seen conciliatory politics as the only option for a liberal in his position, millennials (especially black millennials, as Michelle Alexander points out) are now left dealing with the mainly negative results of that pragmatism, souring them towards Hillary’s entreaty for a similar approach to governance.
As an old person who is a registered Democrat, who became disenchanted as a Young Democrats delegate to the California Democratic Council in 1964, Chang's article is understandable and she did a good job of explaining the point of view of young women who say they won't vote for Hillary just because she is a woman.

But I would suggest that those women who make that "I won't vote for Hillary just because she is a woman" statement read in its entirety an article also in the New Republic titled Hillary’s Missing Girls which reminds me why as the grandfather of two women under 30 I feel the need to vote for Hillary partly because she is a woman while acknowledging that I wouldn't vote for Sara Palin just because she's a woman:
According to a recent Washington Post study, 63 percent of young women identify as feminist and 45 percent have taken to social media to express their views on women’s rights. They are informed and active on issues like sexual assault and reproductive rights. They eagerly critique the representation of women in the media. But when it comes to casting a vote, they act like we already live in a post-feminist age. This, despite the fact that women still only make up 20 percent of Congress and 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and still earn only 78 cents to a man’s dollar. As Sheryl Sandberg memorably put it: “If NASA launched a person into space today, she could soar past Mars, travel all the way to Pluto and return to Earth 10 times before women occupy half of C-suite offices. Yes, we’re that far away.”

The thinking among young women voters seems to be that voting for Hillary, at least in part because she is a woman, is not a confirmation of equality. They’re right: it’s not. But we don’t live in an equal world; gender still matters, and matters a lot. Women will only be equal in American society when their presence as candidates and leaders ceases to be remarkable, when they are just as likely to be elected president as men.

Though it’s noble, pretending the world is gender-blind doesn’t make it so. Does it really make sense to ignore gender in America’s presidential election, a race of world-changing significance, when, on the whole, and in most aspects of life, the world doesn’t? If companies didn’t think about gender, they wouldn’t have made any progress in correcting workplace inequities. If colleges didn’t think about race, they wouldn’t create diverse communities. It is strange that a society so self-conscious and reflective about demographic disparities tries to put these aside when it comes to filling the highest and most powerful job in the country. And it’s important to remember that we didn’t put those concerns aside in 2008: Electing the first black president was meaningful for black and white Americans alike. Eight years ago, it would have been preposterous to suggest that voting for Obama in part because of his blackness was a mark against the struggle for progress. Why has our thinking changed when it comes to a woman? 
I would prefer that the Hillary Clinton campaign, which has already moved slightly away from the centrist Third Way, move much further toward the political philosophy represented by the economic policies of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. That would be better for America and for those critical Millennial Democratic women and for a very large number of unemployed young men. And it might help Hillary get nominated.

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