Clinton, Obama and the party of Wall Street

Even outspoken progressive Democrats such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the authors of Daring Democracy hold back from doing two things.

They don’t talk about the U.S. state of permanent war, and they don’t criticize the record of Barack Obama.

Thomas Frank, who recently did three more interviews for the Real News Network, doesn’t talk about war and peace either, but he is at least willing to take an honest look at the Obama record and the record of Bill Clinton before him.

I have the three interviews on YouTube, with links that should take you to transcripts.

Presidents Clinton and Obama Helped Make the Democrats a Wall Street Party

The Democratic Party historically was opposed to big banks, going back to Franklin Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan and Andrew Jackson.   That was almost a defining characteristic.

It was golden-tongued Bill Clinton who made the Democrats a second party of Wall Street, and persuaded the Democratic rank and file to accept it.   His argument was that Democrats couldn’t win unless they matched Republicans dollar-for-dollar in campaign spending, which they could not do if they were anti-Wall Street.

I voted for Clinton reluctantly.   In those days I thought that Democrats, however flawed, were better for working people than Republicans.

I disliked Clinton, not because of the sex scandals or his policies, but because of his treatment of employees of the White House travel office, which arranged accommodations for White House staff and the White House press corps accompanying the President on his travels.   He and Hillary Clinton wanted to close the travel office and turn its functions over to cronies of theirs, which they had a legal right to do.

When this became an issue in Congress, Clinton ordered a FBI investigation of the travel office employees to see if any of them were guilty of criminal wrongdoing.   He was willing to destroy the careers and ruin the lives of people who did not intend him any harm, but were merely in the way of something he wanted to do.

I did not fully realize until later the harm that Clinton’s signature policies did—the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, the end of welfare for mothers with dependent children, the crime bill leading to mass incarceration and the deregulation of the banking industry.   As Thomas Frank noted in the video, all four of these things were long-time Republican goals.

Clinton even toyed with a bipartisan agreement with Newt Gingrich to cut Social Security.

Obama Chose Wall Street Over Main Street

I voted for Barack Obama with great enthusiasm in 2008.   I had read The Audacity of Hope and wasn’t under any illusion that he was a great progressive radical.   But I expected he would get the country back to what I regarded as normal.

Instead he created a new normal, in which officers of Wall Street banks were not prosecuted because they were “too big to fail.”  His three signature achievements—Obamacare, the economic stimulus and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill—all seemed to me like half-measures.

He raised more money from small donations than any candidate in recent history and he also raised more money from big donors, and specifically from Wall Street, that the Republican candidate.   So there was a question as to whose interests he would serve—the small donors or the big money donors.

Thomas Frank said in the interview that Obama could have been another Franklin Roosevelt.   He took office when there was a Democratic majority in Congress, the Bush administration had been discredited and Wall Street bankers were looking to Washington to save them from their follies.

I don’t say Obama was wrong to bail out the banks during the crisis, but he failed to demand in return changes that would prevent the crisis from happening again.

Where did his loyalties really lie?  Was he a sincere but ineffective progressive or was he a brilliantly effective conservative?

I think his post-presidential career answers that—giving speeches to Wall Street financial firms for up to $400,000 an appearance, rather than speaking to labor or civil rights organizations.

Obama and Bill Clinton were and are both extremely gifted orators.  From my standpoint, they always seemed to be able to say the right thing.   Then later on, when I went back and read their speeches the way a lawyer might, I realized they hadn’t actually said that I thought they said.   I came to hate listening to either one of them because of their power to push my emotional buttons.

Harvey Weinstein, the Democratic Party and the Power of the ‘Creative Class’

Even thought I was disappointed in Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, I don’t think George W. Bush or Donald Trump are any better.

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