On 3 February 2016, Democrat Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was asked about a payment of $675,000 by Goldman Sachs. This is the multinational investment firm that enjoys influence not just in the US where it dictates policy, but across Europe and other countries around the world. The TV moderator who asked the question about such a huge amount of money was hinting that a politician taking a fee of such magnitude is beholden to that corporation, exactly as has been the case in the last three decades when it comes to Goldman Sachs that has its former executives take key government positions, including Treasury Secretary. Clinton’s response was” “That’s what they offered.”
In 2013 Clinton left the State Department and signed a contract with the Harry Walker Agency that also represents her husband among other high-profile speakers commanding top dollar in exchange for pearls of wisdom in their speeches followed by hard lobbying on behalf of same clients. Of course, on the surface, it looks bad that a Democrat claiming to represent the poor, the working class and the middle class did not have a better response. She could have been honest and said:
1. If they offered more she would have taken it;
2. This is a lesson to the rest of Wall Street firms about my going rate these days;
3. If you want influence on fiscal policy, corporate subsidies, lobbying foreign governments, Bill and Hillary are here to deliver for your corporation;
4. My opponent Bernie Sanders is just mad because his fees are not nearly as hefty;
5. Those jealous of my personal wealth over at FOX News and Bernie supporters just learn to live with it.
The top campaign donors for Clinton are not a secret and they do reveal that banks and Wall Street are as heavily invested in her as in the Republicans. Individuals and corporations giving millions of dollars to candidates are making an investment and expect a return just as they would in the marketplace. The idea that political parties are monasteries and accept the immense amount of money because they are doing the Lord’s work does not fool people. Nevertheless, loyal voters continue supporting the same candidates representing the oligarchy financing them.
The blunt response Hillary provided (“That’s what they offered.”) on camera about a $675,000 fee for a couple of speeches is indicative of how confident she is that the media has brainwashed the public into believing there is nothing wrong with such high fees because this is how democracy works. After all, the US has a government by the people and for the people, but which people? What “people” is Hillary or for that matter any of the Republicans will represent? Clearly, one must always follow the money trail that leads to the oligarchy which fears and detests the people who must be convinced of the American Dream when in reality minimum wage is below the poverty line and college debt now exceeds $1.3 trillion in a $17 trillion economy.
Many Democrats argue that Hillary is better than any Republican in terms of representing a broader segment of the general population’s interests. That is true, though not by nearly as much as her supporters think if they are to judge by the oligarchy financing her and by the pro-business neo-liberal policies her husband pursued to account for a rising gap between the very rich and the rest of the population. Her defenders argue that she is a woman, so the media is “picking on her”. Besides, she is a winnable candidate because she will continue with neoliberal policies that in fact strengthen the wealthy and she will faithfully serve the military industrial complex.
It is true that there is prejudice against women and this is one reason I doubt she will have an easy time winning the White House. There is deep prejudice against women, probably as deep as against blacks and Latinos. It is also true that the corporate media will not be nearly as vicious – the otherworldly surreal FOX with its limited audience is the exception – as it would be if Bernie Sanders is the Democrat nominee. It is also true that Bernie will resist strengthening the defense sector, though he has shown by his votes that he is hardly as dovish as they portray him. Moreover, Sanders will resist giving tax breaks and corporate subsidies at the rate all other candidates would do.
On the Republican side, we have a populist billionaire presenting himself as the “savior” of a nation that has the potential to be great again if only Trump does with government what he did with the businesses he ran in the last four decades – the declarations of bankruptcies notwithstanding. Given that a billionaire is so readily acceptable to a segment of the voters, Michael Bloomberg, an even richer billionaire than Trump, decided that the American people are indeed ready for the oligarchy to rule them directly instead of electing representatives that come from the middle class. The political stakes are such that the oligarchy is now directly involved – front and center – in politics trying to divide the pie whose crumbs fall down to the masses to keep them satisfied.
Adding insult to injury, the least patriotic and least religious people on the Republican side are trying to sell patriotism and religion to a segment of the nationalistic and religious right that believes their problems will disappear if the flag and the cross are waved higher and with lots of noise and righteous rhetoric. True the disgruntled masses on the right want someone to blame, even hate for the problems of low incomes, absence of good paying jobs, and the prospect that the next generation will be worse off than the current one. The masses believe that as long as a billionaire or a representative of the billionaire class tells them all will be well because more will be spent on the military and less on social programs. They believe the least patriotic and least religious political candidates for president when they say they are the ones to carry out the mandate from Heaven down here in the US by putting more guns in peoples’ hands, curbing immigration, especially if it is Muslim or Latin, shut down the pro-life clinics, end Obamacare, and go to war against the terrorists that are spread in more than four dozen countries around the world.
People feel that something must be done to move society forward and the only option before them is voting. However, the oligarchy has chosen its candidates – they tolerate Sanders betting he goes nowhere even if he wins both the nomination and the White House – and people have a choice between what is behind one of the doors, not realizing it is the exact same thing. There will be no policy change in foreign affairs any more than in fiscal and monetary policy. The only area where there are substantive differences pertains to lifestyle choice issues, and on the margins environmental and some social issues.
The idea that America after the 2016 elections will see any sort of dramatic change toward greater democratization and greater social justice, less racism and xenophobia is utterly absurd. But then what can the average citizen do, considering there is already a very high rate of voter apathy reflecting a far reaching sense of despair about politics in America that is really the property of the oligarchy. Both Democrat and Republican parties are the property of the American oligarchy. Most elected officials in Washington are either millionaires or beholden to millionaires and billionaires behind super-PACS. There is no political party that represents the bottom 90% of the people and there will not be one because the top 1% owning most of the wealth will not permit it. The real fight is among billionaires and millionaires and their preferred candidates. Therefore, democracy in America is not the idealized version that Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1835 any more than the idealized version the corporate media presents in the 21st century.