Fresh out of college, I watched Al Gore and George W. Bush’s face merge together in the Rage Against the Machine video “Testify,” directed by Michael Moore, and thought, “Exactly, man. What’s the difference?”
George W. spent the next 8 years showing me exactly what the difference was.
He destroyed the fiscal balance of the Clinton era, did everything he could to make climate change worse and launched a massively wasteful war of choice that could not be “won.” And we’ll see it for decades in the two men to the Supreme Court who have ruled more on behalf of corporations than any Justices in our lifetime.
Now, after six years of Barack Obama, I sense hints of the ache I felt in 2000.
A Democratic president inevitably disappoints. This president’s capacious exercise of war powers and unwillingness to use the Justice system to reign in crimes of the last administration or systematic abuses that led to the financial crisis stand out as disappointments.
But the progress Obama led is not be limited to the two fine women he appointed to the Supreme Court.
In his first two years — much like Bill Clinton with his tax increases on the rich, the Brady Bill and the Motor Voter Law — Obama signed laws that will continue to transform this country and possibly even reduce the withering of the middle class. His Stimulus created our clean energy industry from scratch. His appointments reshaped the federal courts and his leadership has led us into the first effort to combat climate change as a nation.
But as we learned over the last decade, this legacy could easily be wiped away by a bungling conservative successor in just a few years. Which leads us to 2016.
With Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton both likely to run, there’s already a tendency to lump the two together as an example of American legacies run amok.
“Clinton and Bush together have more baggage than the cargo hold of a 747,” The New York Times’ Frank Bruni wrote on Sunday.
There are fair criticisms of Hillary Clinton — but they are rarely made by Republicans or “centrist” members of the press. Her baggage is that of a historic figure blazing paths in front of our face, often with a target on her back.
When her husband asked her to lead his attempt at health care reform in 1993, Governor Mario Cuomo asked Hillary, “What did you do to make your husband so mad at you?”
The idea that it’s natural and easy for First Lady to transition directly to electoral politics is completely negated by the fact that it’s never happened before. Clinton’s name was a definite advantage in New York State but it was a name she help built in a political partnership with her husband that has not been seen since Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
As a Senator, she helped lead the fight to support 9/11 first responders. After she made the mistake of voting for the Iraq War, she took on the administration’s failure to adequately support the troops.
When Clinton lost the Democratic primary to Barack Obama, she devoted herself and her husband to Obama’s election then completely subjugated her ego to become his Secretary of State.
Jeb Bush is a fortunate son of man whose father was a banker and a U.S. Senator.
While George H.W. Bush distinguished himself as a war hero then worked his way up the rungs of government and party politics, Jeb passed go and went straight to his first campaign for governor of Florida, which he lost. He then won twice, along the way helping his brother “win” an election in which the Bush received fewer votes than Al Gore.
Jeb — we’re supposed to believe — is more competent than his brother. His conservative dogma is just as blind and his foreign policy is as shapeless as W.’s was in 2000. But he’ll more than likely share numerous advisers.
If Jeb is a more competent administrator than his brother, that should be even more frightening for the middle class. Conservative policies, when applied effectively, create inequality by driving power and profits into the hands of an increasingly small group of Americans.
We have every reason to be afraid that inherited wealth enabled by conservative governance could completely destroy any semblance of fairness in our economy.
“The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to ‘patrimonial capitalism,’ in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties,” Paul Krugman wrote in his review of economist Thomas Piketty’s latest book, which warns of a “new Gilded Age.”
The Clintons inherited nothing.
You can argue that they are now too close to entrenched power and that the Clinton’s administration’s embrace of the drug war and deregulation helped exacerbate two of the great crises of our time. Democrats would benefit from a contentious primary season that forces all candidates to define and defend their beliefs. That’s how we got three frontrunners all embracing health care reform in 2008.
In a certain way, Republicans almost seem eager to pick a candidate who negates their arguments against Clinton. The right attacks her for being to old or too rich then flirts again with Mitt Romney, who is older and richer. The right wants to say she hasn’t earned her brand then it flirts with a candidate whose name is synonymous with nepotism gone wrong.
And every other candidate Republicans have to offer from Rand Paul — who is literally inheriting his father’s presidential campaign — to Scott Walker to Marco Rubio will be likely offering a platform that gives Clintons a tax break and cuts the safety net to pay for it. None of them have accomplished any more than Clinton — and what they have accomplished has been to the detriment of working people.
The rise to become the first female frontrunner for the presidency is unprecedented in American history.
Women have been able to vote in this country for less than a century. And just as a black candidate brought out some of worst of America’s instincts on race, at least 50 shades of misogyny will be on full display if Mrs. Clinton decides to run.
Hillary Clinton deserves credit for career and the historic opportunity she may seize. Take on her policies, please. But don’t do Republicans the favor of lumping her in with John Ellis Bush AKA Jeb.
[Image via the Clinton Library.]