Will Hillary's Constant Feeding at the Corporate Trough Make it Hard for Her to Embrace Needed Populism?


Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state, will announce today that she's pursuing the Democratic nomination for presidency of the United States. The move is hardly a surprise; she has been widely expected to run for president since she stepped down from the State Department in early 2013.

Clinton is reportedly gearing her campaign toward “everyday Americans” and plans a “listening tour” to appear at events with a diverse set of Americans.

The need for this tour is fundamentally political. Clinton has taken part in few events with ordinary people in the two years since she left public service. She's spent most of her time on the paid lecture circuit, giving speeches to corporations, trade associations and others who were willing to pay top dollar to hear her speak. In doing so, she was walking a well-worn path laid out by her husband, former president Bill Clinton, whose speaking engagements earned the couple over $100 million since 2000, catapulting them from what he called “poor rascal” status to that of the super-rich.

While most of Hillary Clinton's speaking fees and speech texts are private—we will soon get a peek at the fees thanks to presidential personal financial disclosure requirements—there have been various reports and leaks of both her comments and speaking fees. The Silicon Valley firm Nexenta posted video of her address to its forum, where she jokes that she's “not an expert on software-designed storage." Her lecture paints a picture of a candidate who spent the past two years getting richer by telling corporations what they want to hear.

Bringing the Banks “Out of the Wilderness”

If there is one industry the Clintons have famously attached themselves to, it's Wall Street. Bill Clinton gave his first paid address to Morgan Stanley, about a year after signing into law a bill to deregulate the financial industry. Hillary Clinton's first paid speeches took place a few months after resigning from the State Department; the Washington Post noted that she set a speaking fee of around $200,000 and quickly began addressing various interest groups. In October 2013, Clinton gave two paid speeches to Goldman Sachs audiences, raking in around $400,000. Although her full remarks have not been released, we have some idea of what she told the assorted bankers at these events. Politico reported at the time:

Clinton offered a message that the collected plutocrats found reassuring, according to accounts offered by several attendees, declaring that the banker-bashing so popular within both political parties was unproductive and indeed foolish. Striking a soothing note on the global financial crisis, she told the audience, in effect: We all got into this mess together, and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it. What the bankers heard her to say was just what they would hope for from a prospective presidential candidate: Beating up the finance industry isn’t going to improve the economy—it needs to stop. And indeed Goldman’s Tim O’Neill, who heads the bank’s asset management business, introduced Clinton by saying how courageous she was for speaking at the bank. […] “It was like, ‘Here’s someone who doesn’t want to vilify us but wants to get business back in the game,’” said an attendee. “Like, maybe here’s someone who can lead us out of the wilderness.”

Although her remarks have yet to be disclosed, she hasn't grown any more hostile to Wall Street in the interim period between that October and now. Goldman Sachs grew close to the Clinton Foundation and partnered with it to sponsor the 10,000 Women program, which worked with female entrepreneurs worldwide. Clinton introduced Goldman head Lloyd Blankfein at a Clinton Foundation event featuring the program late last year. “This isn't the first time we've all met,” Blankfein joked before taking the podium from Clinton.

Praising GMOs, Cutting Corporate Taxes

In 2014, Clinton took her speaking tour to the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents firms that manufacture genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “I stand in favor of using seeds and products that have a proven track record....And to continue to try to make the case for those who are skeptical that they may not know what they're eating already. The question of genetically modified food or hybrids has gone on for many many years. And there is again a big gap between what the facts are and what perceptions are,” she said to applause from an assembled audience. She went on to defend controversial drought-resistant seeds.

While the bulk of her comments related to the industry focused on praising their technology, she also offered some remarks in support of a pet cause of corporate America: a tax repatriation holiday or lower corporate tax rates to incentivize corporations to bring profits back to America. “Clearly, I believe we've got to rationalize our tax system because I don't want to see biotech companies or pharma companies moving out of our country simply because of some sort of tax, perceived tax disadvantage and potential tax advantage somewhere else,” she said to thunderous applause. This was a theme she also raised during an address at Nexenta, where she said it “doesn't do our economy any good to have this money parked somewhere else in the world...I would like to figure out some ways of getting it back.”

Ready For Hillary Super PAC has brought on a former Monsanto lobbyist, Jerry Crawford, to be one of the fixers in Iowa.

Dismissing Single Payer to the Healthcare Industry

In February 2014, Hillary Clinton spoke before the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, which was in some ways a follow-up to the speech Bill gave in 2013. The general public didn't have access to the HIMSS conference, but health economist and management consultant Jane Sarasohn-Kahn attended, and she wrote about Clinton's address on the website Health Populi.

In her speech at HIMSS, Clinton rejected the approach of “one size fits all; our country is quite diverse. What works in New York City won't work in Alburquerque”—an attack on a Medicare-for-all single-payer style health care system. According to Sarasohn-Kahn, this elicited applause from the audience.

“Economic Security,” But Whose?

The Clinton campaign plans to focus on “economic security,” but the question is: whose? Clinton can adopt classical Democratic positions based on expanding the safety net and boosting wages, but her ability to truly transform America's economy and reduce economic inequality will be hampered if she feels indebted to the same corporations that made her and her husband rich.

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