Economy

Dem Party Platform Exposes Two Big Areas Where Hillary Clinton Needs to Get a Lot More Progressive

Hillary Clinton’s contradictory stance on the TPP reveals why Americans must face the cognitive dissonance of public officials and candidates who say one thing and do another.

Donning a baseball cap doesn’t make millionaire Donald Trump a man of the people. Nor did playing the saxophone make Bill Clinton the "first black president.” His rooty-tooting effectively obscured his actual record, stripping the social safety net and incarcerating record numbers of blacks in private prisons, setting up what Michelle Alexander calls the New Jim Crow and what Angela Davis calls the prison-industrial complex, a prime contributor to the recent violence against black people.

Whether it’s former President Bush wearing a hard hat for a photo op with 9/11 emergency workers (and then allowing his party to cut their health coverage for illnesses developed from toxic exposures) or Hillary Clinton’s contradictory stance on the TPP, Americans can no longer blithely ignore the cognitive dissonance demanded of them by public officials and candidates who say one thing and do another.

Case in point: This past week’s Democratic platform sessions attained a few compromises (on marijuana, the minimum wage and the death penalty). Nevertheless, the big ticket items, opposing the TPP and banning fracking were left on the table. Why? Because the Clinton platform delegates rejected all motions that would unequivocally enact them.

As can be seen in a photograph (confirmed by several observers), Clinton ringleader Ambassador Wendy Sherman, who served as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs (under Hillary Clinton and John Kerry), and others were authorized to bring Clinton delegates to heel. Positioned beyond the range of C-Span cameras, they reportedly signaled Clinton delegates how to vote as a bloc. Despite the ballyhooed unity platform script, bloc voting on key amendments proposed by the Sanders delegates, the Clintonites don’t function as unifiers. In the divide deepened by this winner-take-all approach, some people will seek to accept the cognitive dissonance, while a solid group of voters find it hard to take double-speaking politicians at their word.

For example, when the Democratic platform leaves an open road to TPP passage, will the public fail to notice that Clinton’s nominal opposition does not add up? When simultaneous with her opposition, her well-controlled minions enacted her real wishes, and kept the TPP moving forward, how can anyone believe protestations that she opposes the TPP?

Clinton long supported the TPP and she now claims to oppose it. Yet she refused to instate that opposition into the Democratic Party platform, supposedly out of deference to the wishes of the outgoing president. Deference? While there is some undoubted emotional appeal to that notion, deference to a retiring leader has no place in such a far-reaching decision with so many serious consequences. 

The longer people are asked to tolerate such cognitive dissonance, the more irate the American electorate becomes, driven toward Donald Trump. For the Democratic Party to maintain any shred of credibility, outside of the population of retirees who haven’t noticed that the party ain't what it used to be, it’s absolutely essential to call out two-faced double talk. Because Americans are confused enough, thank you. (And if the left doesn’t clarify Clinton’s contradictory TPP position, Donald Trump certainly will.)

Some people forget that when politicians smile and tell us what we want to hear, that does not reflect what they do behind the scenes. Nor does it mean they will follow through on promises to act in the public interest. For anyone who did not get the memo, we live in a time when many politicians are bought. But many people want to believe them anyway and consider it cynical to think otherwise.

Copacetic communication skills and air-touched photos can all be acquired, for a price. So can talking points targeting a precise segment of the population. Both past and present, elected officials adept at delivering persuasion spin with utter conviction, have pursued damaging policies. But facing up to the disappointing reality requires adjusting one’s world view; and some people are fine with the current state of affairs. An older friend who lives in a remote area recently asked me, “Aren’t things better now than they used to be?”

Having covered fracking, climate and the TPP and other trade deals since 2009, if I have to cite the main reason Americans are sleep-walking toward the TPP-styled corporate apocalypse, it is their liking for President Obama. A brilliant man with a delightful self-deprecating sense of humor, he’s the same one who champions the TPP and other anti-democratic trade agreements. The question I hear over and over, when people get their first inkling about the TPP is, “Why is President Obama in favor of it?” His calling the agreements his “legacy” contradicts everything most Democrats would like to believe about the president. And count me among them; I campaigned for him in both elections.

According to economist Robert Reich, who has been an avid critic of the trade agreements, a Clinton adviser recently requested he back off his critical analysis, and assured Reich that “most Americans don’t know or care about the TPP.” (Reich reported this conversation on his Facebook page.) That ignorance, abetted by a near media blackout in the mainstream press, is hardly accidental. It’s an axiom among anti-TPP organizers that “the more people learn about the deals, the more they hate them.”

If you know more about the TPP than can be gleaned from the rare utterances of Charlie Rose or Chris Hayes, congratulations. It means you access diverse news sources. The end result is that you may already have amended your view of the president—still likeable, but—insert bafflement, disappointment, or outrage here. But what if someone who really, really likes the president, relies, say, on the New York Times and takes Paul Krugman (who says close to zip about the agreements) at his word? With that as the news context, that person receives the idea that the TPP’s purpose is to protect us from China. And that’s why Obama champions it!  

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz debunks that claim, saying, “the ship has sailed on containing China’s influence.” Stiglitz further explains a chief concern with the TPP. “If authority over domestic policies is ceded to supranational bodies, then the drafting, implementation, and enforcement of the rules and regulations has to be particularly sensitive to democratic concerns. Unfortunately, this was not the case." Translation: in many areas, the TPP’s Investment State Resolution process will be accorded higher authority than U.S. law.

Nevertheless, when Obama goes on the Tonight Show to participate in a pro-TPP segment, many laugh and tap their feet without any clue about the TPP, beyond “trade is good.” Since the mainstream media TPP coverage is so limited, let’s examine just a few kinds of policies that would be newly constrained under the authority of “supranational bodies.” 

How would the TPP and other trade agreements impact causes people care about? Address climate change? Sorry, future corporate profits come first, and environmental rules are omitted as governing factors. Any kind of food labeling? Taken down. What about regulating the banks? Nah! Protecting the internet? Bye-bye. Fracking? The TPP will promote fracking all over the world.

The corporate leaders who constructed the trade agreements with the help of Obama’s Harvard pal Michael Froman (ex-Wall Street, major donor conduit for Obama’s presidential campaigns, and now the U.S. trade representative) have it all figured out, from nixing affordable health care and loosening banking regulations to allowing toxic chemicals and ending net neutrality. People cannot afford to be blindsided by hipness into cheering and foot-tapping when the president sings for the TPP.

Call it compromise, call it pragmatism, call it donor influence. When we empower leaders to enact long-range plans to systematically undermine democracy, the economy, the food supply and the environment, until we reap the harm, it’s all less visible. Not as obvious as street violence, but just as dangerous. For many, cognitive dissonance subverts the will to see that.

So what will the next presidency bring?

The Democratic National Committee, Clinton, her delegates (in recent platform meetings), and the president himself all share a common goal: Obscuring Clinton’s record and true position on the TPP. In service to both passing the TPP, and to the Clinton campaign, the Obama administration made the decision to hide—until after the election—Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails. Under a FOIA request by the IB Times’ David Sirota, the embargoed emails would reveal her actual role in planning the TPP and other trade deals in the pipeline.

The president is protecting her. Her platform defers to him. What a warm and cozy arrangement.  Except that, withholding crucial information about a presumptive successor’s record which might clarify her current contradictory stance is neither democratic nor transparent, especially in a presidential election. Don’t Americans have a right to know her record? This is not about her emails (classified or not) or her corporate speech transcripts (as a private citizen). This is about hiding public records of her service in government, which are by law available to the press and the public under the Freedom of Information Act.

Instead of facing up to the ugly implications of the Dems' tap dance, some fasten on to something they know from daily life, or even further back, from nursery school. Like “hoping for unity” or applying the “let’s all play nice,” rule to political discourse. For the conflict intolerant, democratic debate in a time of imminent global crisis and narrowing political options is a real bummer. As it is for everyone trying to find a way through the many-sided dangers of this time.

This past weekend, a debate at the Democratic platform meetings in Florida, after the Clintonites shot down a series of TPP amendments with real teeth, they substituted a pseudo-compromise, something that could be used to grab a headline and persuade the ill-informed that they can now safely return to Masterpiece Theatre. What was characterized as a “bold statement” would promise to support “fair trade standards for working people.” In May 2015, when the united Republicans and Democrats gave President Obama sole authority to sign the TPP (and future deals) they agreed to a simple up and down vote in Congress, with no changes possible. That was the time to discuss labor concerns. Limited but actual protections and compensation for American workers who lose jobs due to the agreements were discussed, proposed and rejected, while newly minted candidate Hillary Clinton remained silent. Now, with the agreement negotiated, locked in, and unchangeable, there is no place in the TPP for any such resolutions.

Since under the terms of Fast Track, this language could never be enacted, proposing it only serves to mislead the public and deepen the divide between those who think that the DNC is trying, and those who can recognize an insubstantial pivot that ends the dialogue— and that will thereby allow the TPP to go forward. Confirming Robert Reich’s reported phone conversation, the Clinton delegates bank on the ignorance of the American people.

Saturday evening, a thunderclap sounded as David Braun of Californians Against Fracking stepped to the microphone to issue a passionate plea on behalf of a Climate Mobilization plank added to the Democratic Party platform. Braun said:

“We are here to take action and lead. We are in the great state of Florida which will be underwater. Now is our moment. How do you look your grandchildren in the eye when people are having to migrate, when we are running out of food? I know that people have been voting in blocs all day, but I ask you to look into your heart, look into the eyes of your children, the eyes of children who will be suffering in Third World nations. We are America. We are leaders. We can do this if we put our heads to it. The fossil fuel naysayers are going to tell us we can’t do it. Don’t believe the hype. Renewable energy now!”

Platform delegates, for both Clinton and Sanders were so moved that the Clintonites broke ranks and voted in favor of America mobilizing to take leadership on climate.

That vote shows that the people, even miscreant Clinton delegates, are ready to depart climate denial in name and in deed, and to address climate now.

It’s the two presumptive candidates who aren’t ready, each in different ways. Yes, there is a distinction between those brainless folks who deny climate change in theory, and those smart folks who deny it in action, but neither side will make a substantive difference in addressing it. As this week, Democrats grandstand in Congress about a “web of denial” among the Republicans, no one is telling the public that in the Democratic platform, Clinton advisers added planks to redefine fracked gas as “clean energy,” and launch a multibillion-dollar pipeline buildout. Passing the TPP and investing in a fracking infrastructure by professing that fracking is clean are clear examples of climate change denial in practice. And when people allow themselves to believe that only verbal climate change denial matters, they too are in denial.

In Josh Fox’s current film How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change, Fox travels to China. The horizon is blurred and the skies are a murky gray. The air quality is so bad people are forced to stay home. They wear gas masks when they go outside. A few seconds of breathing without a mask leaves people gasping for air. The film makes crystal clear what will come if we merely pay lip service to climate, while allowing the TPP and the fracking buildout to proceed. The Democratic platform as it now stands will pollute the planet and bring on climate change with lightening speed. That’s why anyone planning to hold their nose while voting for any politician who talks the talk without walking the walk, should plan on holding their nose for a very long time.

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Alison Rose Levy @alisonroselevy writes on health, food and the environment. Her website is healthjournalistblog.com and her weekly radio program on Progressive Radio is Connect the Dots.