Egan stumbles

I generally appreciate Timothy Egan’s words, which I find eloquent and usually spot on. But he, like his New York Times colleague, Paul Krugman, has joined the bashing-of-Bernie brigade, dismissing him with agist epithets. Today’s column is just one example. He writes of Sanders:

The next highest concentration of voters seeking radical change is drawn to the shouted shibboleths of Senator Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old socialist. Sanders is a sloganeer with authenticity. But a rant, no matter how dead-on, is not a governing blueprint. His answer, on a number of occasions, to complex issues has been “I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.” In many areas, he’s almost substance-free.

Bernie’s supporters would disagree. But I am mostly concerned with Egan’s ill-informed attempt to propel Hillary Clinton to victory. He proffers a “big idea”:

Consider the epic changes over the past century that brought lasting good to this country. Social Security and Medicare, allowing millions of Americans to live in dignity, were part one. The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s, which completed what Abraham Lincoln started with the 13th Amendment, were part two. Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, which made the nation’s cities breathable, waterways swimmable and the country more habitable for all living things, were part three. Clinton needs to fashion a part four, attacking inequality with an institutional uplift to the slipping middle class.

Clearly Egan has not read Thomas Frank’s latest book, Listen, Liberal. There he would discover that the Clinton’s deliberately shunned the working class, which is most of us, after all. They did so to curry favor with Wall Street elites, to demonstrate their “Very Serious” crud, and to pre-empt Republican ideology, which has always blamed the victims while promoting or executing policies that make more of them.

Frank cites several Clinton White House initiatives that made lives worse for the Rest of Us. These include: ending of welfare-as-we-know it; NAFTA, which encouraged, if not enabled, corporations to shut down U.S. plants and move operations to cheap-labor Mexico; and wholesale deregulation of the financial sector, leading almost inevitably to the Great Recession, from which most Americans have yet to recover.

We will recall the Bush-versus-Gore debates about Social Security and “lock boxes.” Both presidential candidates vowed to protect the program, one way or another. Of course, G.W. Bush, as president, would try to do the opposite: throw the elderly under the bus by tying their retirements to Wall Street and its malevolent misadventures.

Well, guess what? Bill Clinton did his best to accomplish what G.W. couldn’t. In brief, America’s elderly were saved by a blow job. Here’s Frank:

The two leaders [Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton] knew this [privatizing Social Security] would mean building “a new center/right political coalition” to get the deed done, because many Democrats could be counted on to oppose the deal. Indeed, … on numerous issues “the president was closer to Gingrich than he was to the leadership of his own party,” a description that could have been accurately applied to each of Clinton’s great accomplishments—NAFTA, welfare reform, and bank deregulation, all of them made into law by cooperation between the Democratic president and the Republicans in Congress.

The schedule on which the two men agreed went as follows: Clinton would start hinting at the privatization proposal in January 1998. Various groups would then spend the year conducting a Social Security “dialogue” whose conclusions can be easily guessed. Incredibly, the two leaders would somehow contrive to “keep the issue off the table in the 1998 congressional elections,” and then get it enacted during the lame-duck session in December 1998, when nobody could hold either of them responsible.

Clinton actually went through with the first step in the plan, demanding in his 1998 State of the Union address that Congress use the federal surplus to “save Social Security first,” a vague but noble-sounding demand that appears to have been his way of opening the privatization discussion. As it happened, Social Security was already safe—safe from Clinton, that is—thanks to a certain Oval Office dalliance. The week before his speech, the media frenzy over Monica Lewinsky had begun, and it was all polarization and impeachment after that.

The day of the speech itself, Hillary Clinton went on TV and accused a “vast right-wing conspiracy” of coming together in an effort to bring her husband down. This was true enough as regards the sex scandal, but the conspiracy that really mattered was the one between her husband and his putative right-wing rival, Newt Gingrich.

Here’s why the D.C. pundits came to love Bill Clinton: He almost did it. He almost achieved that great coalescence of the professional and business classes.

Frank refers to Hillary as her presidential husband’s principal advisor. I would not expect her to abandon Bill Clinton’s successful efforts to morph the Democratic Party from labor’s advocate to Wall Street’s sycophant. Hillary does not make $300,000 speeches to financial firms to make life better for the poor and middle classes.

So, I see no way in heaven or hell that President Hillary Clinton will arrest the increase in inequality, which is at its highest level ever. That’s not what she and her husband are about.

It’s all about the ducats.