Hillary Clinton’s ‘Progressive’ Persona

Desperate to blunt Bernie Sanders’s surge of support especially among young Democrats, Hillary Clinton is pitching herself as a “progressive,” but many of her policies were anything but from supporting military coups to favoring corporate interests, writes Jeff Cohen.

By Jeff Cohen

In her speech claiming victory after the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton proclaimed herself “a progressive who gets things done.” I had to laugh. And it wasn’t just because former President Bill Clinton the centrist Triangulator-in-Chief was standing behind her, beaming and clapping.

A quick review of Hillary Clinton’s record shows that much of what she gets done is anti-progressive (not unlike President Clinton in the 1990s).

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confronts Sen. Bernie Sanders in Democratic presidential debate on Jan. 17, 2016.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confronts Sen. Bernie Sanders in Democratic presidential debate on Jan. 17, 2016.

PROMOTING FRACKING WORLDWIDE IS NOT PROGRESSIVE: On behalf of Chevron and other US oil companies, Secretary of State Clinton and the State Department pushed fracking globally, as Mother Jones has documented: “How Hillary Clinton’s State Department Sold Fracking to the World.”

BOOSTING CORPORATIST TRADE DEALS IS NOT PROGRESSIVE:  Secretary Clinton repeatedly praised the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as it was being negotiated by the US Trade Representative and her State Department  and she recruited countries into the deal. In October, with Bernie Sanders climbing in the polls, Clinton said she no longer supported the pact, and lied about her earlier boosterism.

ENABLING MILITARY COUPS IS NOT PROGRESSIVE:  When she headed the State Department, it enabled a military coup in Honduras that overthrew democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, a progressive. Clinton was briefed on the dishonesty that allowed aid to illegally reach the coup government.

POCKETING MILLIONS FROM CORPORATE LECTURE FEES IS NOT PROGRESSIVE:  When Wall Street, Big Pharma and other corporate interests paid a soon-to-be presidential candidate an average of $230,000 for a speech, did Hillary Clinton think it was for her brilliant stand-up comedy? Or was it more akin to political bribery? Clinton says these firms just wanted to hear the views of a former Secretary of State on our “complicated world” or about the Bin Laden raid.

But Politico reported in 2013 soon after one of her three speeches to Goldman Sachs: “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.” (Releasing the speech transcripts would help settle the matter.)

ESCALATING THE AFGHAN WAR IS NOT PROGRESSIVE: As insider books on the Obama administration have revealed, Secretary Clinton was among the most hawkish of Obama’s advisors in country after country for example, vociferously urging the failed and pointless 2009 troop surge in Afghanistan.

CHAOTIC MILITARY INTERVENTION IN THE MIDEAST IS NOT PROGRESSIVE: If not for Hillary Clinton’s 2002 Senate vote in support of Bush’s Iraq invasion, Obama would not have defeated her in 2008. As if having learned nothing from the post-invasion chaos in Iraq, Secretary Clinton was one of the strongest voices in 2011 urging Obama to militarily depose Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, a country now in total, deadly chaos.

On the campaign trail lately, Hillary Clinton is doing her best to sound much more progressive than her record in office, but she’s a rank amateur compared to her husband’s slickness on this score in the 1990s. President Bill Clinton did “get things done” but some of his biggest initiatives were the opposite of progressive.

1993: Passage of the corporate-friendly trade deal NAFTA, which passed mostly with Republican support against the votes of most Democrats in Congress.

1996: Passage of the Telecommunications Act, the biggest change in media law since the 1930s, which helped big media companies grow even bigger. Bill Clinton got this done by working closely with Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as both major parties received large donations from media and telecommunications corporations.

1996: Repeal of federally guaranteed welfare in the form of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a program enacted in 1935 during Franklyn Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Children’s Defense Fund a group Hillary Clinton worked with and repeatedly invokes to shore up her “progressive” credentials  vehemently denounced repeal.

1999-2000: Deregulation of Wall Street, working closely with right-wing Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. Among other things, President Clinton ended the 1933 Glass-Steagall legislation, which had separated Main Street banks from the more speculative Wall Street banks (a measure Hillary Clinton says she is opposed to reinstituting). Dereg led directly to the 2007/2008 economic meltdown.

I’m open to the argument that you can’t blame Hillary Clinton for these policies of her husband that were so hurtful to poor and working-class women and men policies that she publicly defended or went quiet on.

But she wraps herself today around the Bill Clinton presidency. And it’s not unprecedented for a first spouse to object to White House policy: Barbara Bush went public that she opposed her husband’s anti-choice position on abortion.

One policy from the 1990s that Hillary and Bill get joint custody of is healthcare; President Clinton chose Hillary to lead his administration’s healthcare initiative in 1993. Working with the biggest insurance companies (five giant firms had formed the Alliance for Managed Competition), Hillary Clinton proposed a convoluted proposal that kept big for-profit insurers in the heart of the system.

Her “Managed Competition” scheme was so complex and bureaucratic that it never got out of committee in a Democrat-controlled Congress but it did sideline a single-payer Medicare for All bill, a truly progressive measure that was backed by 100 members of Congress, labor unions, Consumers Union, and a grassroots movement.

Like her husband, Hillary can come off as either centrist or progressive depending on the audience. And depending on the season left-leaning during primary election season, and corporate centrist in office. Her current campaign for president has helped reveal not just a split between corporate Democrats and progressive Democrats, but a chasm between the leadership of liberal constituency groups and the progressive base of these groups.

Some labor unions have poured $5.5 million into the pro-Hillary SuperPAC, for example funding a woman who sat on the board of one of our country’s worst union-busters, Walmart.

The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, endorsed Hillary over Bernie despite the fact that it took her until 2013 to support gay marriage, while Bernie had joined a minority of Congress members who voted against the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act signed by President Clinton in 1996.

The League of Conservation Voters endorsed Hillary over Bernie despite the fact that she pushed fracking worldwide while he staunchly opposed it, and he fought against the Keystone XL pipeline and its dirty oil from the beginning while she took until a few months ago during campaign season to express opposition.

Great news for progressives is that large numbers of young activists are joining a “political revolution.” Whether Bernie wins or loses, let’s hope these young people not only transform the Democratic Party, but also the organizations that purport to represent the poor and working class, oppressed racial and sexual minorities, and the environment.

When that happens, the next time a corporate politician pretends to be a “progressive” during primary season, these groups will not be complicit in the masquerade.

Jeff Cohen is cofounder of RootsAction.org, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College.

15 comments for “Hillary Clinton’s ‘Progressive’ Persona

  1. Drew Hunkins
    February 5, 2016 at 12:19

    What’s disturbing about Hillary’s camp calling her a “progressive” is that it almost debases vocabulary and sort of bastardizes the term. By the end of the establishment press and Hillary’s lackeys tossing around the term ‘progressive’ for months on end it could be devoid of all meaning come 2017.

    • Stygg
      February 7, 2016 at 17:13

      Well, I’d say that’s a feature and not a bug, but what does “progressive” really mean even today? It essentially means “I’m a liberal but I’m too mealy-mouthed to say so”, doesn’t it?

  2. Pat
    February 5, 2016 at 08:02

    Jeff Cohen, I, too, was rolling my eyes about Hillary Clinton’s claim to be progressive. But then I suddenly remembered that she has been endorsed by the majority of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The problem apparently isn’t with Hillary’s brand of “progressive,” but with the meaning (or meaninglessness) of “progressive” in Congress. I haven’t examined the record of every single member, but I’ll bet Hillary isn’t the only who supports the TPP, Keystone, fracking, taking out “dictators,” and selling themselves to the highest bidder.

  3. Zachary Smith
    February 4, 2016 at 22:49

    “Hillary Clinton’s ‘Progressive’ Persona”

    Progressive in quotes is truly justified in this case. One author described it as a desperate sort of “head fake” to the lefties the woman truly despises. If they’re foolish enough to take the bait, they’ll deserve what they get.

    Regarding all the endorsements, another blogger said there is a pattern of the Head Honchos of any particular organization giving Hillary the official blessing of that outfit, while the membership is much less likely to follow along because they tend to prefer Sanders.

    In a normal election I’d rate Sanders a C+/B- at best, but considering the crowd running this year, he’s certainly the best choice – warts and all.

  4. Abe
    February 4, 2016 at 21:48

    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton […] is a hawk.

    Although she often touts her foreign policy experience in general terms and has been increasingly comfortable attacking Senator Bernie Sanders from the right on foreign policy issues in recent weeks, her overall foreign policy views are substantially to the right of the average Democratic primary voter. This stance will do little to hurt her (and may even help) in the general election against a Republican nominee who will surely be more hawkish. But for now, at a time when she can’t afford to alienate any potential primary voters, she has little to gain from a thorough foreign policy debate.

    For Sanders, the issue is more straightforward. Foreign policy simply isn’t an area in which he’s particularly comfortable. Nor has he paid much attention to the matter, or at least he didn’t before his candidacy really began to gain at the polls.

    When he comments on foreign policy at all, Sanders often steers the discussion to topics like inequality, which he frequently discusses in a domestic context, or to questions of judgment rather than specific policies. He has, for example, cited Clinton’s 2002 Senate vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq (Sanders, then in the House, voted against the authorization) as an example of her poor judgment — the same issue that played such a large role in Clinton’s 2008 primary loss to Barack Obama. He’s even gone so far as to compare her to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

    Clinton’s usual response to this attack — that then-President-elect Obama obviously trusted her judgment enough to ask her to become his secretary of state — is somewhat blunted by an examination of her record in that office, which includes a disastrous intervention in Libya, a failed surge in Afghanistan, the now-defunct “reset” with Russia, and a muddled (at best) response to the Arab Spring.

    The issue of judgment is entirely fair and may even be the key foreign policy factor for voters to weigh, given that a president will inevitably be expected to react to events that were unforeseen during his or her campaign. But it is troubling that so little attention has been paid to the issue of foreign policy, and that so little is known about what both of these candidates plan to do should they become president. This is particularly so for Sanders, whose limited foreign policy record doesn’t even give us much from which to extrapolate. Foreign policy is important, obviously, but it’s also one of the few areas where a Democratic president will be able to actually accomplish anything, in the face of a Congress that will likely be at least partly controlled by a resistant Republican Party.

    Bernie Sanders and the Middle East: Plus ça Change, Plus C’est la Même Chose
    By Derek Davison

    • February 4, 2016 at 23:05

      Thanks for your input – Sanders is a fraud also in that he IS NOT a socialist; as you point out, all the foreign affairs issues and the domestic financial and power issues are related; a true socialist would acknowledge that, not sidestep the relationship or play down one while emphasizing the other. Sanders if anything is an old line liberal “war Democrat”, like LBJ, Humphrey, and other “cold warriors”. He may not have voted for the war in Iraq but it seems his opposition wasn’t so much to the war itself as it was to the lapse in following the proper Constitutional rubric for setting the forces in action. He should be asked about that in the debates, i.e. if the question had been presented before the Congress as a request by President Bush for a declaration of war against Saddam’s Iraq, I believe Sanders probably would have voted, Yes.

      • Pat
        February 5, 2016 at 07:46

        Sanders has explained time and again that he is NOT a socialist. So why do the folks on sites such as this continue to repeat this “fake socialist” straw man argument?

        He gave an entire speech in November explaining what kind of “socialist” he is (link below). It also laid out a foundation for his policy goals in the Middle East. The foreign policy section starts right around where he says, “America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens.”


        Greg, it’s funny that you mention the “cold warriors.” This is a clear sign that you’ve once again bought into the narrative rather than doing a little research on your own. In fact, Sanders has said several times that the Cold War is over and that U.S. military spending must be reduced accordingly. He co-sponsored a nuclear weapons reduction bill with Ed Markey in 2015 and has been working on variations of that legislation for the past five years. He also was among a group of senators who wrote to Obama in December, urging him to abandon a proposal for a $1 trillion nuclear weapons upgrade and to keep the promise he made early in his first term to “end Cold War thinking” and start cutting back on nuclear weapons. When asked during one of the debates whether he opposed Obama’s proposal, Sanders gave an unqualified “yes.” Asked the same question, Clinton said she would “look into it.”

        Greg, I don’t know where you got the idea that Sanders opposed the war in Iraq only because of legal considerations, without any thought of human suffering, and that he would have changed his vote if Congress had been allowed to debate. Have you actually listened to his speech on the House floor? It’s on YouTube. He definitely wasn’t happy with the way Bush went about it, but that was just one of many objections. He talks about the enormous cost of war as a drain on funding needed for social programs – a theme, by the way, that he has repeated many times over the years, so I’m always mystified when I read comments by the anti-war left that he can’t be a “true socialist,” because he feeds the war machine while paying only lip service to social welfare (then, as I noted above, he’s not a “real socialist” anyway). Beyond that, he spoke of our duty as a “caring nation” to prevent the horrible suffering that would be inflicted on Iraqi civilians. He argued that there was no direct threat against the United States that warranted our involvement. But perhaps his most impressive argument concerned the “unintended consequences” of taking out Saddam. He saw it coming: U.S. involvement in a civil war, the spread of extremism in the region, exacerbation of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, and more.

        I’d link to the video, but moderation doesn’t seem to like YouTube links. You can find it easily with a search. He gave the speech on Oct. 9, 2002.

        • February 5, 2016 at 11:47

          Pat – I listened to his speech but as we know all too well in the last eight years talk is cheap; he may not have voted for the resolution, but that doesn’t make him a real supporter of ‘being a caring nation’ especially in view of his long support for President W. Clinton’s continued sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s that resulted in over a million Iraqi civilian deaths (by the UN’s own reckoning), 500,000 of them children; his votes after the 2002 Iraq resolution for funding the invasion and continued occupation – especially for someone so articulate about being ‘a caring nation’ – show his rather strange sort of opposition. On the matter of socialism, the idea of socialism developed by Marx and Engels was what we refer to now as democratic socialism to distinguish from the erroneously labeled “socialism” of Stalinist Russia and Maoist China – and Sanders does use the term “democratic socialist” in various interviews to label himself when in fact he is not a democratic socialist, but a social democrat or what FDR would call a liberal, given the examples Sanders uses. He is plain and simple an old line liberal, not a socialist, democratic or otherwise. Being a democratic socialist calls for, at least over a period of time, the elimination of private property and instituting management of business enterprises and the over-all economy by workers themselves.

          • Pat
            February 5, 2016 at 19:10

            Greg, the argument that Sanders voted against the war in Iraq but then voted to fund it is another part of the “Bernie the Warmonger” narrative that refuses to go away, regardless of the facts.

            The insinuation in “voted against the war but voted to fund it” is that after opposing the war, Sanders turned right around and approved funding for it. That would indeed have been hypocritical. The only problem is that it’s 100 percent false. When Bush went to Congress in April 2003 for $75 billion in emergency funds for his invasion of Iraq, Sanders voted against it. And he voted “no” again when Bush came back six months later for another $87 billion.

            Congress has approved funding for operations in Iraq every year since 2003. Most of that funding is embedded in larger appropriations bills, so it’s misleading at best to say that Sanders “voted to fund the war” whenever he supported any of these measures (some he did, some he didn’t). An honest discussion would include a breakdown of every appropriations bill that contained funding for operations in Iraq, and it also would mention amendments that Sanders either wrote or supported that placed limits and conditions on spending. As just one “small” example, funding for operations in Iraq in 2014 was rolled into the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which pretty much funded the entire U.S. government. Yes, Sanders voted for it. To count that as a vote for funding for Iraq is a deliberate attempt to mislead. But adherents of the narrative don’t seem to want an honest discussion. They just want to prove that they’re right, and so they distort the facts in a manner one would expect of Fox News.

            As for the rest, I’ve spent too much time already doing research for those who are too lazy to dig for themselves or who think citing an article on CounterPunch qualifies as “research.” It’s ironic that people who pride themselves on not being one of the “sheeple” are so ready to believe anything that fits into their own cherished narratives and to filter out challenges to their underlying presumptions.

  5. Abe
    February 4, 2016 at 21:29

    The U.S. pro-imperialist establishment has helped to create a network of global military alliances that funnel weapons internationally, while cash flows globally into the hands of the 1% via free trade agreements crafted by the pro-imperialist establishment.

    Without this imperialism the exports or markets of the largest U.S. corporations would suffer: including the big banks, big oil, big healthcare/insurance corporations, defense contractors (the arms industry), agro-corporations, tech firms, etc.

    Bernie’s failure to confront this specific, crucial power of the “billionaire class” isn’t a “blind spot” of his politics, since imperialism is like a tank parked in your living room, too big to ignore. By consciously allying with this imperialist-section of the establishment, Sanders has exposed himself as a push over, whenever the imperialists decide its push comes to shove over war.

    This imperialist pressure to “fall in line” extends beyond war. Sanders helped write and gave crucial political support to Obamacare, betraying his longstanding “dedication” to universal health care.

    Sanders knew that Obamacare was not “a step in the right direction,” but a decision to spend all of Obama’s political capital on a scheme that strengthens the health care/pharmaceutical corporations that act as the biggest barrier to universal health care. If elected, President Sanders would abandon much of his campaign promises and “fall in line” as quickly and ingloriously as Obama did.

    Sanders surely knows that foreign policy cannot be separated from domestic policy. They are two sides of the same coin that directly affect each other. What happens abroad affects what is possible domestically, and vice versa […]

    Supporting Bernie Sanders means ignoring — or minimizing — his imperialism, since political campaigns are won through cheerleading not criticism. And by ignoring Bernie’s foreign policy — because it might “hurt the campaign” — imperialism is reinforced through valuable political cover. The most powerful section of the U.S. establishment thus benefits.

    Some Sanders supporters might respond; “at least his foreign policy is better than Hillary’s.” But Sanders himself has been unable to provide a real argument to support this claim during the ongoing debates.

    When Sanders attempted to frame Hillary as “pro-regime change” in relation to the catastrophe she created in Libya, Hillary pointed out that Sanders voted “yes” to support that regime change. As the war machine rolled into Libya Sanders wasn’t a speed bump; he was a lubricant. Clinton and Sanders both have Libyan blood on their hands.

    Sanders has Afghan blood on his hands too, having voted for the invasion of the now-endless Afghan war that triggered the beginning of the flurry of Middle East wars. And while Sanders brags about voting “no” for the 2003 Iraq war, his vote soon morphed into a “yes,” by his several votes for the ongoing funding of the war/occupation.

    Sanders also voted “yes” for the U.S.-led NATO destruction of Yugoslavia, and supports the brutal Israeli military regime that uses U.S. weapons to slaughter Palestinians.

    When it was announced that Obama was choosing sides and funneling guns to the Syrian rebels — thus exacerbating and artificially extending the conflict — Bernie was completely silent; a silence that helped destroy Syria and lead to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

    Sanders is consistently on the wrong side of history; he’s also been a direct accomplice to a series of massive war crimes.

    Sanders often uses weak rhetoric to mitigate his imperialism. On his campaign website he says that the U.S. needs a “strong national defense infrastructure” and a “strong defense system,” but adds the caveat that he’s “concerned” about the military budget, and wants “accountability” for the enormous amounts that are spent. Obama the candidate spoke more clearly about war and peace than Sanders does.

    Highlighting Sanders imperialism is especially important because the left has been repeatedly duped by imperialist wars in recent years, to the point that imperialism is becoming increasingly ignored, and consequently strengthened.

    Large sections of the left were silent about the destruction of Yugoslavia, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria. They were blissfully ignorant of the ongoing imperialist adventures throughout Africa, most spectacularly in Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia and the Congo. The worst dictators in Africa — for example in Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda — are “good friends” of the United States.

    By not giving adequate focus to the U.S. foreign military adventures, valuable political cover is given to allow these wars to continue. The U.S. anti-war movement was mostly silent about Obama’s imperialism while two historically important countries of the Middle East — Libya and Syria — were obliterated.

    By not educating and organizing against imperialism, it’s impossible to make alliances with forces fighting imperialism abroad. Creating international alliances has a long tradition among the left among unions, Black liberation, and the socialist/communist movements.

    There have also been powerful connections that helped curb apartheid South Africa, strengthen the Venezuelan revolution and empower Palestinians against the apartheid Israeli government.

    However, the people on the ground in the Middle East who preferred that the U.S. not destroy their nations, have had little solidarity with people in the United States. In fact, the United States in many of their eyes is the number one enemy, which in turn makes them think that terrorism against U.S. citizens is justified.

    Ultimately, the nationalist demands of the Sanders’ campaign cannot be achieved while simultaneously allowing international imperialism to thrive. Imperialism is a bogeyman that haunts social progress, re-appearing in countless forms to keep resources flowing endlessly into wars abroad that stunt domestic spending and distract from working class demands. A new military “crisis” will always strive to take priority over domestic considerations.

    Does Bernie Sanders’ Imperialism Matter?
    By Shamus Cooke

    • Kiza
      February 5, 2016 at 04:34

      I was about to write a few of the same points when I found this quote of yours from Shamus.

      With an apology to the predominantly left-wing readers here, Sanders is just a dark horse in this race – he is less known because he has not held any federal executive position, whilst Hilary has. Whilst Hilary is probably as progressive as Hitler (who was a National Socialist), which is what she likes calling the foreign statesmen who do not comply with her wishes, Bernie is only less known. This is democracy US style: two horrible candidates to chose between, differing insignificantly. There was no US war yet which Sanders did not find justified and did not vote for. One would expect Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria to be heavens by now after a “progressive” such as Sanders voted for all those wars. Finally, there are very good indications that Sanders belongs to the Israeli lobby as much as Hilary.

    • Pancho
      February 5, 2016 at 09:33

      Ouch! So right, brother Abe.

  6. February 4, 2016 at 21:28

    To test H. Clinton’s bona fides as a “progressive” [Sanders too], I suggest some questions of former Secretary of State Clinton for the upcoming debate (Sanders should be asked to comment as well): (1) Was the CIA – and Ambassador Stevens also – involved in shipping the former Libyan president’s arms stockpiles to Syria to support the rebels against the legally constituted government of Syria? (2) Why is the Syrian Government portrayed as a heinous dictatorship while Saudi Arabia’s unelected tyrants are portrayed as valuable allies of our so-called democracy? (3) Don’t you feel partly responsible for the genesis of ISIS, seeing that you voted for the 2003 invasion of Iraq which resulted in the widespread elimination of Sunni power in Iraq and the rebirth of religious divisiveness between Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’ites? (4) Did you approve of the continued sanctions against Iraq from 1991 and beyond which, under your husband’s administration, resulted in the deaths (by the UN’s own reckoning) of 1 million Iraqis, including about 500,000 children?

  7. Joe Tedesky
    February 4, 2016 at 20:34

    The best news is, the young America is deeply involved. It is like watching a birth.

    • Joe Tedesky
      February 5, 2016 at 03:04

      What is heartwarming about the Sanders campaign, is seeing how many youth are showing up as progressives. My one big hope is that this younger generation stay the course with their liberal thinking enough to correct my generations many mistakes. God only knows they will need some kind of luck, if they are too steady this country’s journey into it’s future. Maybe Bernie is somekind of Don Quixote still left over from the sixties, but his grandfatherly warnings are being listened to by his much younger followers, and that’s a good thing. Hopefully some of Bernies young supporters will read some of the comments on this website. Then they, or us could press candidate Sanders better to represent our views. Yes, as of now I am starting to see more good than bad. Also, I still have questions I will need to ask Bernie Sanders… For example; on the MSNBC debate, Sanders referred to Putin as being a aggressor in the Crimea. Thom Hartman who is a big Sanders supporter made a comment of how Sanders may wish to go further with his foreign policies. Again, I’m happy to see this youth who has never known an America without a war, or terrorism come to be progressive with their early approach towards confronting our country’s politics.

Comments are closed.