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  February 3, 2016

Is Clinton "A Progressive Who Gets Stuff Done"?

Media critic Jeff Cohen says the media is failing to challenge Hillary Clinton's claim to be a progressive reformer
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Jeff Cohen is the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, and he was the founder of the media watchdog FAIR. He is the co-founder of He joins us from Ithaca, New York.


SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Yes, by now we all know that Hillary Clinton is the official winner of the Democratic caucuses in Iowa. She has a very marginal win, though, 0.29 percent. Delegates for six precincts were decided by coin tosses, all of which Clinton won. Statistically, this has only 1.6 percent chance of happening.

Now joining us to discuss these results and look ahead, as well, in terms of the New Hampshire primaries coming up is Jeff Cohen. Jeff is the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, and he was the founder of the media watchdog FAIR. He's also the co-founder of Jeff, so good to have you with us.

JEFF COHEN: Great to be with you.

PERIES: So, Jeff, let's have a look at what the candidates said last night before we get into analyzing them.

BERNIE SANDERS: We do not represent the interests of the billionaire class, Wall Street, or corporate America. We don't want their money. We will--and I am very proud to tell you that we are the only candidate on the Democratic side without a superPAC. And the reason that we have done so well here in Iowa, the reason I believe we're going to do so well in New Hampshire and in the other states that follow, the reason is the American people are saying no to a rigged economy. They no longer want to see an economy in which the average American works longer hours for low wages, while almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent.

HILLARY CLINTON: I am a progressive who gets things done for people. I am honored to stand in the long line of American reformers who make up our minds that the status quo is not good enough. That standing still is not an option. And that brings people together to find ways forward that will improve the lives of Americans. I look back over the years of my involvement from that very first job I had at the Children's Defense Fund, and I know--I know what we are capable of doing. I know we can create more good-paying jobs and raise incomes for hardworking Americans again. I know that we can finish the job of universal healthcare coverage for every single man, woman, and child.

PERIES: So Jeff, let me begin by getting your reaction to some of their comments.

COHEN: Well, let's face it, Bernie has shook up the system, and the Bernie movement, and the millions of donors, small donors. But the Hillary Clinton comment with President Bill Clinton beaming behind her and clapping when she says, I'm a progressive who gets things done, it just makes me laugh. If the corporate mainstream media actually discussed policies, the whole country would have laughed. Because the reality is that under the Bill Clinton administration during it, and Hillary is now campaigning shoulder-to-shoulder with her husband, President Bill Clinton, there were major initiatives pushed forward during the Clinton era, and they were anti-progressive.

And it's very simple to look back on it. It's not, there's nothing disputed. In 1993 with Republican votes, and over the large majority, against the large majority of Democrats in Congress, Bill Clinton put forward NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was a pro-corporate deal that hurt American wages, hurt U.S. wages, I should say. In 1996, the Telecommunications Act. Bill Clinton, working with the Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, allowed the big media companies to get even bigger. 1996, almost as a reelection ploy, Bill Clinton ended federal aid to families with dependent children, AFDC, a welfare program that had been started in 1935 during Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. And when Bill Clinton pushed through welfare deform, the Children's Defense Fund, who Hillary referred to in that clip, they were outraged.

And then you could go to 1999 and 2000, as Clinton was leaving the White House, and another anti-progressive getting things done, they deregulated Wall Street and Wall Street speculation. They ended the Glass-Steagall regulation that since 1933 Franklin Roosevelt New Deal had separated Main Street banks from the speculative Wall Street banks. And the deregulation of Wall Street under Bill Clinton in '99 and 2000 led directly to the economic meltdown in 2007 and '08.

So when I hear Hillary Clinton talk about progressive who gets things done, the Clinton administration got things done, and they were anti-progressive. And the one measure that Hillary Clinton was in charge of during the eight Clinton years, she was the ambassador for healthcare. And Hillary Clinton put forward a proposal that was so complex, you know, before there was Obamacare there was Hillarycare. But Hillarycare was so complex, with a handful of giant insurance companies running the healthcare system, it was so convoluted it never got out of committee. So talk about not getting things done.

PERIES: Now, Jeff, some feminists and the National Organization for Women, we had actually Terry O'Neil on last night. Now, they would argue that it is unfair to paint her with the same brush as her husband, that his administration and her administration cannot be compared in this way. What do you say to them?

COHEN: I think it's a little silly. In speech after speech I'm hearing her wrap herself around her husband. But I respect Terry O'Neil, and we should judge Hillary more by what she did. Her healthcare initiative was a debacle, and it was--the big insurance companies helped her design it. We can look at her recent positions, and she should be criticized on that. You know, the vote for the Iraq invasion, that's not progressive. That's not getting things done. The, you know, the push to get rid of Gaddafi with no plan B, what do you do after Gaddafi is gotten rid of in Libya? That's on her, that's not Bill Clinton, that's Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton helped negotiate her State Department the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which to me is just a continuation of NAFTA from 1993.

So I think there's some validity, that we should look at Hillary Clinton's record. But when I see her say I get, I'm a progressive, and Bill Clinton is standing behind her, beaming, and they're going to one campaign event after another together, I really, you know, focus, yes, on Hillary's positions. But don't forget that Bill Clinton's policies, the big policies, were done arm-in-arm with Republicans. They got things done for the anti-progressive side, for the corporatist side.

PERIES: Now, Jeff, of course Hillary Clinton's positions and policies has to stand alone. And you were critiquing for her policies not being progressive ones. Yet we have a number of union organizations in this country who have endorsed her, who would consider themselves progressive.

COHEN: It's a great question. And it reflects what's wrong with the progressive constituency leadership. Not the masses, the leadership. The leadership of these unions are embedded with the Democratic party leadership, which means they're embedded with the corporate elite. When, when these unions are giving millions of dollars, and you could go check it, the International Business Times has a great expose of $5-6 million dollars coming from unions to superPACs and organizations that are trying to elect Hillary Clinton. And that's money badly spent, because there, you know, it's money electing someone like Hillary Clinton, not her husband. Hillary Clinton was on the board of Walmart, one of the most anti-union companies in recent U.S. history.

And there's other examples. The League of Conservation Voters, you know, the League of Conservation Voters' leadership is, again, embedded with the Democratic party elite, which means they're in bed with the corporate elite, and they endorsed Hillary. And it led to just outrage among members, because as everyone knows, Bernie Sanders has got, like, 100 percent environmental record. He's got a plan for renewable energy that would create millions of jobs. He's been against the Keystone pipeline when Hillary was supporting it. And that the League of Conservation Voters would endorse Hillary against a vehement environmentalist like Bernie Sanders again shows that these establishment elites of the constituency groups that purport to be progressive, they're so embedded with the Democratic party establishment that they can't really represent their members, who are working people, environmental activists, et cetera. It's a real disconnect between the base.

And we saw it in Iowa. I mean, think about all of the members of Congress. You know, Bernie, I heard during caucus day, had received two Congressional endorsements. The two leaders of the Progressive Caucus, Raul Grijalva, who is a Latino, and Ellison, an African-American from Minnesota. Meanwhile, Hillary had, like, 140 Congressional endorsers. And I think she's got dozens of U.S. Senate endorsers. Well, what's that about? What's that about is that Hillary Clinton is connected to big money and big donors. And there was this sense, up until I guess the Iowa caucuses, that she's the inevitable nominee. So you had a lot of these people just moving toward power, and toward the establishment, but the establishment is in real trouble this week.

PERIES: All right, Jeff. We're going to do a second segment where we're going to take up other sorts of endorsements, for example the NYT, that's the New York Times. Jeff, thank you so much for joining us.

COHEN: Great. Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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