Ex Counselor to Bill Clinton: Hillary’s Economic Justice Incompatible with Her Corporate Relationships

July 29, 2016

In response to Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech, Bill Curry, former counselor to Bill Clinton's White House, says that progressives should focus on building an independent political movement

In response to Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech, Bill Curry, former counselor to Bill Clinton's White House, says that progressives should focus on building an independent political movement



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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

It is a defining moment in American history as Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic Party nomination to be the 2016 presidential candidate for her party at the convention held in Philadelphia on Thursday. Let’s have a look.

CHELSEA CLINTON: Ladies and gentlemen. My mother, my hero, and our next president, Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON: Chelsea thank you. So my friends it is with humility, determination, and boundless confidence in America’s promise, that I accept your nomination for President of the United States.

PERIES: To discuss the essence of the accept speech I’m being joined by Bill Curry. Bill is a columnist for Salon.com and was a counselor for President Clinton’s White House. Thank you so much for joining us Bill.

BILL CURRY: Great to be with you.

PERIES: So Bill let me first get your reaction and initial thoughts on the speech.

CURRY: Well I thought it was as good a speech as Hillary Clinton will probably ever give. She can’t give the kind of emoting that Michelle Obama did. She can’t turn a stadium in a living in the way that her husband can. She’s not capable of the high flow rhetoric that Barack Obama is a master of. So I thought this would be a difficult evening for her stylistically. So I think by not shooting too high–for her to try to give any kind of those speeches would’ve been like asking her to pull off a trapeze act. It’s just not in her skill set. So I thought just you know stylistically she did well.

There were some things about it that I liked. I certainly liked the Democratic Party can demonstrate for the country the difference between nationalism and patriotism. That’s great. And if it can remind us of some of our communitarian values, I think that’s also great. I truly believe that Donald Trump is I’ve been saying [proto-fascist] in all the interviews I’ve done with you guys and my writing. But fascists really need proto here so this is a great danger of the country and the world and everything said about him I agree with. 

The speech also left me understanding however that there’s some ares in which the country won’t be moving forward within the next 4 years regardless of the outcome for which the progressives in this country have to begin to strengthen an independent movement beginning now really to bring the kind of pressure we’re going to need. In 2 of those areas for progressives which we’re weak right now are political corruption and national defense.

PERIES: Now she spoke extensively about economic issues. And we’ll get to the corruption part a little bit later. But to start off with she pledged that as president she will make it a primary mission to create more opportunity and more good jobs with rising wages right here in the United States. Now what’s really extraordinary about this commitment is that when you saw her lineup, especially this evening, people like Bloomberg spoke. So the question is, given that who she is loyal to the kind of support she’s getting from Wall Street and the conservative elements of her party, is she able to actually deliver on this?

CURRY: Well you know first of all the Democratic Party at different points in its history has delivered important things. It did in the Great Society, it did in the New Deal, and they’re been times when one of the 2 major parties, certainly in the populace and the progressives there were also substantial reforms that all happened in short and very dynamic periods. So you know it’s possible to get some of it. But the fundamental problem with the elite democrats and really with I have to say beyond a doubt with Hillary in particular who helped build this system, there are 2 problems. 1 they don’t even see the conflict between their relations to big corporations and to the wealthy and their desire’s sincere I think–I believe for social justice and the [inaud.] for social problems. They don’t get that the system that’s financing their careers is incompatible with the vision they often espouse in their speeches.

They don’t even see it. Tim Kaine I mean; this is not my choice to be Vice President. But an admirable man went to Honduras and worked with the poor and came back and spent 17 years as a civil rights lawyer and then at the same time received the phone call for the vice presidency at the Newport Yacht Club where he was hobnobbing with the wealthy. And he seems like a very decent man who can’t even acknowledge the conflict and that’s what I was saying a moment ago. This is the corruption of our political system.

It isn’t enough just to say as he said that the economy’s not working as it should because the democracy’s not working as it should as she did tonight. You know, the plainer truth is that the middle class is dying because the democracy is corrupt. Merely overturning citizens united which is the only reform that the democrats have talked about all year. They took previous promises of reform, ending revolver door and no bid contracts, defense of whistle blowers which had been earlier platforms and they removed them.

They’re not in this platform. So there’s actually been a retreat from even the historic commitments that the party had at least made on paper to clean the system up and cutback on some of the corporate influences. And of course, both the president and the secretary were involved with Republicans in the 2014 budget and since in finding ways to increase the amount of money could give. 10 fold under a deal cut between Democrats and Republicans in that 2014 budget. That enabled the rich to give 10 times more money than they had been giving to federal elections. That in itself, that little quiet undisclosed budget deal has had a bigger impact on this next election than Citizens United. And so the party itself, I don’t believe is ever going to change that. 

It doesn’t mean that I don’t see real differences here between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And especially because this isn’t Mitt Romney and John McCain because this is a fascist. I think this is an election I’m hoping she wins. At the same time though I am not optimistic about our ability to get to the fundamental problems. The systemic issues of global finance capitalism and pay to play politics. This party won’t ever get to that unless there is a movement to topple its leadership and revitalize its ranks. 

PERIES: And Bill what do you make of the foreign policy statement she did make? From my hearing it was rather aggressive. More aggressive than Obama. For example, what she said about confronting Russia and about China. And how we must stand up to China. Like usual she seems to sort of campaign from the left but when it comes to actual policy and implementation as she did as Secretary of State, she seems to rule from the right.

CURRY: Well again, you know I’m going to stop on one point you just made and challenge it a little bit here. And that is what you get, for instance you look at the democratic platform and their platforms over time. You get lots of commitment on social issues and cultural issues. They’re very clear about abortion. They’re finally clear about same sex marriage. They had specific language about the death penalty. There are lots of ways in which they in fact do govern as they run gun safety. At the same time, if the issues are about political reform or economic justice, that’s when it all becomes public policy [vaperware]. That’s when the language becomes all kinds of weasel words and you’re left with phrases which seem to be more than they do once you parch them. 

So and that to me again goes back to the problem in campaign finance. So there [are] difference is there are choices worth making but the choices we have to make in order to really move the country forward. I think there’s some vital choices but they’re left out. And foreign policy’s a pretty good example. Hillary Clinton has been a Madeline Albright hawk. She’s been the most prominent hawk in the democratic party for a really long time. Really since her husband was president and throughout her senate career and certainly her last campaign when she sort of ran as Xena the Warrior Princess.

In part I thought that may be because her advisers said she had to, a woman had to be tough. And there’s something to that. And there’s a little bit to that. But really I don’t think she has absorbed the lessons of the limits of violence in the resolution of human conflict which anyone looking at this system with clear eyes would see. And so there are two points that I wish–and progressives haven’t made these. But we haven’t made this argument strongly enough.

Number 1, that our safety lies not in the force of arms but in the rule of law. Wonderful example by the way in the last two weeks, we’ve been sending these battleships in the South China Sea in these territorial disputes with China and ratcheting up tensions and an enormous cost to us, China, and everybody else. Then The Hague, the international tribunal, The Hague issues a ruling that settles the question of the dispute. And China’s kind of bucking it but here we have this great example in the last couple of weeks about how the rule of law is so much better than battleships. That ultimately we can’t just be the policemen. We can’t just be taking on every country in the South China Sea. That’s not our territorial dispute. If someone’s going to commit, it has to be the community of nations operating under real global laws and institutions. So it’s time for progressives to go back to making that point. To reminding people that Iraq and Afghanistan have shown among other things, the limits of what you can do with a standing army in this world. And that we need the rule of law. And that number 2, all that terrorism and all this unrest in the Middle East and throughout the world in this last age is connected to the economic conditions which we created. Well here and abroad we have a desperate working middle class in the United States that feels it’s prospects falling. And there are young men in every culture around the world that are caught in this vice.

They’ve been raised up but not economically just enough to understand how unfair the situation is. And in global finance capitalism in the form that it exists today is not going to expand their opportunities. Only government can create the rules. Only a democracy can create the rules to let them go ahead. So when we talk about national security, it’s directly related to the kinds of trade agreements and the world economic order, number one. And number 2, we can’t defend ourselves through armaments. It’s not–we’ve got to get out of that game. We’ve got to be strengthening multilateral institutions beginning with the United Nations. We have to explain to the American people that that’s where their safety lies.

PERIES: Which leads me to a point you made very early in this interview about the distinction between nationalism and patriotism and I was wondering if you could clarify what you exactly meant by that and elaborate please?

CURRY: Yes. Looking at Trump–and there are 3 things about Trump that have been very difficult for the media to explore and there are lots of things the media has done wrong here because of systemic problems, their interest in ratings, and their interests in horse race politics and polls and it’s all as Bernie Sanders has often complained, it’s making us all stupid.

People who care about the communities but aren’t that much interested in this kind of politics are walking away from the civic life of the country. And the distinction here between nationalism and patriotism is related to the question I just raised in the following manner. They totally fail to vet this nationalist demagogue truck. He won the Republican nomination for the president of the United States without anyone going–really examining 3 questions. 

1 his obvious emotional instability. His lack of impulse control. I’ve never called out a political opponent on emotional issues or psychological issues in my life. I doubt I ever will again but this is a classic narcissist. A dangerous, dangerous man. It’s not just a question of temperament, there’s something deeply wrong here. 

Number 2, his whole life story’s a fraud. Insofar, that he’s a business man we can test. Who won, who came into business with somebody else’s money spent. Inherited this, not self made businessman in that classic [heretical] [inaud.] mode. At all he’s used government. He’s been buying influence. Politicians sell it. He buys it. That’s how he rose.

And number 3, and this is the distinction, this is a fascist. This is someone who threatens to use government to prosecute his opponents. To shut down the press. This is someone who incites violence. Being a fascist isn’t about whether you’re for or against a global trade pack or universal healthcare. It’s about whether you pedal racism or conspiracy theories and xenophobia and the kind of nationalist spirit that he has raised up just as with those emotional issues and just with the fraud, the press in this country’s done a terrible job of vetting here. It’s no longer doing the vetting. Vetting’s gone the same way as investigative journalism and all you’re getting is this sort of horse race politics stuff. So you have this serious, selfish, dangerous nationalism of the kind you truly find among fascist and other dictators. Maybe it’s a little bit more subtle in Trump but boy is it there. 

And it’s not just Trump. It’s been welling up in this country for a long time. I don’t want to play like he invented it. And so at least I enjoyed parts of the speech tonight where it seemed to be they were making that–she was making that point, her speech writers were making that point. This stuff they pedal, where it really isn’t a love of country that begins in the love of each of us for one another. What it really is filled with such belligerence and such instability and such blaming and conspiracy mongering.

This isn’t patriotism. It’s this other thing called nationalism and it’s a real danger to us all. I was happy that point was made tonight. I wish at the same time that the people who were the head of the democratic party who may be leading the country instead of Trump in January, I hope. I wish they understood that the rest of their own national security policy is just–it’s exhausted. If it ever worked, it doesn’t now. And I wished there were progressives in the democratic party and if not without it, who’d bring that up. 

I know I’ve been talking, I just wanted to say one last thing. I was once the political director of the Nuclear Freeze Movement. It’s something I’m very proud of, it was a long time ago. And so I noticed that when I talked about what the left doesn’t have–we need to build. I left that speech tonight knowing that in my heart it is time to revive a strong peace movement in this country. Because as many of us who have progressive values think about how to build a popular movement to challenge this bi partisan neo liberal hegemony. Some things are weak. We have working families party, democracies for America, the nurses. There’s a lot of organizations out there that are really starting to build on economic issues. We really need to strengthen our peace movement. We really need to put this back in this debate. 

PERIES: I think that’s a very important point you make. Not to mention the disarmament movement that also needs to get rebooted.

CURRY: Yea I’m using the peace movement as a generic–it would involve the nuclear freeze movement and build up an anti-war movements and they’ve taken many different forms over the years. There’s a wonderful group called Citizens for Global Solutions. It operates out of Washington. It fights for multilateral decision making which begins with strengthening the UN without adjoining the world court with art. You know you have to submit to the laws you want others to submit to. We haven’t done that with any important treaties and many multilateral institutions. You know and it goes across the board and it also means using international institutions like the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO. These kinds of things need to be either replaced or they need to be strengthened. 

We have to make people understand that in order for us to succeed economically here, all the countries we trade with, they have to have strong middle class as well. Their wages have to rise. And that doesn’t happen. The corporations never do that voluntarily. Unions raise wages in this country. The government raise wages. One of the greatest single reasons for wage suppression for the 40 years of wage suppression we’ve had is that our government has stopped doing it here. But these international institutions are the only way it’s going to happen in other places as well.

So there has to be–I’m waiting to hear a strong progressive argument, not just that Iraq was a mistake or we’re spending too much with the military. But there’s a better way to be prosperous and safe. And if you trust in the power of ideas and in the power of the truth, I think you can get up in front of any audience and you can go chapter and verse through the experiences of the last 20 years and the tragic mistakes we’ve made. The violence that we’ve brought to other places and most important, obviously Iraq.

The fact that it’s so easy to go to war here now and not even realize that you’re at war. We’ve become a country that can even forget that it’s even at war and one that when the congress doesn’t take on its responsibility for the war making powers, when you can put war on a credit card, when you can send machines to do the fighting for you, then a country can just–a powerful nation such as ours can drift in and out of conflict in a almost unconscious way. In a way that that hasn’t made us safe. In addition to all the arguments of humanity to be raised against it it’s not working. And there have to be more people, I hope within the democratic party but if not, among progressives across the board who aren’t afraid to prosecute this case.

PERIES: Bill, some very important points being made in that. While there was great overtures towards Bernie Sanders and his movement throughout the conference, I think a lot of the issue that you raised and the movement is racing. That was behind Bernie is still remaining unresolved when you come to essence of the differences between Bernie and Hillary. But we look forward to your analysis moving forward. I thank you so much for joining us.

CURRY: One thing all the speakers said is that it’s a long journey and we’re all going to walk it.

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

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