Essay — From the November 2014 issue

Stop Hillary!

Vote no to a Clinton dynasty

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This model of governance also depended on enemies. Bill & Co. — and Hillary was intimately involved with this choice from the beginning — picked the teachers’ union. A court had declared the Arkansas education-finance system unconstitutional: it was woefully unequal, with teachers in some districts paid so poorly that they qualified for food stamps. Raising taxes in any serious manner would be a political challenge. So the Clinton team paired a modest, one-point increase in the sales tax with a proposed competence test for teachers. The Arkansas public was not fond of the teachers’ union, Morris found, so Bill could present himself as doing it all for the kids. And, as Morris noted, it was a politically crafty break from the Old Democrat left.

As Bernstein recounts, the Arkansas State Teachers Association “was not exactly the antichrist, and in fact had done some pretty good things in a state where the legislature had typically accorded more attention to protecting the rights of poultry farmers to saturate half of Arkansas’s topsoil with chicken feces than providing its children with a decent education.” But setting them up as the enemy paid rich political dividends. Clinton got the tax increase and the competence test.

These measures did not, however, lead to any significant improvement in the state’s educational performance. A review of the reform efforts by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation later found “a serious, large demoralization of the teaching force. They feel constrained by what they perceive to be a stranglehold of mandates, needless paperwork and limited encouragement.” The problems of the educational system were so structural, so deeply rooted in the state’s poverty and backwardness, that it would require a wholesale overhaul of the political economy to fix them — and the Clintons weren’t about to take that on.

Instead, they were laying the groundwork for what would eventually hit the national stage as the New Democrat movement, which took institutional form as the Democratic Leadership Council. Teacher testing and right-to-work were nice ways to show his (their, really) distance from organized labor. Bill went light on environmental enforcement and spread around tax breaks in the name of economic development. Tyson Foods, the major producer of that aforementioned chicken shit, got nearly $8 million in such breaks between 1988 and 1990, at a time when the company’s budget was twice the state’s.

When she wasn’t busy doing political work for the Clinton enterprise, Hillary was defending the leading lights of Arkansas business at Rose and serving on corporate boards — including the viciously anti-union Walmart (though she did encourage the company to begin a recycling program). And inevitably, there were connections between Rose and the state government, from routine bond issues to more complex litigation. It was all a little smelly, and would later cause the couple no end of headaches.

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is the editor and publisher of the Left Business Observer and the author most recently of After the New Economy (The New Press).

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