Essay — From the November 2014 issue

Stop Hillary!

Vote no to a Clinton dynasty

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The Clintons had outgrown Arkansas. Bill contemplated running for president in 1988 but decided not to, in part because he was terrified that one or more of his countless paramours would come forward. But four years later, he found his nerve. There were still plenty of skeletons in the closet, of course. An internal campaign memo from March 1992 listed more than seventy-five potential problems for the candidacy. Among them, needless to say, were Bill’s many women — but about two thirds of the sore spots involved both Bill and Hillary, and eighteen of them pertained to Hillary’s work at Rose.[*]

[*] Correction: Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr should have been credited for this material, as well as for certain Whitewater-related details, which came from Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton (2007). We regret the omission, which was due to an editing error.

He won anyway. It was the next stage of what they had earlier called the Journey — their joint venture to change the world. (Hillary’s private slogan was: “Eight years of Bill, eight years of Hill.”) They settled into something resembling a copresidency, with Hillary exercising an influence no previous First Lady ever had. And she caused trouble right from the start. Always suspicious of the media, she shut off reporters’ access to the West Wing of the White House. It ended up alienating the press to no good effect.

More substantively, Hillary was given responsibility for running the health-care reform agenda. It was very much a New Democrat scheme. Rejecting a Canadian-style single-payer system, Hillary and her team came up with an impossibly complex arrangement called “managed competition.” Employers would be encouraged to provide health care to their workers, individuals would be assembled into cooperatives with some bargaining power, and competition among providers would keep costs down. But it was done in total secrecy, with no attempt to cultivate support in Congress or among the public for what would be a massive piece of legislation — and one vehemently opposed by the medical-industrial complex.

At a meeting with Democratic leaders in April 1993, Senator Bill Bradley suggested that she might need to compromise to get a bill passed. Hillary would have none of it: the White House would “demonize” any legislators who stood in her way. Bradley was stunned. Years later, he told Bernstein:

That was it for me in terms of Hillary Clinton. You don’t tell members of the Senate you are going to demonize them. It was obviously so basic to who she is. The arrogance. . . . The disdain.

Health-care reform was a conspicuous failure, and most of the blame has to fall on Hillary. Dusting herself off, she soon reinvented herself as a freewheeling “advocate.” In Living History, she recalls changing gears to focus on “children’s health issues, breast cancer prevention, and protecting funding for public television, legal services, and the arts.” She campaigned for changes in the adoption laws and for a bill to guarantee that newborns and their mothers wouldn’t be kicked out of the hospital sooner than forty-eight hours after the birth. It was all very high-minded, and good for her image, but of limited impact.

She did, however, throw her weight behind Bill’s controversial initiative to (as he put it more than once) “end welfare as we know it.” In Living History, she insists that welfare reform was designed to be “the beginning, not the end, of our concern for the poor.” Really? The whole point of welfare reform was disciplining the poor, not helping them. Still, she bragged that during the Clinton era, “welfare rolls had dropped 60 percent from 14.1 million to 5.8 million, and millions of parents had gone to work.”

Of course, those gains came during the strongest economic expansion of the past several decades, which was itself the byproduct of the unsustainable dot-com bubble. In August 2014, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a report on how the Clinton welfare regime, officially designated as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), had worked out over the longer term. They found that TANF is serving fewer families despite increased demand, that the value of benefits has eroded to the point where beneficiaries can’t meet their basic needs, and that it does far less to reduce poverty than its predecessor, AFDC. In addition, the report noted that almost all of the early employment gains for single mothers have since been reversed.

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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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