Publisher's Note — March 4, 2016, 11:38 am

Fair-weather Progressive

“Hillary Clinton wasn’t really a progressive, or even a liberal Democrat, until Bernie Sanders decided to run for president.”

A version of this column originally ran in the Toronto Star on February 25, 2016.

By now it’s clear that Bernie Sanders is never really going to attack Hillary Clinton—at least not with the kind of aggressive language that many of his supporters would like to see him use. For whatever reason—tactical, moral, or just ingrained good manners—Sanders has chosen the high ground of policy and argument over the hardline style favored by political consultants.

The only time I’ve noticed Sanders angry enough to hit back decisively at Clinton’s sniping—when she compared him with Republican critics of President Barack Obama—he was characteristically polite: “Madame Secretary,” he said, “that is a low blow.”

Yet Clinton’s misleading claims about herself—particularly her pretensions to being a “progressive” Democrat—beg for a tougher response, no matter how much of a gentleman Sanders wishes to appear. Last week’s Town Hall in Las Vegas was typical. After expressing apparent wonderment that Sanders would criticize her husband or Obama, she declared, “Maybe it’s that Senator Sanders wasn’t really a Democrat until he decided to run for office.”

The remark sounded clever, given Sanders’s claim to being a “socialist” independent. But maybe Hillary Clinton wasn’t really a progressive, or even a liberal Democrat, until Bernie Sanders decided to run for president.

Hillary and Bill Clinton are famously a political couple, an “entry” as it’s known in the vernacular. Their journey from supporters of the antiwar Senators Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern to friends of Wall Street grandees like Roger Altman and Steven Rattner is well documented. Nevertheless, Bill Clinton still does a pretty good impersonation of a progressive—as in his eulogy at Eugene McCarthy’s memorial service. So does Hillary Clinton. But it all rings hollow, since the Clintons long ago accommodated themselves to the money powers rather than fighting them. Scholars of the Clinton years in Arkansas can argue over what the young Governor Clinton was trying to accomplish in a southern state not known for liberal values. But Hillary’s willingness to serve for six years on the board of Walmart while her husband was governor is certainly evidence of a couple intent on advertising its openness to corporate and conservative values.

Once in the White House, the Clintons had a choice of how to launch their new administration. To be fair, Hillary wanted to address health care first, but Bill insisted on NAFTA. Whatever one may think of free trade as a theory, the way the Clintons practiced it has led to a huge industrial dislocation: factory closures all over the country and hundreds of thousands of jobs—Obama claimed “a million”—transferred to cheap labor Mexico.

NAFTA was the beginning of the end for organized labor in the United States, but with the next Clinton trade initiative, Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, passed in 2000, U.S. companies raced to “communist” China as if it were the California gold rush. This record does not exactly square with the story of a Clinton couple holding aloft the mantle of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. I have reported extensively on NAFTA and PNTR and am unaware of any public statement Hillary Clinton ever made against her husband’s trade and labor policies.

The Clintons’ retreat from the principles epitomized by the Roosevelts continued with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a regulatory hallmark of the New Deal aimed at discouraging the kind of bank speculation that brought on the crash of 2008. The administration’s 1996 “welfare reform” bill deprived millions of poor people, most of them minority women, of much-needed government subsidies and was praised by the unprogressive Newt Gingrich as “a major, major achievement.” I don’t find Hillary protesting those “achievements.”

And then there’s universal health care, abandoned as a goal during the Clinton Administration, and which Hillary now says is unrealistic. It might very well be if you’ve taken $495,807 in campaign donations from the insurance business and $1,135,218 from pharmaceutical interests.

But you say that Hillary, as a feminist, has a right to be judged on her own record, not her husband’s. What Sanders can’t say, because he is a gentleman, is that Hillary Clinton’s career as a politician—unlike, say, Elizabeth Warren’s—does not exist without her husband, either as Senator, or as Secretary of State, or as a possible President. It’s not easy getting on the ballot, whether you grew up left-wing in Brooklyn, like Bernie Sanders, or Republican in Illinois, like Hillary Clinton.

Single Page

More from John R. MacArthur:

Publisher's Note October 3, 2019, 4:07 pm

The Fourth Estate

Publisher's Note August 7, 2019, 3:14 pm


“Nor would I leave to Emmanuel Macron and Mark Zuckerberg, both of them politicians first and foremost, the job of regulating anything that has to do with words or language.”

Publisher's Note July 12, 2019, 10:47 am

American Greatness

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada



October 2019


Good Bad Bad Good·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Long Shot·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Ihave had many names, but as a sniper I went by Azad, which means “free” or “freedom” in Kurdish. I had been fighting for sixteen months in Kurdish territory in northern Syria when in April 2015 I was asked to leave my position on the eastern front, close to the Turkish border, and join an advance on our southwestern one. Eight months earlier, we had been down to our last few hundred yards, and, outnumbered five to one, had made a last stand in Kobanî. In January, after more than four months of fighting street-to-street and room-by-room, we recaptured the town and reversed what was, until then, an unstoppable jihadi tide. In the battles since, we had pushed ­ISIS far enough in every direction that crossing our territory was no longer a short dash through the streets but a five-hour drive across open country. As we set out to the north, I could make out the snowy peaks in southern Turkey where they say Noah once beached his ark. Below them, rolling toward us, were the wide, grassy valleys and pine forests of Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris where our people have lived for twelve thousand years.

The story of my people is filled with bitter ironies. The Kurds are one of the world’s oldest peoples and, as pioneers of agriculture, were once among its most advanced. Though the rest of the world now largely overlooks that it was Kurds who were among the first to create a civilization, the evidence is there. In 1995, German archaeologists began excavating a temple at Göbekli Tepe in northern Kurdistan. They found a structure flanked by stone pillars carved with bulls, foxes, and cranes, which they dated to around 10,000 bce. At the end of the last Ice Age, and seven thousand years before the erection of Stonehenge or the pyramids at Giza, my ancestors were living together as shamans, artists, farmers, and engineers.

Constitution in Crisis·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

America’s Constitution was once celebrated as a radical and successful blueprint for democratic governance, a model for fledgling republics across the world. But decades of political gridlock, electoral corruption, and dysfunction in our system of government have forced scholars, activists, and citizens to question the document’s ability to address the thorniest issues of modern ­political life.

Does the path out of our current era of stalemate, minority rule, and executive abuse require amending the Constitution? Do we need a new constitutional convention to rewrite the document and update it for the twenty-­first century? Should we abolish it entirely?

This spring, Harper’s Magazine invited five lawmakers and scholars to New York University’s law school to consider the constitutional crisis of the twenty-­first century. The event was moderated by Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown and the author of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon.

Life after Life·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Power of Attorney·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In a Walmart parking lot in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 2015, a white police officer named Stephen Rankin shot and killed an unarmed, eighteen-­year-­old black man named William Chapman. “This is my second one,” he told a bystander seconds after firing the fatal shots, seemingly in reference to an incident four years earlier, when he had shot and killed another unarmed man, an immigrant from Kazakhstan. Rankin, a Navy veteran, had been arresting Chapman for shoplifting when, he claimed, Chapman charged him in a manner so threatening that he feared for his life, leaving him no option but to shoot to kill—­the standard and almost invariably successful defense for officers when called to account for shooting civilians. Rankin had faced no charges for his earlier killing, but this time, something unexpected happened: Rankin was indicted on a charge of first-­degree murder by Portsmouth’s newly elected chief prosecutor, thirty-­one-year-­old Stephanie Morales. Furthermore, she announced that she would try the case herself, the first time she had ever prosecuted a homicide. “No one could remember us having an actual prosecution for the killing of an unarmed person by the police,” Morales told me. “I got a lot of feedback, a lot of people saying, ‘You shouldn’t try this case. If you don’t win, it may affect your reelection. Let someone else do it.’ ”

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:


A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A federal judge authored a 69-page ruling preventing New York City from enforcing zoning laws pertaining to adult bookstores and strip clubs.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


Happiness Is a Worn Gun


“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today