October 27, 2016

The Last Oligarch: Why Clinton Will End the System that Brought Her to Power.


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It is a common dilemma
: you cannot let Donald Trump win, and you cannot bring yourself to vote for Hillary Clinton. But a vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson is a throw-away vote, and may not even align with your deeper principles.

You want to vote for a Democrat but are sickened by the role of big money in bringing Clinton to power and in the rise of political dynasties. You do not trust her fundraising, and you believe the system was rigged.

These concerns are real, the dilemma perplexing, but there is good reason to believe Clinton would end the campaign finance system that brought her to power. And there is reason to believe few women could get so far without being part of a dynasty. The two together make Clinton an oligarch, the privileged member of a wealthy ruling family, but dynastic Presidents, like John Quincy Adams, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy have been some of America’s most progressive.

If candidate Clinton is a product of oligarchy, President Hillary Clinton may nevertheless prove to be the last oligarch—at least for a while. For if Clinton is elected president, Democrats will control the Supreme Court for at least a generation. And while Clinton’s cultivation of ties to the wealthy may be unsettling, Democrat appointed justices overwhelming support campaign finance reform, as evidenced by their unanimous and spirited opposition to the Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to campaign cash in 2010. And they generally support the right to vote.

A Democrat dominated Supreme Court can be counted on to overturn not only Citizens United, but several other decisions that led to it as well. These stretch at least as far back as 1976, and the big decisions around campaign finance reform tend to come up a couple of times a decade or so. They can be expected to strike down bills that make it more difficult for former criminals to vote as well and to guarantee the right of Mexican-Americans who were born in the country to vote. All of this together would constitute a renaissance in American democracy.

And it does not matter much where Clinton stands on these issues. Most potential Supreme Court nominees have laid low for decades in the hope of one day being appointed. For this reason, the pool of candidates is usually quite limited, and their stances on key issues tend to be murky. What the president looks for is someone who can pass the Senate’s vetting and shares their legal philosophy. A first-term president also looks to how the nominee will be received by key groups of likely voters, whose inspiration is needed for re-election.

The implication is that whether or not Clinton is corrupt simply does not matter much to the question of whether or not she would appoint justices who would make it vastly more difficult for someone like her, and vastly easier for someone like Bernie Sanders, to be elected president. For when she gets the chance to choose a Supreme Court justice her aides will compile a list of potential nominees who can pass the Senate and who are pro-choice, an issue close to her heart and important to key supporters.

She will also be under massive pressure to choose someone likely to overturn Citizens United, as she has promised she will attempt to do. She will meet with the potential nominees briefly and then choose one among them. Then they will do whatever they want for the next 30 years or so, during which time their views on everything will change as they confront the arguments of some of the most intelligent legal minds in the world. And they will owe nothing and be able to get nothing from the Clintons. The insulation from influence is, in fact, integral to their lifetime tenure on the court.

On the other hand, if Trump is elected, the U.S. will have a Supreme Court dominated by Republicans for at least a generation, and this may finally break the back of American democracy. He will appoint highly conservative justices, as he has promised to vet them through The Heritage Foundation. Not only will Citizens United be upheld, but other decisions limiting money in politics will be struck down. We should expect them to make it harder for Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, the disabled, the homeless, and the working poor to vote. And they will make it even easier for the wealthy to influence the outcome of elections, thereby marginalizing every voter. The stakes could not be higher.

Through his Supreme Court nominees, even a President Trump controlled by the center of his party, who is isolationist and anti-free trade, could nevertheless spell the final end to American democracy, because Republican justices simply do not understand the constraints on moneyed-interests needed to make democracy work. And if none of this sways you, the flood of money that a Trump Court would open, means that even under the most unimaginably favorable circumstances, the Green Party would be toast for at least a generation.

We should also put the role of the Clinton dynasty in bringing Hillary to power in perspective. Women who break the ultimate glass ceiling to become Head of State sometimes do so through brilliant political acumen, but most lack that kind of charisma because the acceptable roles allowed to women in most societies do not allow for its development and expression.

And many of the most recognizable ones tend to get there as members of a political dynasty. Certainly this was the case for Indira Gandhi, first female president of India and only child of their first President, Jawaharlal Nehru. It was similarly the case with Christina Kirchner, wife of former President Nestor Kirchner and President of Argentina. It was the same for Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and Aung San Su Kyi of Myanmar.

In pre-democratic times, the pattern was even clearer, with Catherine the Great and Queen Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots and the Princess Dowager of China having achieved their positions almost wholly through family connections. If this is what it takes to bring the first woman to the presidency of the United States, it may be a price worth paying.

And it is important to remember that presidents who rose to power through family connections have often opened up the system. John Quincy Adams, son of the second President, John Adams, may have been an intellectual, who was often perceived as out of touch with the people, but he was also one of the most vocal and consistent supporters of the abolition of slavery.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt, himself a progressive who challenged corporate power, may have been a patrician who lied about his health, but he also built some of America’s most foundational social programs. John F. Kennedy may have been a rich Senator’s son, but he was also a liberal, whose policies were taken up by his successor Lyndon B. Johnson, who built the Great Society programs of the second new deal. His brother Teddy was even more liberal, a progressive stalwart of the Senate for decades.

Because of her wealth, because of her connections, even because of her style, which is often perceived as arrogant and out-of-touch, Clinton will be under tremendous pressure to do likewise. And as president, she will not need to raise the same kind of money she did in the primaries, nor will it be much up to her where it comes from, as she will be occupied with other more pressing matters. More importantly, if she wants to get re-elected, she will need to give likely Democratic voters what they want. And the Democratic base today wants change. And that is what she will need to do if she wants to get re-elected.

If you liked this article, please check out my book, Convergence: The Globalization of Mind, and join the dialogue on Facebook.


Author: Theo Horesh

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Editor: Travis May

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