Twenty-five years ago, when I wrote False Hope: The Politics of Illusion in the Clinton Era, I didn’t expect that the Democratic Party would still be mired in Clintonism two and a half decades later. Such approaches to politics continue to haunt the party and the country.
The last two Democratic presidencies largely involved talking progressive while serving Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. In office, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama rarely fought for progressive principles, and routinely undermined them.
Clinton brought the country NAFTA, welfare “reform” that was an assault on low-income women and families, telecommunications “reform” that turned far more airwaves over to media conglomerates, the repeal of Glass-Steagall regulation of banks that led to the 2007–08 financial meltdown, and huge increases in mass incarceration.
Obama bailed out big banks while letting underwater homeowners sink, oversaw the launching of more missiles and bombs than his predecessor George W. Bush, ramped up a war on whistleblowers, turned mass surveillance and the shredding of the Fourth Amendment into bipartisan precedent and boosted corporate privatization of public education.
It wasn’t only a congressional majority that Democrats quickly lost and never regained under Obama. By the time he left the White House, nearly a thousand seats in state legislatures had been lost to Democrats.
Thanks to grassroots activism and revulsion toward President Trump, Democrats won back the House last month and recaptured one-third of the state legislative seats that had been lost while Obama led the party.
During the last two years, progressive momentum has exerted major pressure against the kind of corporatist policies that Clinton cemented atop the Democratic Party. But congressional leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are still loosely replicating Clinton’s sleight-of-tongue formulas that have proved so profitable for corporate America, while economic inequality has skyrocketed.
As 2018 nears its end, the top of the Democratic Party is looking to continue Clintonism without the Clintons. Or maybe Clintonism with the Clintons. A real possibility is now emerging that Hillary Clinton will run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination—but whether she runs or not, Clintonism is a political blight with huge staying power. It can be overcome only if and when people at the grassroots effectively insist on moving the Democratic Party in a genuinely progressive direction.
Norman Solomon is a journalist, progressive activist, media critic and author of numerous books.
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