Sunday, September 23, 2007
Bill Clinton has written a new book. It is called “Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World.” He will give a portion of the proceeds to charity. Giving, the former president informs us, gives us fulfilment in life and is “the fabric of our shared humanity.”
His book is the political equivalent of “Marley & Me” It is filled with a lot of vapid, feel-good stories about ordinary and wealthy Americans setting out to make the world a better place. It smacks of the philanthropy-as-publicity that characterized the largesse of the robber barons — the Mellons and the Rockefellers — and has become a pastime for our own oligarchic elite. Clinton’s call for charity is the equivalent of well-scrubbed prep school students spending a day in a soup kitchen, doling out food to the people whose jobs were outsourced by their mommies and daddies. It does little to alleviate suffering. But it is a balm to the conscience of the oligarchic class that profits handsomely from the impoverishment of the working class, globalization and our anti-democratic corporate state. The rich love to dine out on their own goodness.
The misery sweeping across the American landscape may have begun with Ronald Reagan, but it was accelerated and codified by Bill Clinton. He sold out the poor and the working class. And Clinton did it deliberately to feed the pathological hunger he and his wife have for political power. It was the Clintons who led the Democratic Party to the corporate watering trough. The Clintons argued that the party had to ditch labor unions, no longer a source of votes or power, as a political ally. Workers would vote Democratic anyway. They had no choice. It was better, the Clintons argued, to take corporate money and use government to service the needs of the corporations. By the 1990s, the Democratic Party, under Clinton’s leadership, had virtual fund-raising parity with the Republicans. In political terms, it was a success. In moral terms, it was a betrayal.
The North American Free Trade Agreement was sold to the country by the Clinton White House as an opportunity to raise the incomes and prosperity of the citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Goods would be cheaper. Workers would be wealthier. Everyone would be happier. I am not sure how these contradictory things were supposed to happen, but in a sound-bite society, reality no longer matters. NAFTA would also, we were told, staunch Mexican immigration into the United States.
“There will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home,” President Clinton said in the spring of 1993 as he was lobbying for the bill.
But NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, had the curious effect of reversing every one of Clinton’s rosy predictions. Once the Mexican government lifted price supports on corn and beans for Mexican farmers, they had to compete against the huge agribusinesses in the United States. The Mexican farmers were swiftly bankrupted. At least 2 million Mexican farmers were driven off their land from 1993 through 2002. And guess where many of them went? This desperate flight of Mexicans into the United States is being exacerbated by large-scale factory closures along the border as manufacturers leave Mexico for the cut-rate embrace of China’s totalitarian capitalism.
Clinton’s welfare reform bill, which was signed on Aug. 22, 1996, obliterated the nation’s social safety net. It threw 6 million people, many of them single parents, off of the welfare rolls within three years. It dumped them onto the streets without child care, rent subsidies and continued Medicaid coverage. Families were plunged into crisis, struggling to survive on multiple jobs that paid $6 or $7 an hour, or less than $15,000 a year. But these were the lucky ones. In some states, half of those dropped from the welfare rolls could not find work. Clinton slashed Medicare by $115 billion over a five-year period and cut $25 billion in Medicaid funding. The booming and overcrowded prison system handled the influx of the poor, as well as our abandoned mentally ill.
The growing desperation provided a pool of broken people willing to work for low wages and without unions or benefits. And while Clinton was busy selling out the poor, he lowered the capital gains tax from 28 percent to 20 percent, a reduction that permitted the wealthiest 1 percent of the population to derive 80 percent of the tax savings. Clinton, like George W. Bush, also provided lavish government funding for his corporate backers, including in 1998 a $200-billion highway and transportation package for the big construction companies and a $17-billion increase in the military budget. This was the largest increase in military spending since the end of the Cold War. Corporations, flush with government aid, saw their taxes dwindle. Amway, for example, had its taxes cut during the Clinton years by an estimated $280 million. The Clinton and Bush administrations, through tax breaks and corporate bailouts, have squandered billions of our tax dollars on corporate welfare.
The appreciative oligarchs and corporate class have made Bill rich. He is fond of boasting in public about how wealthy he has become. Hillary raised $26 million in the first quarter of the year, almost three times as much as any politician previously raised at that point in a presidential election.
We face the prospect of having two families govern the country for 16 years. The system is rigged. Our democracy is a consumer fraud. The government has given up any pretense of serving the interests of citizens. The corporations rule. And for all Clinton’s charm and talent for self-promotion, he is largely to blame.
Half a century ago, corporations paid 45 percent to 50 percent of the income tax. Today they pay 6 or 7 percent. This is why our infrastructure is crumbling, there is no universal health care, our public education is in crisis, regulatory agencies are impotent and our poor and working class are desperate.The bottom line is that the Democrats, including John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, will never govern on our behalf. They are hostage to those who put them in power. And it is not us. Until we throw our weight behind fringe candidates such as Dennis Kucinich or Ralph Nader, if he runs, we will continue to be fleeced by corporate pawns such as the Clintons and the Bushes. It is no longer possible to argue between the lesser of two evils. The corporate state, which is carrying out a coup d’etat in slow motion and has already shredded most of our constitutional rights, is an unmitigated evil. We do not need charity. We need justice. And all of Bill Clinton’s heart-warming stories about giving are not going to save us from the corporations who sucked out his soul and seek to imprison the rest of us. Chris Hedges, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, is the author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on Ameri
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