How 'Democratic' are US Democrats like Hillary Clinton?

How 'Democratic' are US Democrats like Hillary Clinton?
Comment: Laith Saud analyses the politics of Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton arguing Clinton's ideas and record make her closer to being Republican-lite.
6 min read
29 Feb, 2016
The neo-Liberalism of Hillary Clinton is made up of Republican economic policies [Getty]

In the United States, the 2016 presidential race is in full swing.  Trump, Cruz, Clinton, Sanders make the rounds – while the media merry-go-round goes on.  Trump’s lambasts take centre stage, while Ted Cruz’s eerie coolness sustain some form of anti-Trump momentum. 

On the other side of the aisle, an old politician is fighting a dignified race with an old politicianThe race between Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton is more telling and interesting, at least at this moment.  The two are running a tight race for the Democratic nomination and the people they appeal to – regardless of the outcome - reveal something of the developing political consciousness taking hold in America.  

The Democratic nominee and the legacy of Barack Obama

In 2008, Americans elected their first Black president.  The election was rightly met with much fan-fare, The New York Times referred to it as a catharsis. 

In some ways it was; it repudiated the corrupt presidency of George W. Bush and symbolically absolved Americans for having re-elected the war criminal in 2004.  To elect a young black man from Chicago who opposed the war and had a Muslim name was a triumph of intellectualism, hope and political consciousness amidst a totalitarian, on-going “War on Terror” that continued to swallow up American political energy. 

The US was moving in a new direction with a clear political orientation to the Left. 

But who was this ‘Progressive’ from Chicago?  And how would his presidency shape progressive politics for his successors? 

The United States differs from her European counterparts in political culture.  In the US, the media is to remain theoretically "objective" (though this has changed somewhat with FOX and MSNBC) while in Europe media outlets have more open political orientations. 

Another difference is there is confusion in America regarding the organising principles of conservative and progressive thinking – one instance of this is the redundant and problematic use of the term ‘Liberal.’

In the US both Republicans and Democrats are liberals, since fundamental rights are a primary feature of American values.  Freedoms involving speech, religion, media and assembly are never challenged in any absolute sense, though they may be in a relative sense. 

These rights were articulated through the classical Liberal tradition of the Enlightenment – where thinkers like Locke and Adam Smith advocated liberty from the State.

There are two main strands of Democrats today: culturally progressive and economically progressive Democrats

A tale of two Democratic parties

It seems on the Democratic side of things there are two opposing currents: On the one hand, some would like to see the ostensible gains made under the Obama administration maintained.  

But What these ‘gains’ exactly are is important to note.  They are not of the economic variety for the vast majority of Americans.  They are more culturally progressive.  For example, same sex marriage became legal under the Obama administration, but speculation on Wall Street hardly abated. 

On the other hand, there are economic progressives whose political philosophy revolves around economic equality. 

These Progressives rely on the critical tradition of Rousseau, Marx and the academics that continue this tradition – they insist that racial and cultural equality is the outcome of economic equality. I would call these latter folks Progressives, while I would refer to the former as neo-liberals. 

Barack Obama’s presidency did not carry political consciousness forward into the Progressive tradition; it did rather sustain the neo-liberal tradition, wherein establishment elites like Madeline Albright can argue there is a "special place in hell" for women who do not vote for Hillary Clinton.  Albright – infamous in truly Progressive circles for insisting that the death of 500,000 Iraqi children was "worth it" – has made the women/hell statement before.  Speaking at a WNBA luncheon back in 2006 she said "there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women."

Anyway, that is not quite the point.  The point is this is a typical neo-liberal statement, whereby we think of each other as different groups in "essence;" I am Arab, you are Black, she is a woman, he is a man, this one is Gay, that one is straight.  We thus "lobby" on behalf of "our" group for gain. 

Progressive politics sees past these categories and insists they are by-products of economic inequality as well as vehicles of inequality.  The election of Barack Obama was a cultural victory, nothing more, for as we speak: Black unemployment in the US is twice that of whites, with 28% of blacks living in poverty.  Meanwhile, 40% of black children live in poverty, in a society with clear policing problems in black communities.

The neo-Liberalism of Hillary R. Clinton is made up of Republican economic policies, veiled by a moderate advocacy of cultural rights in the form of identity politics

The Neo-Liberal versus the Progressive

Michael Eric Dyson, a well-known public intellectual (who also happens to be black) has come out in full swing for Hillary Clinton.  He has argued that Clinton will do more for blacks than President Obama.  He has even gone so far as to say that her whiteness is an asset in so far as she will not be hindered by the same racism as Obama; thus she will be more empowered to help blacks. 

Let me be clear, I am in no way suggesting that Dyson is pro-Hillary because she is white but he is not being progressive in his pro-Hillary stance.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is an avowed socialist.  He recently demanded that Hillary Clinton make public all her paid speeches to Wall Street.  Clinton demurred, arguing she should not be held to a double standard. 

She is only willing to make public such information if the Republicans do, again, she feels she is being held to a "different standard" – ostensibly because she is a woman.   

But we have finally reached the point where the more substantive politics of Sanders outrun and outlast the more superficial politics of Hillary Clinton: Clinton should be held to a different standard than Republicans because she is a Democrat

Meanwhile, she impugns our intellect when she pretends it is a double standard; Sanders (a man) has released such information, and he never gave a paid speech to Wall Street. 

The neo-Liberalism of Hillary R. Clinton is made up of Republican economic policies, veiled by a moderate advocacy of cultural rights in the form of identity politics.  A true Progressive would be ashamed of giving paid speeches to Wall Street, but again she isn’t one.                          

Laith Saud is a writer and scholar. He is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at DePaul University and co-author of An Introduction to Islam for the 21st Century (Wiley-Blackwell). Follow him on Twitter: @laithsaud

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.