Back in Arkansas in the mid-1970s, I moved from a job as city hall reporter for the old Arkansas Democrat (which later would buy the Pulitzer Prize-winning Arkansas Gazette) to handling political affairs for the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
I wasn’t happy at the Chamber. I had a boss (J. William Perry) who was dedicated, and I learned a lot about the economy and insider politics from him. But I remained an independent journalist at heart, always mistrustful of many of the business executives and their efforts to manipulate the Chamber organization for their own benefit. I admired my boss for not allowing it.
During those years, as journalist and Chamber politico, I watched Bill Clinton operate as the state’s attorney general, then his early days as governor.
I remember, after his first election as governor, going into Rhea Drug in what’s now called Historic Hillcrest, looking at the magazine rack, and seeing the cover of Life magazine: a smiling Bill with his name and below it “America’s youngest governor.” I thought, “Now it begins.”
I suppose everybody in the state who came in contact with him, and understood politics, thought the same thing. He had it all: looks, intelligence, down-to-earth almost boyish friendliness, and yet a straightforward, serious presence when discussing serious issues.
I once watched him “work a room” as governor—a packed gathering at a meeting, perhaps 100 people. When he walked in, folks flowed to him. Clinton would shake hands with one person, keep his blue eyes on him or her, and listen intently, then respond. Others would crowd around, try to maneuver behind the person he was speaking with; attempt to edge in, hoping he would make eye contact. But the young governor’s eyes wouldn’t waiver, nor be disturbed by the movement around him. He’d focus on the conversation, then move to another individual and home in. He did that for perhaps half an hour or more before moving away to the dais to speak.
There were times I would run into him and speak briefly. He always seemed to say exactly what he thought and felt, and so did I. Only once, just before he was elected governor, did I meet Hillary—at a private political gathering. Bill did most of the talking, then would look at her to see if she concurred. She usually did, but might add a constructive note.
In 1979, I moved to the Northeast, New Jersey and then New York, watching the Clintons from afar, but always having hope that the beautiful, intelligent couple would fulfill themselves and really help the country. I was surprised to see him announce to run against a sitting president, George H.W. Bush, who had just crushed Saddam Hussein’s forceful effort to control oil beyond Iraq’s borders. I was thrilled when he took Bush on in a debate shared with Ross Perot, hammering him for criticizing Arkansas and its people. And surprised again when he pulled off the election.
While he served as president, I was pleased that he had helped dissolve the debt, and was little concerned with the Monica Lewinsky affair, except to think it was unloving and damaging to his family, politically stupid, and stifled any chance for Congress and the president to actually accomplish something good for the nation during impeachment …and admired him for basically keeping us out of any prolonged foreign invasions like Vietnam.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was signing two bills that would: (1) turn the nation’s information and entertainment system over to a handful of moguls, and (2) open the American and world economy to dissolution by the wolves of Wall Street.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 in time turned a widespread competition of radio, TV, filmmaking, book publishing, newspaper and other news and entertainment sources into a half-dozen stale media giants, huge on profits, but sapped of creativity and hungry journalism and its resulting vital information.
In 1999, he succumbed to the banking industry, signing the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed two vital provisions of the Banking Act of 1933. Those were known as the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial banks from securities firms. Congress’s legislation and Clinton’s signature turned the public trust in banks caring for citizens’ checking and savings accounts and home mortgages over to Wall Street’s gamblers. Glass-Stegall was created to prevent that, because Congress had seen that Wall Street’s greed in combining mortgages and bad securities had led to the Great Depression. Repeal of Glass-Stegall in 1999 would lead to that Wall Street repetition, and to the global meltdown in 2008, which the world has yet to recover from.
The Senator and Secretary
The Clintons are both brilliant politicians, which I don’t consider a compliment. And yet if I saw them face-to-face after all these years, I’d probably smile, a sucker for their appeal and for having witnessed their long struggle.
Hillary appears simply to be brilliant even beyond politics, and rock-tough. She moved from a rather quiet confidante of her husband in his early political career to an active participant after he had lost and regained the governorship, and proved a visible mainstay of his presidential campaign.
She also compiled an extraordinary resume with her legal and political activity ranging from the Nixon impeachment inquiry, to the White House, and to serving as U.S. Senator and Secretary of State. In a nation that for centuries attempted to stifle women politically and economically (and appears on state levels to try it again), she has worked tirelessly, moved forward, and developed a record that would indicate she deserves to become the first president who happens to be a woman.
Yet here are some basic concerns:
1) She spent six years on Wal-Mart’s board of directors. This close tie to an employee-stifling multinational corporation, and its opposition to unions, is a minus. Will she oppose the proliferation of multinationals, which control the Millionaire Congress and Millionaire President? Or just continue business as usual?
2) She wrote a book called “It Takes a Village,” (1996), a vision for the children of America. Yet she has remained silent on the CIA’s drone bombing of innocent children and adults in Middle Eastern villages while she was Secretary of State. You can call that being faithful to the Obama administration. But it’s an appalling affront to humanity.
3) She voted for America’s invasion of Iraq. Will she continue America’s foreign invasions in support of the military-industrial complex if she becomes president? And if she says “no,” do you think she’ll mean it?
4) She has been noncommittal on the National Security Agency’s abuse of surveillance powers and the roiling debate over it. Will she allow government to continue treating the entire American public, and even foreign leaders, as guilty until proven innocent, which is what the NSA’s universal gorging of individuals’ data and abuse of liberty truly is?
5) Did she support Bill Clinton’s signing of the 1996 Telecommunications Act and the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act? Does she believe the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act has really reformed Wall Street and protected consumers? Will she push to jail top bank executives when they again endanger the economy and ruin people’s lives?
For you rabid Clinton supporters, take heart. We’ll be asking these hard questions about all other candidates, too.
Meanwhile, as always, Peculiar Progressive encourages you: If you seek change in your society, don’t depend on politicians to do it. You need to get organized, get educated, and get active to make it happen.