Wall Street, 9/11, and the extraordinary cynicism of Hillary Clinton
On a telling moment at Saturday night's big Democratic debate
Hillary Clinton's performance in Saturday night's Democratic presidential debate in Iowa was a brittle, calculated, and thoroughly demagogic clinic in Clintonism. Let's focus on one particularly galling example.
Clinton's jaw-dropping improvisation on the subject of her Wall Street loyalties (perhaps her only loyalties), was amazing for its cynicism. Journalists, pundits, and voters on Twitter were simply floored when Clinton — let's give Vox boss Ezra Klein the floor — essentially said "Wall Street supports me because 9/11."
It all began when Bernie Sanders, God bless him, dared to venture a guess as to why America's captains of corporatism invested profusely in Clinton's campaign. "Maybe they're dumb and don't know what they're going to get," Sanders said, bidding voters anew to curb their enthusiasm. "But I don't think so."
Cue the Clintonian histrionics.
Sanders, Clinton objected, "basically used his answer to impugn my integrity," cueing up an occasion unrivaled in this campaign to rehearse yet again what has always been true about every Clinton in office: No matter how fiendishly efficient their political machine, there is always the moment of weakness, the moment of truth, the gap in the armor that reveals all.
To wit — leaving aside the insuperable way that she shoehorned in another callused plug for her womanhood — Clinton chose to inform us, in a telling quadruple redundancy, that "I represented New York and I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked."
"Where we were attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is," she somehow added. The rest was gravy. In a particularly gripping twist, CBS moderator Nancy Cordes plucked one expression of complete incredulity from the tweetstream, reading it aloud in hopes of a decent answer.
"I did know people," Clinton gamely bristled, in her signature way. "I've had a lot of folks who give me donations from all kinds of backgrounds say, 'I don't agree with you on everything but I like what you do, I like how you stand up, I'm going to support you."
But that kind of rousing bonhomie never arose from Wall Street — whose insiders never doubted for so much as an instant that the real Hillary was genetically on their side. This April, one major Democratic donor freely confided that Clinton's populist posturing possessed all the menacing authenticity of a sock puppet. "Just politics," the eminence cautioned Politico, sweeping aside concerns among low-information observers that she might indeed nix the carried-interest loophole, a boon to those whose money is "made and not earned."
Under pressure, of course, there is no telling what sacred principle or cherished value a Clinton will slide beneath the wheels of a bus. But in spite of the vaguely more focused performance turned in by the men to her right and her left onstage, it was clear that Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders both lacked the vicious instinct required to kick Mrs. Clinton while she was ever so fleetingly down.
The only hope for Democrats unwilling to disappear into a Potemkin village controlled by the one-tenth of the one percent — as Sanders so memorably called it — is to mount a grassroots campaign against their own heiress apparent. And all too unlike the woman herself, today's progressive base seems hopelessly inhibited from aiming straight for the jugular.