So far I’ve mostly just played around the edges with my posts about the US presidential election. But given my increasing inclusion in actually serious posts about it (Traister, Goldberg), I guess I should write a post where I lay out some genuine points.
Given what I almost exclusively write about — poverty, inequality, and welfare — it should come as no surprise that I favor the candidate (Sanders) who is a major admirer of social democratic welfare states over the candidate (Hillary) who was part of savagely gutting last-ditch welfare assistance for poor families with children (called “welfare reform”).
It’s impossible to overstate how horrific welfare reform has been. Eduardo Porter has a good run down in the New York Times, but the short of it is that welfare reform massively spiked extreme $2-a-day poverty in the US, massively reduced the percentage of poor families receiving benefits, and allowed states to redirect the ever-dwindling welfare money towards uses other than supporting the poor. Welfare reform’s model for how to effectively destroy a welfare benefit, which I call “Clintonization,” is now the Republican Party’s central platform for how to reform the welfare state.
The horror of Hillary’s welfare reform legacy is not just found in the numbers and institutional details discussed above. It’s also found in her many years of public statements about welfare reform, which are viciously anti-poor. Here’s a taste:
Too many of those on welfare had known nothing but dependency all their lives, and many would have found it difficult to make the transition to work on their own.
One day, Rhonda Costa’s daughter came home from school and announced, ‘Mommy, I’m tired of seeing you sitting around the house doing nothing.’ That’s the day Rhonda decided to get off welfare. Today, Rhonda is an administrative assistant at Salomon Smith Barney, a New York financial services firm. After a year and a half on the job, she earns $29,000 a year with full benefits and stock options.
Since we first asked mothers to move from welfare to work, millions of families have made the transition from dependency to dignity.
We wanted to do it in a way that kept faith with our goals: End welfare as we know it, substitute dignity for dependence, but make work pay.
Now that we’ve said these people are no longer deadbeats—they’re actually out there being productive—how do we keep them there?
For lifelong upper class pundits, these statements may not actually cause much feeling inside of them. But, as someone who actually grew up in and adjacent to the class of people being described here, I can tell you that these are really the height of anti-poor slurs. Under Clinton’s estimation, welfare beneficiaries are dignity-lacking dependent deadbeats who are such losers that even their own kids think they are trash. We don’t talk a lot about classism in the US (and frankly I don’t like the term), but that’s what this is. It is the class equivalent of calling women airhead bimbos.
This is what mainly upsets me about Hillary Clinton: both the policies she has supported and her statements reveal her as a hateful enemy of the poor.
What is disqualifying?
Since I am a big fan of the poor, I have not taken kindly to the suggestion in some camps that we should support Clinton for president because she is a woman. This is not because I disagree with the idea that, all things equal, having a woman president would be a positive thing. It’s because, with Hillary, all things are not equal, and I don’t weight whatever representational gains you’d get from having a woman in office over the fact that Hillary Clinton is an enemy of the poor.
But it’s not just me that makes these kinds of calculations. The ceiling-breaker pundits coming out for Clinton did not come out for McCain-Palin even though that would have given us our first female Vice President. Emily’s List, whose mission is to increase the number of women in elected positions of power, categorically refuses to support Republican women altogether. Moreover, I doubt the Traisters, Goldbergs, and Valentis of the world would come out for a woman candidate (regardless of their party) if they held certain views, e.g. that abortion should be illegal.
Thus, even ceiling-breakers hold the view that, as good as having women elected is, there are certain things that should disqualify women from receiving support. It’s just that the ceiling-breakers have different opinions than I have about what kinds of things are bad enough to be disqualifying. Being an anti-choice Republican woman is bad enough that you should be denied support, even if it means electing a man instead. But being a viciously anti-poor bigot like Hillary is apparently not bad enough to warrant withdrawal of support.
In this debate (which I guess it is now), the participants actually agree on the basic principle that: you should support a woman over a man for president provided that her views aren’t really bad. The only thing we disagree on is whether the proviso at the end of that principle is satisfied here. I think Hillary’s actions and views about the poor are so egregious that they should disqualify her from our support (especially where there is a better candidate out there). Others don’t think they are egregious enough to warrant disqualification.
That we disagree on whether the anti-poor stuff is disqualifying doesn’t strike me as particularly problematic. The nature of people is that they have different interests and think different things are important. When we go to analyze why our views are so divergent here, we might find that I discount Hillary because I am a sexist man, as has been suggested by some. But we might also find that the pro-Hillary pundits choose to overlook her anti-poor slurs and policies because they are, and have always been, upper class.