(image by Karen Smith Murphy)
In 1992, a 44-year-old attorney made the following remarkable assertion: "For goodness' sake, you can't be a lawyer if you don't represent banks."
The attorney was Hillary Clinton. She made the statement to journalists during her husband's first campaign for president. Her legal representation of a shady savings and loan bank while working at a top corporate law firm in Arkansas (and her firm's relations with then-governor Bill Clinton) had erupted briefly into a campaign controversy.
Mainstream pundits rarely mentioned Hillary Clinton's extraordinary statement about lawyers and banks. Instead, they obsessed over and immortalized a remark she made minutes later -- her feminist appeal: "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was pursue my profession."
Members of elite media didn't make an issue of Clinton's bank comment probably because it set off no alarm bells. It sounded right to them, non-controversial, almost a truism.
Having been an attorney briefly myself, my reaction upon hearing her comment was: "I know nearly a hundred lawyers, but not one represents a bank." My lawyer friends worked for unions, tenants, immigrants, indigent criminal defendants, civil liberties, civil rights, battered women, prisoners on death row, etc. (Which explains why I wasn't a great fit in corporate media.)
I've never forgotten Clinton's remark about representing banks because it tells us much about her worldview -- both then and now that she's even more embedded in the corporate elite (and had Rupert Murdoch host one of her senate fundraising events).
More importantly, Clinton's comment speaks to the decline of the Democratic Party as a force that identifies with the broad public, those who often get stepped on by big banks and unbridled greed. Her remark is an apt credo for a party leadership that has spent the last quarter-century serving corporate power (through Wall Street deregulation, media dereg, NAFTA-style trade pacts, etc.) as persistently as it spews out empty rhetoric about "the needs of working families."
Back then, it was a minor controversy that Hillary Clinton had represented a shifty S&L. Today's Democratic elite is inextricably tied to far more powerful interests -- Wall Street, big pharma, giant insurers and other pillars of the corporate 1-percent.
The problem is much broader than Hillary Clinton, extending to Team Obama that promised hope and change on the campaign trail, including a break from Clintonite insider coziness. Once in office, Obama chose:
** three successive White House chiefs of staff who'd made fortunes in the financial industry: Rahm Emanuel (amassed $16 million within a couple years of exiting the Clinton White House), William Daley (JPMorgan Chase) and Jacob Lew (Citigroup/now U.S. Treasury Secretary).
** Wall Streeters to dominate his economic team, including Clintonites like Larry Summers as chief economic advisor and Peter Orszag as budget director.
** Monsanto executives and lobbyists for influential food and agriculture posts.
** an industry-connected nuclear power and fracking enthusiast as Secretary of Energy.
** two successive chairs of the Federal Communications Commission who've largely served corporate interests, including former lobbyist Tom Wheeler now undermining Net Neutrality.