My guest today is Robert McChesney, college professor, former host of "Media Matters" and author of numerous books including, most recently, Blowing the Roof off the Twenty-First Century: Media, Politics, and the Struggle for Post-Capitalist Democracy. [New York: Monthly Review Press, 2014].
JB: Welcome to OpEdNews, Robert. Speaking of politics, there's been a lot of buzz of late regarding the super-sized speaking fees Hillary Clinton's been collecting. Why is that a problem?
RM: Hillary made $11.8 million for giving 51 talks to mostly corporate audience in 2014 and the first three months of 2015. This was legal because she was not in public office, and had not formally announced her candidacy for president, though everyone, and I mean everyone, knew she was running. She was working fulltime at organizing her campaign.
So Hillary pocketed all this money, usually around $225,000 for a 30-45 minute talk, and put it into her personal bank account. She complained about being poor when Bill left the White House, but now she has parlayed her public service into making her one of the richest people in the nation, easily in the top 1 percent.
This is deeply offensive in two ways. First, the corporations--mostly banks, big pharma and tech companies, are not hiring a canned talk by Hillary because she is some mind-boggling public speaker. They are making her rich to guarantee she will give them access and attention if she is elected president.
Now Hillary may claim "Hey, that will have no effect on my conduct as president," but that does not matter. It is the appearance of impropriety that is key. She has an ethical obligation not to make it look like she is compromised. Otherwise, other citizens who cannot afford to pay her $225,000 to come to their house and give a 30-minute talk will feel like they cannot get a fair shake. And she looks compromised big time by getting all this money. And note well, no other politician has ever done anything like this at this scale before in US history. This is not a victory lap after she retires; this is a pit stop on Wall Street to fill her bank account before the main act of her political career.
Second, Hillary is a throwback to what we were taught was how politics worked in the Gilded Age or in some corrupt plutocracy. She has gotten very rich parlaying her political position to her personal advantage. That is indefensible in a democracy. If you want to become a multimillionaire, do not go into public service.
JB: No one would claim these days, especially after Citizens United and subsequent Supreme Court rulings, that money does not make the political world go round. The Senate is essentially an elite club. If they aren't millionaires before they get in, they are by the time they move out. So, is Hillary, in essence, being castigated for simply being better at The Game than anyone else?
RM: No, this is very different.
In traditional US politics today, candidates and officeholders are beholden to wealthy and corporations because of massive unlimited and often unaccountable campaign contributions that discipline candidates not to stray too far from the interests of big money, and also the perks that come with "playing ball" with moneyed interests once in office. These perks include moving from Congress to a high-six or seven figure income as a corporate lobbyist on K Street. Over 1/2 of members of Congress who leave office go to K Street and get a massive pay hike. (Less than 3 percent became lobbyists after serving in Congress in 1970, for comparison.) This definitely influences how a member of Congress acts. If you play your cards right, you are set for life. And this often means your children and grandchildren get set up, too. There are tremendous rewards for going with the corporate flow, and exceptional risks to bucking the tide. There are politicians who do buck the tide, but they are increasingly rare.
JB: Thank you for your thoughtful response, Robert. There is much in what you say. But a GOP victory in November could also be nothing more than the aggregate of all the gerrymandering and wholesale voter suppression that the Republicans have been engaging in for years in state after state. Democrats have not made much of a stink about the disenfranchisement of potentially millions of voters, most likely Democratic ones, at that. I don't get it. Why do you think that is?
RM: This takes us far afield, and I will try to keep this answer short, and restrict my answer to the presidential race. Here gerrymandering is not a factor. Wholesale voter suppression, on the other hand, is a problem in several states, many of which could be decided by thin margins in 2016. Democrats have not done nearly enough to protect and expand voting rights and actual participation. They have grown accustomed to a world where just over 50 percent of the voting age population votes in presidential years, 35 percent in off-year congressional elections, and turnout usually runs 15-30 percent in other non-November elections. And the major donors to the Democratic Party seem comfortable with that as well. They are not clamoring to expand voter participation.