G.K. Chesterton, the British Catholic novelist, polemicist, and wit, once memorably wrote, "Truth must necessarily be stranger than fiction; for fiction is the creation of the human mind and therefore congenial to it."
Monty Python & the Holy Grail (1975)--Starring Hillary Clinton as Brave Sir Robin
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Unlike Chesterton, I have no particular stake in proving the existence of an inscrutable creator Deity whose supreme self-expression is our boundlessly ironic world. But if one were searching for such a proof, no better one than the funders of Hillary Clinton's political speech could be found. For not even the deranged, off-kilter satirists of Monty Python's Flying Circus or Saturday Night Live in their most madcap inventiveness--it demanded a masterstroke of the Cosmic Ironist Himself--could have achieved the sublimely comic irony of Hillary's political speech being largely financed by HEDGE funds. And anyone linking to Matt Taibbi's derisive Rolling Stone article will quickly grasp why hedge fund managers have a uniquely strong "carried interest" in whatever Hillary has--or mostly doesn't have--to say.
The name Rolling Stone suggests song, and a hint of subversiveness too, so it seems fitting the song inspiring this article's title, "Whatever You Say, Say Nothing," was long associated with the IRA. And doubly fitting, considering irony is the subject at hand. For what could be more ironic than associating the keep-it-mum speech style of the ultra-radical IRA with the quintessential establishment candidate--indeed, with a warmongering corporate tool who invites comparisons with IRA arch-nemesis Margaret "Iron Lady" Thatcher? All Hillary really shares with the IRA is an overwhelming need to hide "you know what" from "you know who"--with "you know what" being virtually any policy she actually supports (rather than pays lip service to), and "you know who" being We the American (noncorporate) People.
Like Barack Obama before her, Hillary Clinton is a thirty-third degree Grand Master of the "Whatever You Say, Say Nothing" school of politics. As Frank Rich bitingly puts it in New York Magazine, so many removes is Hillary from forthright honesty that even "Unscripted Hillary Clinton Still Feels Scripted." Being among the first to demand Hillary show her true populist cards by taking a stand on TPP --scooping such notables as Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Ed Schultz of "The Ed Show," Karina vanden Heuvel of The Nation, and CREDO the activist phone company--I almost wish, on hearing that "stance," that I'd been the one to "say nothing." Sure it's great that Ms. Inevitable, Democrats' almost unchallenged odds-on favorite to become her party's presidential nominee, feels the mounting populist heat enough that even she must say something about our nation's most important economics and democracy issue. But the something she said is so essentially nothing-- it offers such plausible deniability when Hillary turns either of her two Janus faces to Main Street or Wall Street--that I almost wish no one had prodded her to say it. (What delicious irony, by the way, that "Janus" also names an investment fund!)
Not that we should have been surprised. Trying to cover her politically sagging ass on another Pavlov's-dog issue for democracy-starved populists, Hillary had recently applied her "plausibly deniable populism" to the topic of money in politics. In a brilliant, lawyerly analysis of Hillary's actual language in CounterPunch --only a public-interest lawyer like Hager could pull it off--Rob Hager dissects every waffling word of Hillary's supposed populist attack on the deep source of most of our political ills to show what a nonexistent red herring of an "attack" it really is. I won't attempt to reiterate Hager's compelling, detailed case, which can speak for itself, but will give you the cut-to-the-chase "executive summary."
With nauseating Shylock deceitfulness, Clinton--herself a lawyer by training like Obama (forget at your peril!)--hedges her whole "populist" case with the trickster word "unaccountable;" Hillary self-servingly summarizes our whole quandary as the problem of unaccountable money in politics. Inevitably and sleazily implying--but only for the few (predominantly lawyers) reading closely--that accountable money in politics poses no problem whatsoever. When in fact accountable money may pose even a deeper problem, since it conveniently allows politicians to account precisely for who's legally bribing them; the success of pay-to-pay politics inevitably depends on clearly identifying who's paying.
Now, there's much more to Hager's analysis: above all, the sheer sleaziness of Hillary's saying "even it takes a constitutional amendment" in reference to her limited agenda of disclosure. For even the notorious Roberts Supreme Court--authors of the plutocrat-wet-dream Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions--has, like every Court before it, upheld Congress's constitutional right to legislate disclosure of campaign contributions. By mentioning a "constitutional amendment" as unnecessary as t*ts on a bull to her disclosure aim, Hillary has deceitfully signaled to ardent--and desperate--enemies of money in politics (who associate that aim with a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United) that she shares their goal. When in fact nothing could be further from the truth, as evidenced by the plans by Hillary's campaign to rake in a cool $2.5 billion. Faced with such legal chicanery, who can fail to sympathize (public-spirited lawyers like Hager excepted) with the drastic, utopian solution of Dick in Shakespeare's Henry the Sixth, Part 2: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers"?
So, knowing Hillary's ultra-guarded "lawyer speak," as well as her sempiternal coziness with the corporations writing and negotiating TPP, we should subject any public vaporings by her on that head--or any head--to the most meticulous lawyerly parsing. Lacking Rob Hager's specialized legal training, I'll instead take the commonsense tack of an educated generalist. And as is my wont, I'll season that generalist approach with a dash of pop-culture levity. Now, Hillary's recent "bold progressive" pronouncements on TPP reminded me almost infallibly of the cult comedy classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Or specifically, of one of its "human, all too human" Grail-questing knights: Sir-Robin-the-Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Lancelot. Or Brave Sir Robin, to you and me.
Now, Brave Sir Robin, much like the hapless "dead broke" Clintons after Bill's presidency, is simply too poor to afford a horse. In recompense, he has a faithful servant who makes clippety-clop horse sounds with two coconuts as Sir Robin mimics a trot--and best of all, he has his favorite minstrels to chant his daring exploits. Unfortunately for Robin, those minstrels are just a tad too literal in recounting those exploits; as a result, they regale us with the following:
When danger reared its ugly head,
He bravely turned his tail and fled.
Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about
And gallantly he chickened out.
Unfortunately for Hillary--or far more likely for us--she timed her endless quest for the Grail of being the first woman U.S. president to coincide with a grave moment of danger for democracy. For the Trans-Pacific Partnership isn't merely, as its critics charge, a trade deal that's NAFTA on steroids; it's actually far worse. For me, it's inconceivable that, in a nation founded on prudent balance-of-powers thinking, anyone is for one moment tolerating such an anti-democratic TPP negotiating and legislating process. When not merely the commonsense, personal-experience-based intuition fueling movements like Occupy and Fight for 15, but the painstaking empirical research of widely respected academics like Piketty, Gilens and Page, and Mann and Ornstein, points clearly toward an unchecked oligarchy wildly out of balance, why would anyone with the least concern for good governance accept a trade deal deck radically stacked in favor of already-too-powerful oligarchs? In balance-of-powers terms, it's like confronting a large, terrorizing grade school bully--say, one who's flunked a few times and is older and more physically developed than the other kids--by handing him a baseball bat or tire iron. With the deck stacked so unfavorably--and so much, like nations' ability to stave off climate Armageddon, at stake--the only rational populist stance toward TPP fast track (and probably TPP itself) is bitter, last-ditch opposition. It's in this dire context that "Brave Lady Hillary" assures us she'll be watching! Evidently she already was: for her best way to hedge-- that is, to "gallantly chicken out"--on the issue .
With so much at stake for democracy and the planet--and politicians so ill-disposed to address it--these are not the times for mealy mouths. But clearly, with a politicians so in the pay of oligarchic interests and mainstream media so in service of the same--that no one questions the propriety of a war criminal's brother running for president (or that climate change went unmentioned in the Obama-Romney debates)--mealy mouths, as in Hillary's case, are all we're likely to get. Under the circumstances, I think the best progressive/populist citizens can do is join a political movement devoted to electoral pressure and willing to act in concert with other movements. In that regard, I'd suggest Pitchforks Against Plutocracy, a movement I co-founded, as a fine one.Perhaps it's the nature of our universe's Master Ironist, or simply of an oligarchic political system radically mismatched with our planet's emergency needs, that our times abound in delicious, stranger-than-fiction ironies. Among such ironies is that one of our most uncompromising truth-telling journalists is named Chris Hedges (he certainly doesn't!). But journalists--and don't even mention politicians--as forthright as Hedges are provident exceptions, and barring a massive popular uprising (not yet on the horizon), mouths as mealy as Hillary's (or any Republican's) are sure to be the rule. So expect a thriving trade in political hedging: in equivocation, waffling, and tergiversation futures. But bear in mind--in perhaps the Supreme Ironist's cruelest joke on us all--that where "Whatever You Say, Say Nothing" politics is concerned, we'll long be facing a BULL market.