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Clinton-itis as a National Disease

Clinton moneymaking, national “conversations” and the US policy agenda.

July 26, 2014

(Credit: JStone -

The Clinton clan is back in the national, if not global spotlight, largely due to the presumed presidential candidacy of Hillary. While a lot of attention rightfully has been heaped on their moneymaking by doing nothing but talking, it is important to realize that the phenomenon they represent goes far deeper than just the Clinton family.

Bill and Hillary Clinton are just the most visible symbol of what really is a national disease. Republicans are guilty of it just as much as the Clintons are. And that disease – which has gripped Washington, U.S. corporations, the media and national elites – has a real price.

The United States used to pride itself in the past for its pragmatism and action orientation. But in recent decades, it has devolved from a “Yes, We Can” to a “No, We Can’t” – or better yet: “We’re Great at Pretending We Can” – nation.

For proof, just consider this stunner: The same old problems – in fact, the agenda that Bill Clinton either left incomplete or abandoned early in his term in office (remember the infrastructure, skills and education affordability deficits?) – are still with us in all their gory glory.

No problem – to the elites

Not that this would trouble Washington’s elites – or the elite families anywhere in the country. They are doing just fine. Focused on hedge fund income streams and private jets, they live in their own parallel universe. And their offspring, well endowed with trust funds and “legacy” access to pricey Ivy League universities, are all taken care of, thank you.

There is just one problem: How to mimic action and progress as far as the rest of the nation is concerned? As it stands, to mask the deliberate political gridlock, the prevailing Washington culture is very happy to rely on acts of symbolism.

Of course, it is an old phenomenon in the U.S. capital to consider a job “done” once a blue-ribbon commission on whatever critical topic had issued a big – and preferably “definitive” – report highlighting the need for something to change. As if that alone changed anything.

But things have gotten much worse in the past decade – not least because of what’s happening to the media. Starved of advertising revenues, they are desperately seeking ways to survive.

To make ends meet, “news” organizations are now keen on hosting events and/or dialogues and conferences, largely for corporations. That gives their clients – pardon, “partners” – a soapbox for sounding good. And it creates a much-needed revenue stream for the media company in question.

The media grovel for money – and who benefits?

How this benefits the rest of the nation is much less clear. The media and its corporate or industry association partner ostensibly get together for an event to “fix” a real world problem. They profess to “leverage” each other’s skill sets and core competencies. The plan they concoct has to be “scalable” in the real world, as well as “replicable” and “sustainable.”

Ultimately, most of this talk is delusional. It is truly a case of “putting lipstick on a pig.” In the meantime, U.S. media sport phrases such as having plenty of “national conversations,” whether on race, the environment, poverty or what have you. At those occasions, the same trite, superficial bromides are issued, as if to embalm the real issues.

You can be sure that the country is never challenged in those “conversations” to confront seriously the lingering structural implications, regardless of its warped racial history or what have you.

No doubt, though, it is a great tool for the upper 1% (and their eager supplicants) to assuage their collective bad conscience for a moment, before flying off to a remote Caribbean island in a private jet (or at least the next talkfest on the other U.S. coast).

The endless series of corporate-sponsored events does not help the nation to get ahead. Treating Americans to “a conversation” is no replacement for good old-fashioned policymaking and compromising.

Mellifluous words of American “conversations”

As things stand, on many a subject, America’s elites may mouth mellifluous words to talk a responsible game, but they almost always shy away from a real (and costly) re-envisioning of America. In their own world, they have maximum personal flexibility. Their assets aren’t too tied to the mother ship.

What’s missing in all this, at a minimum, is any kind of systematic approach – one in which government would bring resources and a planning approach to bear, along with holding people accountable.

That is something that the modern United States seems incapable of. Republicans definitely don’t want it. And Democratic elites don’t want it either anymore, lest they upset their campaign contributors and corporate partners.

Where does that leave the country as a whole? Ironically at the same point where George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States was when he accepted the presidential nomination at the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans.

In a mental frame oozing of patrician thinking, Bush Sr. referred to America’s clubs and volunteer organizations “a thousand points of light.” He saw this force as able to “keep America moving forward, always forward—for a better America, for an endless enduring dream.”

Derided at the time by Democrats as a happy-go-lucky, passive government copout, Bush’s philosophy has since then pretty much become the reigning doctrine of the Democratic Party’s top movers and shakers. “Public-private partnerships,” whether warranted or not, are now sprinkled into virtually every Democratic speech.

A patrician philosophy becomes a business

And nobody is a bigger practitioner — and personal beneficiary – of the Bushian concept than Bill Clinton, his successor who has transformed that philosophy into a lucrative business model.

But the strategy of turning public policy into lucrative personal opportunities certainly doesn’t end with Clinton. Every new NGO, every new initiative needs a CEO and senior staff, usually equipped with very handsome salaries.

Another thousand separate and redundant points of light, even if staffed with ex-Clinton and (soon) ex-Obama staffers, aren’t the answer to the United States’ problems. Lucrative though upholding that hoax may be for those participating in the scheme, this is not a sign of the vitality of a nation, but of its lack of earnestness in solving the really big problems.


The US: From a "Yes, We Can" to a "We're Great at Pretending We Can" – nation.

Moneymaking by talking is a US phenomenon that goes deeper than the Clinton family.

Bill and Hillary Clinton are just the most visible symbol of what really is a national disease.

Republicans are just as guilty of a disease gripping Washington, US corporations, the media and national elites.

To mask political gridlock, the prevailing Washington culture is happy to rely on acts of symbolism.

For survival, “news” organizations are keen on hosting events, dialogues and conferences, largely for corporations.

The US media sports phrases such as having “national conversations,” whether on race, the environment or poverty.

The US is never challenged by “conversations” to confront the structural implications of its history.

Treating Americans to “a conversation” is no replacement for good old-fashioned policy making and compromising.

The US needs a systematic approach, bringing resources and planning to bear – and holding people accountable.