Saturday, November 14, 2015

Hillary Clinton does not understand systematic power and oppression

CLINTON. He has basically used his answer to impugn my integrity.
SANDERS. No, I have's a corrupt campaign finance system.
Her bizarre non-sequitur invocation of women donors and 9/11 may have earned the most attention, but I think Clinton's initial response here told us a lot more about her understanding of politics and power.

The problems of campaign finance in the United States aren't just the aggregate of individual actors making evil personal decisions. They are entrenched in our very laws and institutions. They are in that respect identical to all of the other systems of oppression and domination that affect our society, from our systems of identity-based discrimination to our military-industrial complex, and so on.

In fact, one of the great insights of leftist thought has been the depersonalization of power. We don't just see the problems of society as the sum of everyone's virtues and vices, like the right does when it blames problems of poverty (for example) on things like personal responsibility; we understand that there are larger forces at work, carrying with them the inertia of history.

So to the extent that we take Clinton's grievance at face value, it reveals a startlingly right-wing perspective. She takes Sanders' criticism personally because she sees the campaign finance system as basically neutral; its problems just come from the personal failings of bad apples. If Sanders decries the dependence of candidates on major Wall Street donors, she can only understand this as criticism of her personal judgment and motives.

This of course is entirely consistent with just about everything we know about Clinton's reactionary politics, like her gross history of blaming poverty on lazyness. And in the context of a conversation about Wall Street, it's particularly frightening to see her talk about these problems as a question of whether or not our bankers will virtuously "play by the rules". As Sanders noted, they are playing by the rules - that' the problem.