Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Our Intoxicated Horse

By James Kwak

Remember just eight years ago, when we had an epic primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? There weren’t many significant policy differences between them; Obama was never as liberal as many people assumed he was. But there was one major difference. This is what Obama said:

Washington has allowed Wall Street to use lobbyists and campaign contributions to rig the system and get its way, no matter what it costs ordinary Americans. . . .

Unless we’re willing to challenge the broken system in Washington, and stop letting lobbyists use their clout to get their way, nothing is going to change.

The reason I’m running for President is to challenge that system.

The quotations are from the new edition of Republic, Lost by Larry Lessig (pp. 167–68). My handful of loyal readers will recall that Lessig was my choice for the Democratic presidential nomination until he was shut out of the debates by the Democratic Party. (Note to the party and its affiliated Super PACs: no, I’m not giving you money.)

I’m reading the new edition of the book, and I came across this brilliant description of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 run (p. 168):

She saw the job of the president to be to take a political system and do as much with it as you can. It may be a lame horse. It may be an intoxicated horse. It may be a horse that can only run backward. But the job is not to fix the horse. The job is to run the horse as fast as you can.

Regardless of what you think about Clinton on policy—she’s a little too far to the right for my tastes, but not terribly so—I think this is a fair summary of her approach, both in 2008 and in 2016. She has positioned herself as the pragmatic choice, the person who knows how to work within the system to make incremental gains, the candidate of modest by supposedly achievable ambitions. Last time she lost; this time she’s winning. She’s nothing if not consistent.

This means, of course, that the broken, rigged system—those are President Barack Obama’s words, everyone, not just those of some socialist from Vermont—orchestrated by lobbyists and dominated by concentrated special interests, will be around for the foreseeable future.

For someone who only tunes in during presidential election campaigns, this may raise the question: What happened? Wasn’t Obama going to fix the system? Well, as Lessig and many others have pointed out, he didn’t even try. Whether Obama gave up because he thought he could grind out legislative victories the old-fashioned way, or whether he never really believed in the cause, I guess only he knows. But Obama the candidate was right: unless we fix the system, nothing else is going to change. And except for Zephyr Teachout and a few other down-ballot candidates who are committed to electoral reform, this year is going to be another lost opportunity.

6 thoughts on “Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Our Intoxicated Horse

  1. Soon as you introduced money into politics, the whole place goes to hell in a hand basket.

  2. Not Clinton; Not Trump = NCNT

    Don’t drink the cool aid! The road to Hiilary is paved with good intentions, and the promised land of Obama’s / Trump’s political lies are a utopia or opiate for the masses; depending on your preference. With the panorama of hindsight, we know that things have gone better with Koch than they did for the Pepsi generation. Dumber and dumber graduated into a Republican Reality TV show (the pundit talk news crews), and now we are presented with an older Theme echoes from our own hemisphere: Mr. Trump; Tear Down That Wall !!!

    But to no avail, the drunken monkeys are riding the four horsemen, and yes….they are all intoxicated horses….random fates looking for new versions of crisis for sale: but Too Drunk to Prevail.
    Another false premise and pseudo-promises set into a fallacy of distinction too big to Lose. But alas, the acronyms for this campaign
    tell a different tale. To be or not to be?

    Not Clinton; Not Trump = NCNT

  3. The place needs (a) reasonable alternative(s) Bruce, that coupled with a dose of responsibility could go along way to rehabilitation. If the gvt were smart enough to legislate proper drug laws, and then simply scare the population from using them with good education, the citizens would get their fill, be responsible about it, and then quit when they are damn good and ready. Trust me, it’s been done with spectacular results, people quitting heroin, crack, meth, then coke, ciggies, weed and yes, even alcohol. But the gvt is not that good, not that smart, not even close, plus they can’t stomach the thought of even talking about it.

    I say lets just let it go down in flames if that’s the best alternative, and so far it is, and shall be, if I have any say in the matter.

  4. This is a valid and NORMAL question to ask – if HRC was not good enough to be President eight years ago, what makes her good enough now?!

    I at least want to be able to laugh hysterically, like they all do when they “sell” a new idea like the “sharing” economy,

    so when someone like Trump finds out about how he must take orders from the Hologram Man, the Voice in the Garden, or whatever else the DEVIL is presenting himself as….

    that will be a hysterical laughter moment for me

    ….what r u, nutz….?! who is this guy?….

Comments are closed.