The Re-imagining of Hillary Clinton
by Randy Shaw, 2008-01-14
“She has spent the majority of her life working for poor families, poor children, fighting for the principles that Martin Luther King stood for.” --Minyon Moore, Clinton Campaign Advisor, as quoted in the January 11th New York Times
Rather than attempt to sway votes, I want to discuss what it means when people who have put personal ambitions ahead of principles suddenly reimagine their life histories to achieve immediate goals. Hillary Clinton not only has not spent the majority of her life “working for poor families,” but she used her sizable clout as First Lady to defeat, suppress and ultimately disempower those dedicating their lives to this cause. Her supposed mentor, Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund, was among those pleading with Ms. Clinton to oppose welfare “reform” in 1996 -- to no avail. The historical record shows that Clinton has not spent her life working for poor families, poor children, or fighting for King’s principles; rather, she chose to lend her considerable talents to a six-year stint on the Wal-Mart Board of Directors, and as an attorney represented banks, Wal-Mart and other corporate interests with the Rose Law Firm in Arkansas. Granting Senator Clinton this fictional and reimagined personal history as a poor person’s advocate demeans those who actually have spent their lives working for the poor. It is particularly outrageous when federally funded legal service programs -- upon whom the poor depend -- were slashed to the bone during the Clinton presidency.
One can debate Hillary Clinton’s commitment to “change”or her actual level of political experience, but her personal history is a matter of public record. And this history finds her pursuing a career representing and embracing corporate America, not “fighting for the principles that Martin Luther King stood for.”
King died while in Memphis seeking economic justice for garbage workers. Clinton could have lent her talents to working for low-income workers, but instead chose to use her intelligence and legal skills to benefit Wal-Mart, likely the nation’s leading exploiter of low-income families.
Clinton earned $18,000 a year on the Wal-Mart Board, plus $1500 per meeting. That’s nearly as much as the fulltime salary of legal services attorneys in Arkansas in those days -- and this was on top of Clinton’s salary with the Rose Law Firm, for whom she performed legal work for Wal-Mart.
As recently as 2004, Hillary Clinton described
her years on the Wal-Mart Board of Directors as “a great experience in every respect." Lending one’s talents to Wal-Mart is a strange route toward a goal of helping working families or poor children.
In fact, Clinton’s career biography does not reflect someone primarily dedicated to using her talent to help low-income families and children. The fact that her campaign wants voters to believe otherwise, and has reimagined an entire fictional career history for Clinton, does not make it so.
While First Lady of Arkansas, Clinton served on the Board of both the Children Defense Fund and Legal Services in Arkansas. She no doubt helped both organizations. But such Board service hardly qualifies her as someone who has spent the majority of her life “working” for poor families and children.
Is Senator Clinton’s reimagined past mere campaign puffery? Don’t politicians always put the best light on their life histories, and isn’t Clinton simply following this tradition?
Yes and no. There is a difference between a frequent and questionable Clinton statement like -- “I’ve been fighting for change for 35 years” -- and the more easily refutable claim that she has been working for the poor.
Because that is flatly untrue. And worse, it conflicts with Clinton’s performance as First Lady, in which she had an opportunity to stop attacks on the poor but -- based on who you believe -- she either did nothing or encouraged her husband’s worst instincts.
The first fact about Clinton that I recall learning was that President Carter had appointed her to the Board of the federal Legal Service Corporation. The legal services community felt that her husband’s election meant that we finally had a legal services ally in the White House.
We sure were wrong. After withstanding the attacks on legal services during Reagan-Bush, federal funding for legal aid to the poor was not only decimated under President Clinton, but so many limitations were placed on who could be served and how that the Clinton years destroyed the effectiveness of federally funded legal services.
Where was Hillary Clinton when poor families and children lost their access to legal representation? She was missing from the fight. And given her husband was President, her failure to intervene to save legal services speaks volumes as to willingness to “work” on behalf of the poor.
Clinton’s role in the abolition of the federal welfare entitlement puts her personal history even more at odds with the legacy of Dr. King.
Depending on who you believe, Clinton either ignored the pleadings of Marian Wright Edelman and others urging President Clinton to veto the so-called welfare “reform” bill -- or she actively encouraged her husband to sign it.
Peter Edelman, Marian’s husband, resigned from the Clinton Administration in disgust at the President’s enactment of a welfare measure that would subsequently increase hunger, homelessness, and poverty among low-income families and children.
Clinton may truly believe she has dedicated her life to working for poor families and children, but her actions speak for themselves:
She freely chose to work for Wal-Mart at a time when that company was profiting by denying health insurance to its low-wage, employees. She freely chose to put her intellect and legal skills at the service of banks and major corporations at the Rose Law Firm. She freely chose to remain silent, if not complicit, when her husband’s administration was making life worse for poor families and children.
Unlike thousands in her generation who sought to organize among the poor to fulfill Dr. King’s legacy, or who joined Cesar Chavez working for economic justice for farm workers, or who worked to unionize low-income women, or who worked for legal services or in civil rights law firms, Hillary Clinton pursued a corporate path.
That was certainly her right. But having taken that path, Senator Clinton has no right to sell an imaginary version of herself as having dedicated her life toward working for poor people.
For Hillary Clinton, that was the road not taken.
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