It was a spirited and at times subtle debate this evening in Flint, Michigan, between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Hillary is a very skillful speaker and has a well earned reputation for choosing her words very carefully. Bernie remains a man of the people, clearly not a member of the elite Washingtonian set. Both candidates made some good points and delivered what is now a well rehearsed synopsis of their campaigns as they made sure to differentiate themselves from each other.
One recurring motif during the night was that Hillary repeatedly bemoaned Bernie’s focusing on the politics of the 1990’s. It was rather clear that she really did not want to go there. And of course, there is the presidency of her husband. No, there were no forays into the sexual peccadillos of the then president. But Bernie did successfully draw attention to the disastrous trade agreements that began under her husband’s tenure in office (NAFTA in 1994) , and which she has continued to support as Senator and Secretary of State (CAFTA, Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, Trans Pacific Partnership), though from which she is now attempting to distance herself as candidate.
What will dog Clinton throughout this election cycle is that she is on record in the senate and on video tape, supporting those trade deals. And in that way, today’s present has its roots in a past she no longer wishes to discuss. During her husbands’ presidency, Hillary was often dispatched as First Lady to speak with the press as cheerleader for the President’s economic plan. And yes, in the early days of those deals, the economic future of America looked pretty bright. But Bernie Sanders stood in opposition to them then and has been proven right some twenty years later. The inescapable truth is that the trade deals into which the US government has entered have been catastrophic for American working people. NAFTA alone cost American working people 850,000 jobs and the Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China has cost us 3.2 million more. Since 2001, some sixty thousand factories in the United States have shut down as our industry continues to be outsourced into the third world.
All of this is part of a larger, still evolving picture. When Bernie Sanders draws attention to Hillary’s ties to Wall Street and the $15 million she has raised through those ties for her campaign, he puts her squarely in the camp of the people who profited through the outsourcing of American jobs. Her refusal to release the transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs is not helping her case. She can continue to assert that she will release hers when the Republican candidates release theirs, but the Republican candidates are not hiding from their support of big business. Their platforms consistently call for even less regulation of Wall Street and of big business in this country. Hillary alone seems to want to have it both ways. She wants to be seen as the defender of the middle and working classes and hard liner against Wall Street’s transgressions, yet she takes money from Wall Street and gives those two hundred thousand dollar speeches. If she will not produce the transcripts, we are forced to come to our own conclusions regarding just what is in them.
Each of the candidates sees the need for intervention in Flint and Detroit to help two crumbling cities and so many people in dire need. What Hillary will have a hard time escaping is the understanding that her husband’s trade agreements and her support of them and of others, is in large part what doomed those cities in the first place. Flint’s lead crisis is in part due to the fact that it has been one of the most economically devastated cities in North America. Had it remained the vital and prosperous city it once was, it would have had a tax base in place to be used for infrastructure repairs. And when the Secretary tries to point to her support of the Auto Manufacturers bailout, it should and probably will fall on many deaf ears. The reality is that the bailout helped the ownership, not the workers. In Flint, Michigan, there had been some 80,000 jobs in the auto industry. Now there are barely 5,000 left. The bailout, once again, allowed the ownership of an American company to send jobs overseas. And that bailout was paid for by you and me and the people of Flint, Michigan.
When the subject of hydraulic fracturing arose and Anderson Cooper begged the candidates’ position on it, Hillary was typically equivocal and Bernie was typically not. Where she laid out the scenarios under which she would oppose fracking and said that there would not be very many where she would support it, Bernie uttered a clear, one word answer. No, he does not support it. When Hillary stated that she would demand that corporations engaged in fracking tell the government just what they were pumping into the ground, she already knew that thanks to Dick Cheney and his connections to and ongoing support of Haliburton, that is considered a trade secret. There is already a law in place, passed under the George W. Bush administration, which prohibits our government from requiring that information of Haliburton. They can pump what they damn well please.
Bernie used the opportunity of speaking about Hillary’s time in Europe as Secretary of State to segue into the issue of guaranteed health care and here again, there was subtle distinction between the candidates that has a lot to do with the choice of language. Bernie asserted that like the countries of Europe, we should guarantee health care as a right to each and every American citizen. Hillary’s response was that we were well on the way to doing just that, with almost 90% of our citizens covered under health insurance.
Health care and health insurance are two different animals. Hillary wants to continue with a program by which all Americans are required to have health insurance, provided by our long established health insurance companies. That same insurance which keeps going up in cost while it drops in coverage, with higher deductibles and higher out of pocket maximums. Who benefits from that? Who benefits when a person has health insurance yet can not afford to go to the doctor because he or she can not pay the deductible? If you do not go to your doctor, the doctor does not get paid. So where would that money go? Obviously, it stays in the pocket of the health insurance company.
Bernie, instead, wants us to have health care. And it is the health care that we really need. His single payer system will rein in the staggering costs of health care in this country and put us on a system similar to that which is already in place in the rest of the industrialized world (so please do not tell me that it can not work). Hillary wanted to paint a similarity between her position and that of Bernie Sanders, but the two are actually very, very different.
As Hillary rightfully pointed out, this election is for the presidency which is here and now. We have problems in the here and now and we must deal with those problems in the here and now. But Bernie Sanders wants us to see that those problems have roots in the trade agreements, bailouts and legislation which have made it easier for corporations to move their workforces to the third world and their money offshore. And those roots go back to the 1990’s and the first Clinton administration. Both candidates have their rhetoric and both candidates have their records. Hillary’s rhetoric may be timely, but her record is one of supporting decisions which ultimately have destroyed our economy and the lives of millions of Americans. Bernie Sanders has a record that is now some fifty years in the making and has consistently been on the side of the middle and working classes of this country. He has released all of his speeches to Wall Street. We know just whose side he is on.