The economics of militarism
New York’s Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton delivered a speech
last week to the Economic Club of Chicago that served as an introduction to
the right-wing economic platform upon which she and her party intend to run
in the 2006 US midterm elections, as well as her own agenda in an expected bid
for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.
It is a program that begins with the needs of big business and the
defense of the wealth of the top 1 percent of the population, to which she and
her major backers belong. It reveals, moreover, the economic foundation of the
support provided by Clinton and the Democratic leadership for the ongoing war
in Iraq and the threat of new wars against Iran and other countries—acts
of aggression that are bound up with a policy of global militarism conducted
in the interests of America’s ruling elite.
Couched in the empty boosterism and sanctimonious phraseology that is the stock-in-trade
of such affairs, Clinton’s April 11 remarks were directed at making it
clear to the assembled Chicago businessmen that she is indeed one of them—not
merely as a native daughter of a Chicago Republican textile supply merchant,
but also in terms of fundamental social interests and outlook.
While before some audiences Clinton still engages in hollow rhetoric about
the social needs of average working people, in Chicago the subtext was, “What
is good for business is good for America.”
The object of undeserved and obsessive vilification by the Republican right,
who consider her an icon of Democratic liberalism, Hillary Clinton has gone
to comical lengths to prove her conservative credentials—her crusades
against video games and flag-burning being two recent examples.
The Chicago speech was along similar lines: She not only reverentially quoted
Ronald Reagan at length, but also invoked the views of Lawrence Lindsey, Bush’s
former top economic advisor and architect of the massive tax cuts for the rich.
As part of this right-wing name-dropping, she boasted of her recent political
collaboration with former House Republican leader Newt Gingrich, who led the
drive to impeach her husband, as well as with the current Republican leader
of the Senate, Bill Frist, on health legislation tailored to the needs of big
The main substance of her remarks—amid rhetoric about the need to “strengthen
the middle class”—centered on the question of how to “deal
with globalization and the competitive threat that it poses.” Her prescription,
coupled with the assurance that she is not talking about “throwing money”
at social problems, is a slightly greater government role in “incentivising”
investment in research and manufacturing.
Support for manufacturing, she affirmed, provides jobs. She then made it clear
that even more important is the fact that it “provides us with strategic
“Do we really want the production of high-tech components of our satellites,
our missiles, our planes to be completely out of our hands?” she asked
Clinton continued by invoking the growing budget deficits and America’s
emergence as the world’s greatest debtor nation. “I’m concerned
that countries like China have so much control over our financial future,”
Her solution: A return to “fiscal discipline” and a “pay
as you go” regime of economic austerity. “I think a return to fiscal
discipline, living within our means, is essential for our long-term health,”
Clinton declared. “It is also critical to whether or not we control our
destiny as a nation.”
This theme was coupled with rather tepid warnings that the continued unrestrained
growth of profits at the expense of wages could threaten the interests of the
American ruling elite itself, among whom Hillary Clinton clearly includes herself.
“With all due respect to many of us in this room tonight, America did
not build the greatest economy in the world because we had rich people,”
she said, adding that the real foundation was the “American middle class.”
Lamenting the increasing costs of education, health care, transportation and
other necessities, she said, “We should not in a globalized world face
a choice between profits and pensions.” She hastened to add, however,
“I understand that the world has changed and what used to work 50 years
ago doesn’t work today. But that’s why we need to rethink our industrial
age bargain and come up with a new one that really keeps faith with the American
This remark constitutes a tacit endorsement not only of the drive by corporate
America to liberate itself from all pension obligations to its workers, but
also of sweeping counter-reforms to the existing Social Security system. This
is precisely what Senator Clinton’s allies in the Democratic Party are
preparing. A group of them, including investment banker Robert Rubin, treasury
secretary in the administration of Bill Clinton, announced earlier this month
the creation of the “Hamilton Project,” dedicated to confronting
fiscal imbalances and the mounting budget deficit. The group advocates “entitlement
reform,” a euphemism for taking a meat cleaver to fundamental social programs
like Social Security and Medicare.
Significantly, in the course of her remarks, Clinton cited Corning, Inc. of
upstate New York as an example of the “‘can do’ spirit that
really is the fuel for the free enterprise economy.” Since Clinton took
office as a senator from New York five years ago, Corning has embarked on a
brutal campaign of plant closings and mass layoffs that has cut its workforce
nearly in half, costing over 20,000 jobs.
During this same period, the company cemented close ties with the state’s
new senator, donating close to $140,000 to her campaign fund since she first
ran in 2000. The New York Times recently noted that the company had “supported
Republican candidates for so long that its chairman once joked that it had not
raised money for a Democrat since 1812.”
It is donations like these—given because Hillary Clinton defends the
interests of the corporations at the expense of working people no less than
the Republicans—that have helped swell her campaign fund to some $20 million,
the highest amount amassed by any Democratic politician.
While extolling the virtues of this ruthless corporate policy of destroying
tens of thousands of jobs, Clinton tipped her hat briefly to the working poor,
declaring, “I want to send the signal to every one of the people who served
us tonight in this hotel ... we want them to be successful, as well.”
So much for the “party of the people” and “reform.”
There was nothing new in Clinton’s speech. It merely exposed the Democratic
Party once again as the partner of the Bush administration and the Republicans
in defending the global and domestic interests of the US corporate and financial
ruling elite. To the extent that Clinton articulated any differences with the
Bush administration’s policies, they were purely of a tactical nature,
centering on how best to uphold the interests of the financial oligarchy that
rules America. Like others within this ruling layer, her concern is that the
policies of the administration are turning the country into a social and political
powder keg with potentially revolutionary implications.
But, because she—like the Republicans—represents the same class
of corporate executives and the super-rich that made up much of her audience
in Chicago, she is incapable of advancing any genuine alternative. As with the
war in Iraq, which she voted to authorize and continues to support, she criticizes
the Bush administration for mismanaging economic policy, not for defending a
system that systematically subordinates the needs of the people to the profit
interests of big business.
The element of economic nationalism in her speech, by which US manufacturing
policy is presented as a matter of “strategic security” bound up
with confronting “globalization and its competitive threats,” contains
within in it the real motive force for the war in Iraq and the threat of even
greater wars to come. Clinton shares the consensus policy of the US ruling elite
of utilizing American military power to offset relative economic decline through
the seizure of markets and raw materials—particularly oil—at the
expense of American capitalism’s rivals.
Clinton’s Chicago speech is just one more demonstration of the real social
interests she and her party defend. Between her and whomever the Republicans
nominate as their candidate for the Senate, New York voters will have nothing
to choose from, whether it concerns the ongoing war in Iraq or the class war
that is being conducted at home to enrich the wealthiest social layers at the
expense of the working population.
The Socialist Equality Party is intervening in the 2006 election and has nominated
me as its candidate for US senator from New York to provide a genuine alternative
for working people. Against Clinton’s support for the war in Iraq, the
SEP demands immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all US troops and holding
accountable all those responsible for dragging the American people, by means
of conspiracy and lies, into this illegal aggression.
We reject the claim that globalization requires that US workers compete with
lower-wage workers in other countries by accepting wage cuts and the destruction
of past social gains. That is a lie. The global integration of production creates
the conditions for a vast improvement in living standards all over the world.
The problem is that these internationally integrated productive forces are subordinated
to the profit interests of a narrow ruling elite, which pits workers against
each other to further its own interests.
Against the divide-and-conquer strategy of the transnational corporations and
international banks, the SEP advances an internationalist program for politically
uniting American workers with working people throughout the world in a common
struggle to reorganize the economy on socialist foundations—that is, on
the basis of social need rather than profit, to eliminate poverty and foster
My party advances a program of concrete measures to achieve these aims, including
the demand that tax policy be radically transformed, through the repeal of two
decades worth of tax cuts for the wealthy and a sharp increase in taxes on corporations
and the super-rich, combined with a substantial reduction in the tax burden
for the great majority. To reorganize economic life along rational, egalitarian
and socially constructive lines, we call for the transformation of major corporations
into public utilities under the democratic control of the working population.
The first step in fighting for these goals is to break with the Democrats and
begin building a mass socialist party of the working class. That is the goal
pursued by the Socialist Equality Party in its intervention in the 2006 election.
I urge all those who support these aims to seriously study our program and
join in the fight to place the Socialist Equality Party on the ballot in New
York, California, Michigan and the other regions where the SEP is running candidates.
Bill Van Auken, SEP candidate for US Senate, New York