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2016 And Beyond
Signs of Wear and Tear in the Clinton Machine

Celebrities, corporations, and world leaders appear to have skipped a Clinton Foundation event in unusually large numbers, as the Wall Street Journal reports that the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative—the Foundation’s annual New York City soireée—was unable to attract the kind of money and star power that it has commanded in previous years:

After more than a decade, the Clinton Global Initiative, the showpiece event of the Clinton family’s charitable foundation, is losing some of its pizazz. Many of the group’s longtime supporters are avoiding the Clinton spotlight. Some of the most-sought speakers didn’t make it. Piles of media passes sat uncollected. […]

In all, at least six major corporations that sponsored previous Clinton Global Initiative meetings didn’t make cash contributions the event this year. They include global banking giant HSBC PLC, which in 2014 donated $1 million to the conference, accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and electronics company Samsung. Others include Exxon Mobil Corp., Dow Chemical Co. and Deutsche Bank AG.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also couldn’t make it, and neither could Hillary Clinton’s former boss:

President Barack Obama declined an invitation, though he attended the conference in previous years.

“The Clinton Global Initiative was just not something we could fold into the president’s schedule this year,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. No secretaries in Mr. Obama’s cabinet are attending. Instead, the head of the Overseas Private Investment Corp., a U.S. loan-guarantee agency, appeared.

It would be rash to draw any definitive conclusions from this poor showing at this year’s CGI. It could be that this event was an outlier, and it could be that, as one attendee told the Journal, people are backing away from the Clinton Foundation because it’s campaign season (even though the CGI had no trouble attracting celebrity guests during Hillary’s 2008 campaign). But it’s also possible that something more consequential is happening—that the great Clinton machine, the engine for sustaining and expanding the Clintons’ political power even as the couple is out of office, is showing signs of wear and tear.

As WRM has written, the Clinton Foundation is far more than a charity; it is the beating heart of an unprecedented political operation, standing “where money, influence, and celebrity form a nexus.” If Hillary’s presidential campaign falters, the machine loses its raison d’etre—not for the Clintons, of course, but for the people who give them money. It says something about the durability of the Clinton machine—and the motives that lead people to support the Foundation and its work—that support for the Clinton Foundation may have started to slip now that the Clintons’ chances of once again wielding national power have been threatened.

President Obama’s absence—indeed, the absence of any high-level administration officials—is particularly noteworthy. The president has shown increased interest in building a political machine of his own once he leaves office, and there is likely to be real competition between Obama and Clinton over who becomes the most influential living ex-president. Who will be the elder statesman to whom the party turns and from whom it seeks guidance? Obama is likely to be a much more unabashedly liberal ex-president than Clinton, who remains a man of the 1990s and Third Way triangulation. One of Obama’s long-term political goals is probably to leave the Democratic Party as a more solidly left-wing organization than it was when he entered national politics. That can only be accomplished if Camp Clinton is forced into retreat.

It’s important not to read too much into a single event; it could well be that the machine is alive and well. But the convergence of two trends—the Clintons’ threatened political prospects and the potential challenge from an Obama machine down the line—may be making the whole operation less appealing to the luminaries who normally would have been at the Foundation’s New York gala this week.

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  • ljgude

    Indeed. While there are several obvious fissures in the GOP, the right left divide in the Democratic party is coming into clearer focus. The old Henry Wallace left of the party that was trounced in 1948 made a strong come back in 1968 at the Democratic national convention. I stayed away from the protests but was asked to let Abbie Hoffman crash at my Chicago apartment by NY art world friends. I was really confused because I thought I should be supporting Hoffman but discovered I wanted nothing to do with him. It took years to realize that I was not of the left of the Democratic party. I was a Harry Truman, JFK kind of Democrat and the hard left just didn’t compute. I really didn’t like them but I had no idea why. I discovered to my surprise later that I really agreed with Shultz – Reagan’s Secretary of State – and to some extent with Reagan himself. I had no trouble whatsoever applauding him when the Wall came down. And I liked Clinton. He represented what was left of the old center left Democratic party. I could at least feel some connection to his politics although he was no Harry Truman who made more gutsy decisions than Clinton told lies. Well, maybe that’s going to far. But the post ’68 left – no way I could stomach them. Unless we had gotten the opportunity to see what RFK would have done as president in 68. We will never know, but it was obvious to me that Obama filled a Bobby Kennedy size hole in the psyche of Democrats who lived through 1968. For me there was only one problem – I’d grown up in the intervening years. There was no way I could swallow what Obama invited us to believe he was. Hope and change – pfui. But he fooled me too, not enough to vote for him, but enough to be not too fussed that he beat Hillary out. The key moment for me was when he very convincingly said in the healthcare debate with Hillary that his intent was not to deny the healthcare industry a seat at the table, just not to give them every seat at the table. That was a really smart thing to say and then he stood there like a roo in a spotlight and let his Democratic congress give the healthcare industry every seat at the table. That really surprised me. Heck, Hillary did better than that in the nineties and I didn’t see it coming. So I’d still bet on Hillary winning next year, but if the left of the party manages to sink her I think they will have a hard time convincing the swing voters we need more Obama in the form of what Sanders of Elizabeth Warren are dishing up. It just isn’t the right moment either an honest socialist or a dishonest Indian. So absent Hillary, Gore Vs Jeb? Spare me. Carson, Fiorina, Rubio (in any order) – fine by me. Fiorina v Clinton? Now we’re talking. That would be more fun than mud wrestling bikini girls in Vegas….more tasteful too.

    • azt24

      You forgot Joe Biden, now being gravely discussed as a likely contender. If Sanders beats Clinton in the upcoming Democratic debate, the Democrats will be begging Joe to run. Their hearts may be with Bernie, but they have been bought and paid for by Goldman Sachs. No way will they nominate a socialist who means it.

      • Andrew Allison

        Are you seriously suggesting that the hearts of Dems are with Sanders? If Clinton implodes, they will look to Biden for the simple reason that a septuagenarian socialist who isn’t even a member of the party couldn’t possibly win.

        • ljgude

          To both azt24 and Andrew: I agree with both of you but must say I would seriously suggest that the heart of the left of the Democratic party is socialist – more in the sense of what Stalin called social democratic deviationism, rather than communism. WRM says in one of his essays on the Liberalism of the FDR Democrats that they succeeded in so far as they did not see their version of Liberalism as an ‘on ramp to socialism’. I think that the left of the Democratic party has long ago jumped the shark of socialism. They really believe that socialism is the right goal – some overtly like Henry Wallace or Abie Hoffman or Sanders and some less forthrightly like Obama or Carter. My head tells me that the Clintons are more in the center of the party, but my common sense agrees with Andrew that the Clintons are well and truly amoral. I think Gore and Fauxahontas are more to the left and Biden more to the center. So to abuse WRM’s analogy I think that the politic thing for the Democratic party to do is take the lead foot off the accelerator as they go down the on ramp to socialism and put up a centrist. That is, Hillary or Joe. The outcome of the congressional elections in 2010, 2012, and 2014 show clearly that the public is too much caught up in what Marxists call false consciousness (a clingin’ to they guns and God) to tolerate too rapid a rush to merge themselves into the historically inevitable rush to the socialist paradise. It is hard, sigh, to be a Democrat these days – to remain true to all that is good and right and socialist and find it sadly necessary to sell ones behind to Goldman Sachs.

    • Andrew Allison

      Fiorina is a very talented self-promoter who (shades of Obama!) has nothing else to offer. Hillary is utterly amoral and equally unfit for the office. I’d rather see a bikini-clad mud wrestler in the job than either of them. And as for Fauxcahontas . . . The problem, and the reason that Trump and Sanders are doing so well, is that our political establishment is morally bankrupt. We need candidates who believe in something other that attaining the office.

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