HILLARY Clinton launched her 2016 campaign, with one word dominating her message: inequality. Her critics said she merely pandered to the Democratic base, now lukewarm to her campaign because of the Clintons’s identification with centrist politics and Wall Street donors. To ward off either Warren or Sanders, Mrs. Clinton, her critics said, needed to coopt their progressive message so she can clinch the nomination with little opposition.
Her critics say she wanted to appear progressive. She wants to capture the nomination outright, as she would not gain anything from a gut-wrenching, blood-drawing primary. She realizes that the campaign efforts are best directed at the Republicans, whose hatred of the Clintons has now peaked to crazy levels.
Or, she may not be play-acting at all. Even those unenthusiastic about her candidacy cheered when she said these words:
“ Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times. But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.” She gave the example of CEO pay and how far away this is from the pay of ordinary wage earners.
As she will give flesh to that general theme later, expect Mrs. Clinton to propose living wages for workers, strengthening of trade unions, provision of adequate safety nets, improvements on Obamacare and the taming of reckless, soulless capitalism which her Democratic critics, the type wary of her candidacy, have accused the Clintons of supporting.
Why did the putative frontrunner in the Democratic primary in the world’s wealthiest and most powerful democracy start off her campaign with the blunt message for a more just and fair America, with everyday Americans at the heart of her campaign? Why is inequality, and the need to rein that scourge, the defining agenda of her campaign, and not the usual tripe about nurturing American exceptionalism or ambitioning for a more robust growth? Or, scaling the heights of planet Mars for that matter?
With a little research, the explanations are readily available.
The “Occupy” movement in the US started a serious debate on how huge the gap was (and still is) between the richest 1 percent in the US and the remaining 99 percent. That Wall Street, the most prestigious address of capitalism, was the target of the Occupy Movement was no coincidence. It is here where multi-million dollar bonuses are regularly awarded to the top men and women of finance, while the struggling workers of America have been stuck at a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
That the 2008 Great Recession was the result of securitized debt obligations gone awry and subprime housing loans gone bust (with the 1 percenters of Wall Street as the identified architects), presented the case of Two Americas, the first one suffering from a Great Recession whose origins it was clueless about – and the other reaping gains, post-catastrophe, from the catastrophe this other America created.
The Arab Spring had religious and ethnic undertones, true, but at the root of that uprising were the restless and angry youth who lived drifting, purposeless lives. The failure of the system to provide them access to jobs and social mobility sent the rock-throwing, slogan-chanting youths into the streets.
Then the masterful book of Thomas Pikkety hit the shelves, a book which warned via data-backed models and charts, of the rise of patrimonial capitalism. Only bold political decisions can reverse the march to a version of the Gilded Age, said Pikkety.
Pope Francis assumed the papacy, and, departing from papal tradition, spoke openly against inequality, and the trickle-down economic doctrine, which holds that gains at the very top find their way into the lives at the very bottom, the gains seeking their natural equilibrium. Bunk, said Pope Francis.
Other factors contributed, such as multilateral institution researching, and arguing, for a just and fairer world.
But there were outliers to that cause. In Randian parts of the globe, there are still leaders who over-strain themselves in proclaiming that the governing model should be the heedless pursuit of growth figures. GDP, GDP, GDP. The preoccupation is one of nice figures and charts, not the empowerment of human lives.
The divergence on what to promote – the dignity of human lives or the paper chase of surging growth charts – would not have been relevant to us had not our Dear Leader placed the country squarely at the lead of the paper chasers – GDP, credit upgrades, puffery from foreign countries and multilateral institutions.
Mr. Aquino does not even realize that inequality exists, and that the rich-poor divide, is brutal and nasty. As I have written a thousand times, his keyboards and his speech shop do not recognize that there is such a word. In contrast, the unequal society that Mrs. Clinton wants to rein in – and has placed as the main issue of her campaign – is a virtual paradise with a blurred chasm, when compared with the inequality of brutal and irreversible wages in the Philippine context.
Mr. Aquino has not been moved – not by a tiny, wee, bit – by the profound shift in the new definition of a leader’s mission. Right now, he is preoccupied with finding a 2016 presidential candidate totally committed to his “reforms” and “ fighting corruption.”
Very few leaders of the modern world, except perhaps for Mr. Aquino and the “markets are everything” leaders of Mrs. Clinton’s opposing party, are still stuck to the paradigm of growth at all cost.
The new sense of humanity that has been sweeping the most powerful and enlightened perches of leadership has past by Mr. Aquino. And Mr. Aquino, take note of this supreme irony, is mightily proud that he is the president of the 1 percent – the rest be damned.