It was only a few short years ago that Democrats in high office were openly embracing the anarcho-communist, semi-criminal Occupy Wall Street movement. There is no small amount of irony in the realization that the Democratic Party is today prepared to nominate a presidential candidate with a history of defending the interests of the financial classes.
Hillary Clinton seems aware that her friendliness toward Wall Street is a liability as she tries to win over progressive Democrats, but she has thus far only sought to address this potential disadvantage in rhetoric rather than deed. Clinton declared her support for a constitutional amendment to limit the protections afforded to political speech in the Bill of Rights, a perverse progressive priority. She has also sought to frame her candidacy as one focused squarely on leveling the economic playing field and ensuring that growth is achieved responsibly.
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) April 19, 2015
Partisan Democrats are apparently enthralled, but not everyone is so credulous.
In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, The Daily Beast’s Jackie Kucinich observed that Clinton’s near exclusive focus on the liberal hobbyhorse of “income inequality” is designed to “mitigate” the damage to her brand as a figure of great wealth with documented ties to the financial community.
“I think it was very telling when she was talking about hedge funders and she was talking about reducing or – about how much they make,” Kucinich continued. “When you saw the Wall Street reaction, they were kind of like ‘meh.’ They’re not too worried about it.”
“Hillary Clinton, at the end of the day, will be a friend of Wall Street,” she continued.
Actions speak louder than words, and Clinton’s deference to firms like Goldman Sachs extends well beyond delivering well-compensated speeches to that institution’s employees. Last week, Clinton’s campaign hired Gary Gensler, a 20-year veteran of Goldman Sachs and the former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, to serve as her campaign’s CFO.
Gensler’s role in implementing the Dodd-Frank banking regulations has earned him what some news outlets consider a “tough” reputation for curbing The Street’s excesses. “His hiring will be taken as a signal that Clinton hears their concerns that she has been listening too closely to Wall Street,” Quartz’s Tim Fernholz observed.
But this is mere symbolism, and the financial community sees it for the theater that it is. For their part, Democrats on Wall Street are eager to see the former New York senator check the populist sentiment that has become so popular among Democratic elected officials.
“Many on Wall Street and in the broader business community view her as a dependable, business-friendly force within a Democratic Party that has grown increasingly populist during President Barack Obama’s time in office,” CNN reported last week.
Robert Wolf, the former CEO of UBS Americas and a close Obama associate who will back Clinton in 2016, said there’s an “incredible amount of enthusiasm” for her campaign to get off the ground.
“We know the secretary from the years of being first lady to the senator to the secretary, so we have decades of working relationship with her,” Wolf, who now runs a boutique consulting firm headquartered in Manhattan, told CNN. “I don’t think it’s surprising that the former senator of New York is close to the finance community.”
Longtime Clinton friend and prominent Democratic fundraiser Alan Patricof, who founded the venture capital firm Greycroft Partners, said Clinton has “an enormous following” both inside and outside of the finance world.
“There are a lot of people who perhaps didn’t know her as well before who are all set to jump on the bandwagon,” Patricof said. As compared with 2008, he added: “There is no diminishment, just the opposite — an acceleration of interest in her running for the presidency.”
Clinton may throw the progressive wing of the party a bone or two on the stump, but her allies in the financial community aren’t buying it. Nor, it seems, are her more committed progressive critics like her former campaign manager and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “This is a different country we’re living in right now,” the mayor said of the 15 years that have elapsed since Clinton first ran for the Senate, “and I think we need to hear a vision that relates to this time.” De Blasio and his ilk will be the targets of Clinton’s pandering, but they shouldn’t hold out hope for much more than that.