Clientelism Isn’t Centrist

It is lucrative, however. A while ago, some asshole with a blog discussed the problem of clientelism–which is not the same as corruption. We’ll outsource an explanation of the difference (boldface mine):

“Clientelism” is a bit different because it is a system whereby patrons and clients act in ways that are mutually beneficial to both–without the explicit quid pro quo, without the smudged brown envelope of sweaty cash. The big difference between corruption and clientelism is the explicit demand for a political act from the person or entity who wants to influence government. In “corruption” you are paid and then you do what you are asked. In clientism, the politician acts in favor of a powerful interest or entity and then, subsequently, is rewarded….

The Sanders campaign is pushing a narrative that Clinton represents and speaks for a system of political corruption, the evidence of which are the enormous and numerous speaking fees she has been paid by firms with vested interest in limiting or ending altogether government regulation (“Wall St.”). In response to this argument, the Clinton campaign has said that there is “no evidence” of any crime–no evidence that any quid pro quo exists. And this has been used to argue that Clinton, despite the huge pile of quarter million dollar checks she’s received from vested interests, is in fact deeply committed to limiting the power and influence of those firms who have cut her these huge speaking fees checks.

And here’s the point I want to introduce to the discussion:

While not guilty of corruption in the explicit sense of quid pro quo, Clinton not only participates in, but actively cultivates patron-client relationships with Wall Street. In the clientelism that Clinton embraces and defends, she claims the American public to be the sole beneficiary via her representation, but she refuses to acknowledge how Wall St. benefits. And yet, in a patron-client system, both the patron and the client always benefit. Always. That is how it works. In this case: Clinton gets resources to run for office, while Wall Street gets the guarantee that the candidate they gave so much money in one place (e.g., a speech) will tacitly if not explicitly support their views of economic reality in another place (e.g., The White House). It is a long term strategy for both.

Secretary Clinton, for all the good work that she has done, has built a career on the belief that she can control these patron-client relationships to benefit the powerless. Yet, she has done so by entering into reciprocal relationships with the powerful–who gain no advantage by legislation that helps the powerless…

But the problem that must be overcome in the Democratic Party for progressive goals to advance is clientelism–a patron-client system whereby elected Democrats and big money cultivate each other for mutual benefit.

Very Serious Pundits will usually describe this as centrist, but it’s not, as Commandante Atrios, in light of the recent pro-bank–and pro-discrimination–dive that twelve Democrats recently took, notes:

One of the running themes of this sucky blog is much of what is generally described as the “political center” is not and “moderate politicians” are not. Such “centrism” is mostly about issues and votes which have no constituency where Democrats are willing to join with Republicans (yay, bipartisan!). Or, at least, no constituency of voters. They’re things which, usually, have a constituency of big donors. They aren’t our principled deal-making “last honest people of Washington.” They’re our most corrupt.

Thinking otherwise allows corrupt Dems to join with equally corrupt Republicans to do things like this, and con people into thinking it’s about “principled moderation” and that (in some cases) they’re just representing their red state voters. Crazy liberals can’t win in Missouri! Only principled moderates can!

No voters in Missouri want to eviscerate banking reforms. The most you can say with respect to electoral viability is that by pleasing big money, you prevent big money from going after you at election time. That might be true. But that’s because they’re going to run ads about other issues (the laundry list of Liberals Are Bad), not because supporting bank regulations is going to turn off independent minded swing voters.

Put another way, there really aren’t many grassroots ‘moderates’:

But does someone like Manchin or Senator Claire McCaskill get those kinds of donations (“27 dollars!”)? Is there a rank-and-file response by conservative Democrats? There doesn’t seem to be much energy there (though it might be a good political strategy)…

So where are these grassroots moderates? And if they are thin on the ground, maybe that should tell us something?

This is a fundamental problem Democrats face: inevitably, a small portion of their caucus (10-25%) will take a dive on many issues and support these dreadful ‘bipartisan’ agreements that do nothing except discourage the Democratic rank-and-file.

At the very least, we should stop calling these deals centrist and start calling them clientelist.

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1 Response to Clientelism Isn’t Centrist

  1. Oh yeah I always saw it this way. That what is referred to as centrism is not referring to the political moderate, or bipartisan, or holding mixed views on positions from different parties. Voters like that are plentiful, and some politicians could fit that description. But that’s not what is REALLY meant when people refer to centrism.
    Political centrism, it refers to being moderate in the sense of being in the center point between representing the very rich & corporations, and representing the interests of actual citizens and the general public as a whole.
    As opposed to being 100% representing corporate interests.

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