Is Clinton’s Political Heir, Kirsten Gillibrand, Just “Hillary Lite”?

Is Clinton’s Political Heir, Kirsten Gillibrand, Just “Hillary Lite”?

Trotting out another neo-liberal feminist with deep ties to Wall Street won’t unify Democrats in 2020.

Remember that rumor that New York’s junior Democratic senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, might be planning to run for president in 2020?

Well, it turns out that it’s probably more than a rumor.  While officially denying that she’s interested in seeking the White House – the telltale sign of someone interested in doing just that — Gillibrand may be maneuvering herself into position for a presidential run.

But appearances can be deceiving.  It seems that the only real sign of a Gillibrand candidacy thus far is a spate of fawning profiles of the 51-year old ex-Wall Street lawyer written by her admirers  in the mainstream press.

“Gillibrand has staked out a particularly anti-Trump voting record in the Senate, which could distinguish her brand when Democrats start culling the herd for their 2020 nominee,” two of her fans claimed in a recent Washington Post puff piece.  They went on to note that there is lots of “progressive chatter” about Gillibrand’s prospects — implying that there is genuine “buzz” about her candidacy.

In fact, there is almost no evidence that Gillibrand is even on the radar screen of grassroots Democratic activists, most of whom currently lean toward Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, according to polls.

Sanders, who may have started his 2016 campaign too late to unseat Hillary Clinton as the presumptive nominee, is taking no chances this time.  He’s hired a team of professional campaign consultants and is busy consolidating his support among party activists in a large number of states with early primaries or caucuses.

And Warren, who might have become Biden’s running mate in 2016 had the former VP decided to run, is clearly waiting in the wings.

What’s really behind the promotion of Gillibrand?  Sadly, the same kind of wishful thinking that led so many to believe that Clinton could win in 2016, and should be designated in advance the presumptive nominee — based largely on her support among party elites, especially those with close ties to Corporate America.

Clinton, despite her eager posturing, was never really viewed by the party rank-and-file as an authentic heir to the Obama presidency.   From the start, she seemed unable to resolve her competing inclinations – on the one hand, criticizing Obama from the right, as too “soft” on foreign and defense policy, on the other hand, tacking to the left, suggesting that Obama hadn’t fought hard enough for Main Street.

In the end, it hardly mattered.   As we now know, Clinton had forged a clandestine deal with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) back in mid-2015 which gave her financial and political control over the party’s campaign apparatus.

And with most of the party’s super-delegates firmly in her camp, and loyal lapdogs like DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz doing everything possible to block Sanders’ candidacy, Clinton was a shoo-in to win, no matter how popular and compelling a candidate Sanders turned out to be (with polls showing him trouncing Trump by double-digits).

Gillibrand has none of these deeply entrenched political advantages but she does have Hillary’s personal backing — and a recent voting record that makes her look and sound like a liberal firebrand.  For example, she was practically alone among Democrats in opposing James Mattis as Trump’s Secretary of Defense and Elaine Chao as his Secretary of Transportation.  And she’s one of ten Democratic senators to back Sanders’ “Medicaid for all” bill.

But her real claim to fame, of late, is her outspoken support for women claiming sexual harassment by powerful men in Hollywood and in the US Congress.   She was the first US senator to call on Al Franken to step down.  She’s even had the temerity to suggest that the President Trump resign, too.  Trump responded by suggesting that she was little more than a ”flunky” for New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, which raised Gillibrand’s profile still further.

In fact, there’s a strong kernel of truth in Trump’s caustic and demeaning characterization of her.  Schumer did actively recruit Gillibrand to replace Clinton when the former First Lady was named US Secretary of State in 2009.  And as a long-time private sector professional with no prior political experience — except, perhaps, as a steadfast defender of Big Tobacco — she needed real coaching to run her campaign and to assume the responsibilities of office.

As he did with Clinton, Schumer helped school Gillibrand in the intricacies of New York state power politics and also helped neutralize opposition to her from the party’s entrenched male elites.   Gillibrand had won a congressional seat in New York’s 20th district but claimed her Senate seat by appointment, not election.  She needed a lot of help — and with Schumer she got it.

But the real link between Schumer, Clinton and Gillibrand lies in their shared – and fairly naked – embrace of Wall Street.  Schumer, though nominally a liberal,  has been firmly in Wall Street’s back pocket for years.   Hillary, of course, has Wall Street ties that go back to the Clinton presidency, when her husband deregulated the banking industry which set the stage for the home mortgage lending crisis and eventually the stock market crash.

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