The standard liberal narrative about how uncaring, racist and evil conservatives are usually begins with the welfare queen.
That would be the supposedly apocryphal tale of a Cadillac-driving women on welfare who was fraudulently collecting multiple government benefits. It was said to be the ultimate dog whistle.
Never mind that the story turned out to be substantially true, though some liberals had a hard time coming to terms with it. (Consider this NPR headline about “the truth behind the lies.”)
One liberal who understood why this story resonated with the American people more than hand-wringing about dog whistles: Bill Clinton. That’s why he campaigned on “ending welfare as we know it” by making it “a second chance, not a way of life.”
The system isn’t supposed to be rigged against people who work hard and play by the rules.
That’s why the latest example of the Clintons’ extensive corporate ties, The Wall Street Journal’s report on the family foundation pocketing money from big companies that did business with Hillary Clinton’s State Department, is such a bombshell.
Sixty companies that lobbied the State Department between 2009 and 2013, while Hillary was secretary of state, donated more than $26 million to the Clinton Foundation over that time period. At least 44 of the 60 participated in $3.2 billion worth of philanthropy projects by the Clinton Global Initiative, while at least 15 were part of Clinton-created public-private partnerships.
It’s not clear that any of this was illegal and it’s possible that some of this supported worthwhile projects. But it illustrates the nexus between crony capitalism and modern American liberalism as we know it.
This isn’t something unique to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Under Barack Obama, government-run health care has become a boon to big health insurers and pharmaceutical companies, who are rallying to save Obamacare from the Supreme Court.
But the Clintons’ coziness with corporate America was something that made even liberals itchy in the 1990s. While it still fuels speculation about a presidential run by Export-Import Bank supporter Elizabeth Warren, this has become a feature of contemporary liberalism rather than a bug.
The new welfare queens include General Electric, General Motors, Exxon-Mobil and Boeing.
This has the potential to change American politics. Corporate welfare queens are even less sympathetic than people bilking public assistance programs. They are not the result of fraud, but deliberate policy. They constitute a graver attack on the idea of fair rewards and earned success for people who work hard and play by the rules. Nobody not employed by Salon can hear a racist dog whistle in the argument that banks shouldn’t receive a bailout from middle-class taxpayers.
Done correctly, a campaign against Hillary could break the myth that there is an inherently adversarial relationship between big business and big government, with Democrats on the side of the little guy.
How many little guys could afford to lobby the Clinton State Department and give millions to Clinton-controlled entities? Probably close to zero.
A conservative critique of crony capitalism can stretch beyond esoteric issues like Ex-Im financing and the medical devices tax. When Dave Brat beat then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Virginia Republican primary last year, he even framed amnesty for illegal immigrants as an indirect subsidy to businesses seeking lower-wage workers (with the help of transfer payment programs that make those lower wages sustainable for the workers).
This in turn makes it more difficult to frame skepticism about amnesty and loose immigration policies more generally as anti-immigrant rather than pro-worker. For the first time since FDR built the New Deal coalition, a substantially free-market Republican Party can compete with the Democrats for the pro-worker label.
Obviously, liberals and labor unions will seriously contest that re-branding. But the bigger challenge may come from within the GOP itself. The party’s big donors have already signaled they’ll stand against the populists on immigration. What about issues like corporate welfare? Paradoxically, it may be difficult for a business-backed party to be a free-market party.
Do grassroots conservatives want to fight for such a vision of their party? Right Wing News’ John Hawkins is the latest conservative to do a detailed accounting of tea party political spending. The results weren’t good. The bottom ten performing PACs raised “$54,318,498 overall and only paid out $3,621,896 to candidates.” The Daily Caller was early to this story.
That pales into comparison to the money flowing to Hillary’s welfare queens. But does anybody have an incentive to spend money pointing this out?
W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.