Chelsea Clinton, who runs a foundation and is a mom in New York, has received a glut of media coverage lately. Since Trump took office, outlets like The Hill, Politico, and The Washington Post haven’t missed an opportunity to publish (endless) stories about her Tweets, the spinach pancakes she made, and, of course, speculate about a hypothetical run for office. The Hill has published some 70 articles about Clinton this year alone.
But before we cover 2017, it is worth backing up to last summer when The Atlantic’s Michelle Cottle followed Chelsea on the campaign trail and described her “uneasy” relationship with the media. “She is very much her mother’s child,” Cottle writes, as she is “methodical, deliberate, cautious, detail-oriented, and disciplined.” Later in the piece, Cottle points out that the word “poised . . . is the word used to describe Chelsea more than any other.”
Reading the coverage of Chelsea Clinton(‘s Tweets) this year, you might notice a different group of adjectives being hurled around to describe—or, sell, if we’re being honest—an almost different person. Politico wrote, “Chelsea Clinton has discovered something new since Inauguration Day: a spicy, sarcastic online personality.” The Washington Post said her Twitter account was “getting saltier,” and later described it as “edgy.” CNN added that Chelsea “embraces her Twitter sass.”
After feeling like my day lacked spice, I decided to check out Chelsea’s Twitter feed and try some of this digital sodium for myself. Visiting on Sunday, March 19th, I noticed a retweet from C-SPAN2’s Book TV account before I scrolled down and found Clinton’s edgy voice I had heard so much about. This retweet didn’t contain any sass—some might have even found it bland, but it did provide a window into Chelsea’s worldview. It said Chelsea and Devi Sridhar, a Global Public Health Professor and Chair from the University of Edinburgh’s Medical School, were going to “examine the role public-private partnerships are playing in improving global health” on C-SPAN2 at 11 on a Saturday night. Surely a snoozefest when given the option to watch SNL’s “salty” treatment of Trump and his cronies at the same time. But the confluence of “global health” and so-called “public-private partnerships” are the bedrock of not just understanding Chelsea Clinton but also what many have dubbed “Clintonism,” the pro-corporate ideology that binds the Clintons and their “charitable” foundation together.
Another favorite media talking point, that Cottle and others tend to harp on, is the fine line Chelsea walks between being permanently stuck in her parents’ shadows and forging her own path. We’ve heard about her stints in consulting, a part time (and $600k/yr) gig in television journalism, a post she’s held in academia, and not to mention degrees from Stanford, Oxford, and Columbia, where her graduate work focused on global health. Despite any trouble she’s had forging a path—she now holds a position at and a seat on the board the family foundation—Chelsea has been consistent in at least one place: her embrace of a neoliberal worldview, one where corporations forge “partnerships” with the state to solve its many problems. Or, said more bluntly, the objective of neoliberalism is for the state to auction off its core functions to private hands.
The speeches she frequently gives at public universities are examples of Chelsea performing this type of wealth transfer. When the University of Missouri-Kansas City couldn’t afford Hillary Clinton’s exorbitant 275k speaking fee, they decided Chelsea’s 65k was more reasonable. Responding to The New York Daily News, a spokesperson for the Chelsea Clinton pointed out she gives all of the proceeds from her speeches to her family’s foundation, thus moving taxpayer funds to the Clinton Foundation, an unambiguously neoliberal project which acts on the belief that unaccountable wealthy Americans should decide health policy for the entire planet.
Naomi Klein, in a column for The Nation, explained the theory and worldview behind the Foundation.
The mission of the Clinton Foundation can be distilled as follows: There is so much private wealth sloshing around our planet (thanks in very large part to the deregulation and privatization frenzy that Bill Clinton unleashed on the world while president), that every single problem on earth, no matter how large, can be solved by convincing the ultra-rich to do the right things with their loose change. Naturally, the people to convince them to do these fine things are the Clintons, the ultimate relationship brokers and dealmakers, with the help of an entourage of A-list celebrities.
The problem with Clinton World is structural. It’s the way in which these profoundly enmeshed relationships—lubricated by the exchange of money, favors, status, and media attention—shape what gets proposed as policy in the first place.
So what solutions do the Clintons and their rich and powerful benefactors propose to solve the world’s many problems?
Leah Hunt-Hendrix noted in an essay for The Huffington Post that the Foundation states on their website that “two-thirds of people who need [HIV] treatment in the developing world are still not receiving it.” Despite the fact the Foundation boasts lowering treatment costs, Hunt-Hendrix writes that the reason people don’t receive the treatment they need are patent laws significantly driving up prices.
Intellectual property laws restricting the export of generic drugs can be traced back to the TRIPS agreement, a trade deal administered by the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 1994, during Clinton’s presidency. Since 1980, drug company Pfizer (a donor to the Clinton Foundation) was an early crusader of linking intellectual property with free-trade, an arrangement which has been ultimately devastating to actually getting drugs to people who need them. In other words, the Clintons created a structure that was incompatible with getting low-cost medicine to patients. Their foundation has taken credit for lowering prices but they still haven’t done anything about the crippling trade agreement, which is still in effect today.
In Bill Clinton’s defense, towards the end of his presidency, he did an executive action to help get generic drugs to Africa in a crisis when they were needed. But this didn’t solve the problem, rather, it cynically acknowledged the harm it did, if only for a moment. Likewise, the Gates Foundation, which is cozy with the Clintons, seems to embody a similar contradiction. As Lindsey McGoey notes in her book No Such Thing as a Free Gift, Microsoft built its software monopoly by protecting patents. When it comes to promoting global health, their foundation has historically protected these patent laws rather than getting medicines to people who need them, thus creating a policy paradigm protecting their business model before helping those in need.
As far as fighting inequality in the United States, The Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation have a plan for that too. In October 2015, The Foundation announced they would “help America’s children succeed.” Their plan is to help families use time at the laundromat better with a “wash time is talk time” campaign that “will equip 5,000 laundromats in underserved communities with resources for families to engage in language-rich activities.” Harping on “Talk Time” as a panacea to help children succeed, the foundation has also invested in a “Talk Time” themed playground in California. The Clintons are the same people who slashed Welfare and erected private prisons for the same “underserved” communities.
It isn’t hard to see that The Clinton Foundation and the “structural problems” Klein points out perhaps better serve the interests of people at the top—who get lush tax breaks for their charitable contributions, connections to other elites, and policies benefitting their bottom line—than they do the needs of the poor. And this is how neoliberalism works: the rich get to democratically decide how to spend their tax-deductible charity dollars, while they pat themselves on the back for doing good, and everyone else gets policies and a government benefitting the rich.
Campaigning on behalf her mother, Chelsea Clinton made the ‘mostly false’ claim, according to PolitiFact, that “Senator Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the CHIP program, dismantle Medicare and private insurance.” Yes, he does want to dismantle private insurance, but he wants to guarantee health care to every American as a right, not a privilege—a power relationship that promises to meet the needs of humans before those of insurance companies (many who have donated to The Clinton Foundation). And it is exactly these types of proposals—ones that put the needs of people before profit—that will make the greatest impact in improving issues like “global health” and inequality.
While many in the media focus on Chelsea’s Twitter tone, let us not forget the pro-corporate ideology that rests beneath it. Rebranding Clintonism as younger, sassier, spicier, or more sarcastic does not change its neoliberal DNA, nor does it guarantee universal rights or wrestle any power from the one percent. To those in the media, if you’re looking for snark, sass, (and socialism) on Twitter, please write endless stories on The Democratic Socialists of America, instead. DSA members are running for office; Chelsea is not.