Web Only / Features » December 15, 2016
The Democrats Need a Shadow Cabinet
If Hillary Clinton had learned anything from the election, here’s what she would say.
We will regularly hold hearings around the country to listen to what you have to say, especially in the regions where so much economic hardship and personal loss have resulted in millions of voters sending up a cry for change, no matter the messenger.
This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com.
Imagine that a day or two before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Hillary Clinton, as the candidate who received the greatest number of votes—and after a period of personal reflection and evaluation—addresses the nation.
My Fellow Americans:
On Friday, January 20th, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. As mandated by our Constitution, he received a majority of the votes in the Electoral College and thus for the next four years will be given the powers and responsibilities of our nation’s chief executive.
But I believe that I, too, have a mandate, one given to me by the 65 million of you who supported me over Donald Trump in the popular vote, some 2.6 million votes more than he received.
If we are to continue as a democracy, for the next four years and beyond, those voices cannot stay silent.
I urge every one of you who voted for me to help express that mandate and make sure our voices are heard. As each of them comes up for re-election, we will field candidates to run against Donald Trump and his friends in Congress and the statehouses, and we will run against them hard. But until then, let us prepare by joining together as a movement and creating the constituency of what will be, in effect, a shadow government—one that will serve to track and respond to every single bad action undertaken by the Trump administration and its monolithic Congress.
This shadow government will forthrightly express its opposition to such actions and not only call them out as the damaging policy they are, but also offer constructive alternatives that we believe will serve and advance the proper agenda for our nation. No proposal or executive action will go unanswered. We’ll even voice support if it’s warranted—but I fear so far there is little evidence that will be the case.
Historically, this follows the British tradition of a shadow government created by the party in opposition that monitors the ruling party and creates greater transparency, encouraging an honest dialogue based on facts and a thorough knowledge of history and policy. Our shadow government will reflect the experience and knowledge of a core group of men and women who understand how policy is made in Washington, but it will also call on the wisdom and experience of elected mayors, state legislators, public servants, activists and organizers who know the needs of our municipalities, counties and states across the country.
I propose that for every Cabinet officer named by Donald Trump and confirmed by the United States Senate, we in the opposition will have a shadow cabinet member who will monitor the work of that department and comment as needed.
Consider one example: President-elect Trump has named Tom Price, a U.S. Representative from Georgia, to be secretary of health and human services. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which now offers health coverage to more than 20 million Americans who have never had it before. Whomever we select as our shadow secretary of health and human services will speak out against repeal—but should Secretary Price recognize reality once he is confirmed and offer changes or alternatives that make sense and do the most good for the people, the shadow secretary will voice support.
What’s more, our opposition will be vocal against any attempt to privatize Medicare, which some leaders of Donald Trump’s party have announced as a major and immediate goal. As a general principle, the shadow secretary would urge that the United States move closer to a single-payer system, a Medicare-for-all health care like those in so many other countries that would be more equitable, save lives and create a healthier, more prosperous society. Does this run contradictory to what I supported during my campaign? Yes, it does. I was on the wrong side of the issue. Most of us are familiar with St. Augustine’s observation that it is human to err; few are aware that he went on to say: “It is devilish to remain willfully in error.”
Our shadow secretary of state and secretary of defense will support America’s interests abroad, remain true to our long-term relationships with NATO members and other allies, and constantly work toward peace. While protecting ourselves from terror, we will continue to be a nation of immigrants that welcomes those who come to us in genuine pursuit of liberty and a fresh start.
Nor will the dog whistles of hatred and prejudice that haunted the campaign and the weeks after go unchallenged. Our shadow department of justice will continue the fight for civil rights and voting rights that the incoming administration threatens to suspend. We will not let discrimination destroy our country.
We will have a shadow secretary of the treasury, a shadow secretary of health and human services, secretary of education and secretary of veterans’ affairs. Each and every Cabinet-level post will have its equivalent, as will the heads of many of the top regulatory agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.
A shadow version of the Securities and Exchange Commission will speak out against attempts to return Wall Street to the reckless days of speculation and behavior that led up to the terrible financial crash of 2007-08 and the recession that followed. President Obama inherited both and worked hard to lead the recovery. Thanks to the policies of the last several years, President-elect Trump will inherit a thriving economy very different from the one the Republicans left behind in 2004—and very different from the one he described during his presidential campaign. But I have said to my own friends on Wall Street, whom I came to know as constituents and donors when I served two terms in the Senate, that I now firmly believe that “business as usual” will no longer do. A United States of Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase is untenable if prosperity is to reach Main Street instead of hitting a dead end on Wall Street.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is DOA. As candidates, Donald Trump and I agreed on that. Our shadow U.S. trade representative will favor international agreements that continue the flow of goods and services among nations but preserve jobs while generating new ones and protecting our interests. Further, we will monitor transactions like the recent Trump-Pence deal with Carrier, which keeps several hundred jobs in Indiana while still losing hundreds of others to Mexico in exchange for the kind of tax breaks that Donald Trump denounced during his campaign. We’ll tell the truth behind the propaganda and the optics, and work instead toward a healthy, thriving atmosphere for economic growth.
A shadow Federal Communications Commission will oppose media consolidation and resist attempts by a Trump-era FCC to overturn the net neutrality rulings that protect a free and open internet. And a shadow Environmental Protection Agency will make sure that any attempts to pollute clean air and water, to pay off industry with deregulation, will be unable to hide in the shadows away from the public eye.
You get the idea. In doing all of this, we hope to bolster the system of checks and balances essential to our republic—a system that already is being battered by an onslaught of irrational, authoritarian impulses. In the face of the fake news epidemic that infects social media, we’ll make freely available to the press and the public facts and data essential to the functioning of a representative government in which all viewpoints are fairly heard.
We will call out the continuing scourge of money in politics. Every one of us in politics knows that even as we seek the votes of everyday Americans during our campaigns, once elected it is the big donors who get our ear. I am especially disturbed that President-elect Trump has named as his White House counsel Donald McGahn, a man who has eviscerated campaign finance reform in our nation. We also note that many of his Cabinet choices, including Secretary of the Treasury-designate Steve Mnuchin and Secretary of Education-designate Betsy DeVos have donated or bundled millions for Donald Trump and the Republican Party. As the Center for Responsive Politics has noted, Ms. De Vos and her family have given “at least $20.2 million to Republican candidates, party committees, PACs and super PACs” — some of it to senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will vote on her confirmation.
Our shadow government will support the reversal of Citizens United and other court decisions that have flooded politics with rich people’s money. During the recent campaign, I called over and again for reversing Citizens United, and I realize now that my own fundraising among the wealthy compromised my position. Again, I was on the wrong side. Sen. Bernie Sanders was on the right side. He showed all of us that you can mount an effective national campaign with small donations from millions of American citizens. That’s the way we must go. Our shadow government will be dedicated to ending the buying of America by the superrich.
The Washington swamp that Donald Trump has pledged to empty obviously will not be “drained,” given his myriad conflicts of interest, the “kitchen cabinet” of corporate CEOs he has chosen to advise him, and his support of the same old revolving door between corporate America and government. Our shadow government will call out those who spin through that door—including members of Congress from both parties, who pass through it at dizzying speeds to join lobby and legal firms that use their influence to line their pockets and swell the profits of the corporations that hire them.
It’s time to end the crony capitalism that backslaps and pays off its pals as it kicks the working class to the curb. No more bribes in the form of tax cuts for big business. No more backdoor deals—or threats—that briefly generate jobs or only temporarily keep them in America.
Again, I know that some of you are saying that Hillary Clinton has been guilty of many of these things, too. And again I say, to a great degree, yes, it’s true. You know the words of the great American poet Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself.” But I want to go deeper than that, and say that when you lose a campaign for the presidency, despite receiving millions more votes than your opponent, you ask yourself: “Where did I go wrong? How was I tone deaf? Why couldn’t I reach the people who doubted me and convince them I was on their side?” I see clearly now that I simply didn’t understand or appreciate the full extent of people’s frustration with how lopsided our political system is in favor of privilege, or how the inequality in our economy has devastated their own lives and their children’s futures. It is the greatest mistake of my political career.
I’d like to think I have learned from this last campaign how and why my party and our nation have gone wrong. It’s the painful lesson of my long career in public service, and I now take to heart the words of historian Mark Mazower, who has said: “The political class has a very impoverished historical memory and as a result it has a very limited imagination. It is by and large made up of people who do not see themselves in politics in order to effect sweeping change and so they tend to operate very incrementally and very technocratically. They’re very suspicious of vision and as a result what fills their brains is party calculation – which of course always occupies politicians but in the past coexisted with bigger things.”
This must end. Our shadow government will be devoted to the vision of bigger things and a better America for all. All of you will be able check our progress. And we will regularly hold hearings around the country to listen to what you have to say, especially in the regions where so much economic hardship and personal loss have resulted in millions of voters sending up a cry for change, no matter the messenger.
In the immediate days to come, we will hammer out the details on how best to choose and organize this watchdog government. I hope you will join with me and offer your thoughts as we identify those who carefully will watch the Donald Trump presidency and report to you his missteps, excesses—and when called for, his successes.
Our eyes are upon you, Donald Trump. As we work to protect and better our country, you will hear from us, loud and clear. We will not be complacent and we will not allow the trampling of our republic to go unchallenged.
Thank you. May God bless—and save—America.
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Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.
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