The Corrupt Side of Politicians in Chapter 24 of A People's History of the United States, a Book by Howard Zinn

Throughout A People’s History of the United States, author Howard Zinn highlights the corrupt motives of the political elite and seeks to bring attention to the parts of history seldom covered. This is especially clear in the chapters 19: “Surprises”, 20: “The Seventies: Under Control”, and 22: “The Unreported Resistance”, However, it is in chapter 24: “The Clinton Presidency” that this motive of uncovering the corrupt side of politicians becomes most apparent, Zinn covers most historical events with the appearance of neutrality and even if he is biased (which is argued upon by different critics of this book) his bias is usually portrayed as subtle.

Despite this, his bias is blatantly clear regarding his dislike of the Clinton Administration in the chapter “The Clinton Presidency”. In this chapter, Zinn’s argument outlines the dark side of the Clinton Administration that is fraught with hypocrisy, corruptness, and lead by a manipulative politician who says one thing to the American people and does another. It is no secret that most politicians make vows to the American people in order to get elected and oftentimes they will say certain things to please the public as well.

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It is one of the reasons politicians have a reputation as manipulators. It is this topic that Zinn starts the chapter off with and spends a good amount of time pointing out Bill Clinton’s trail of broken promises. A myriad of examples are listed in which Clinton said one thing to the American people but upon further inspection, he often either didn‘t do what was promised or did something completely different.

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One of the most notable statements is Clinton’s promise for “change” during his campaigns, which Zinn argues did not happen. He notes “,.. he left no legacy of bold innovation in domestic policy or departure from traditional nationalist foreign policy”.

Clintons penchant for people pleasing didn’t end once his election campaign was over, Instead of fully representing his political party, he avoided confrontation by making “safe” decisions which would make conservative Republicans content, This is relevant when considering Clinton’s cabinet appointments. Some of the appointees were moderate Democrats who supported labor and social welfare, During his presidency, more people of color appointed to government positions than any president before him, which appealed to those arguing for equality Despite this progressive move forward, if any of these appointees became too liberal, he would quickly drop them. There is also a trace of corruption when it came to these decisions as well. The cabinet appointments to Treasury and Commerce department consisted of wealthy corporate lawyers Additionally, major corporations gave more money to the democratic party that ever before. Zinn compares Clinton’s presidency to a Republican one, saying “Clinton showed himself no more likely to appoint liberals than the Republican Gerald Ford had in the seventies“. When it came to deciding appointees, decisions were made so that they were acceptable to both Republicans and Democrats Some might refer to this as good bipartisan politics, however Zinn shows contempt for this political practice saying “… he surrendered again and again to caution and conservatism, signing legislation that was more pleasing to the Republican Party and big business than to those Democrats who still recalled the bold programs of Franklin Roosevelt”. In order to get more votes and stay in power, Clinton generalized his policies so that he would retain his support with minorities, women, and the working class but win over white conservative voters, He gained conservative support by upholding a strong military, passing stern measures on welfare, and maintaining a tough stance on crime.

Despite identifying as a democrat, Bill Clinton’s performance often did not match up with Democrat principles and is more comparable to Republican ideals. Zinn draws comparisons between Clinton and his Republican predecessors who were partial to acts of demagoguery, “They sought to keep their power by diverting the anger of citizens to groups without the resources to defend themselves”. When a politician, political party, or government chooses to do this and shift the blame, they create a scapegoat for their own failures. In this case, Clinton diverted the blame to criminals and immigrants. Using these subjects as scapegoats is particularly distressing because criminals, while in prison, do not have the right to vote, Similarly, illegal immigrants do not have the right to vote. Thus, they are silenced and are powerless in their own fate The decision of their fate becomes determined by the silent majority who have been taught to demonize these “criminals” and “illegal immigrants”, He did this by passing the “Crime Bill” of 1996, which emphasized punishment on crime instead of prevention, and resulted in extending the death penalty to more offenses and funded $8 million to the building of new prisons. Immigrants were blamed for taking jobs from Americans and thus faced harsher treatment. Legislation was passed with revoked welfare benefits from both illegal and legal immigrants Immigrants who had fled death squads Guatemala and El Salvador faced deportation because they weren’t deemed “political refugees”, In 1996 the “Anti- terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act” which allowed the deportation of immigrants every convicted of a crime, regardless severity of the crime or how long ago it was. Zinn points out that “Clinton’s promise of a “new government of a new century,” was a throwback to the notorious Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798 and the McCarthy-era McCarren- Walter Act of the 19505”. After all this and his legislation which aimed towards “welfare reform” he alienated most of his former liberal supporters.

Backlash that was not often portrayed by the media occurred and resulted in the formation of alternative media sources and activist groups who felt they were not being represented by their government. Zinn theorizes that both political parties and the media perpetuated a myth of political prosperity during the Clinton era. He argues that both political parties were grossly out of touch with the desires and needs of the American people. Polls during the 805 and 905 indicate that the American public supported the idea of a program for free universal healthcare supported by the general treasury Sources which could pay for this program were cutting the military budget or reform of taxes on the superrichi Clinton did not want to cut the military budget, which had a huge amount of spending during his presidency and by the end of Clinton’s final term, military spending was at $300 billion a yearr The Clinton administration was reluctant to raise taxes on the superrich and raised taxes only by a few percentage points, which Zinn refers to as “.i. a pitifully small step in view of the need“. Ultimately, Zinn mourns for the change that was promised that could have been made under the Clinton presidency His tone comes across as almost seething when he says “Instead of giving out contracts for jet bombers and nuclear submarines, contracts could be offered to nonprofit corporations to hire people to build homes, construct public transport systems, clean up the rivers and lakes, turn our cities into decent places to live.” Instead, Clinton’s policies benefitted those who were privileged but ruined the lives of many who were poor, minorities, or immigrants. His “toughness” on crime led to an America which has the highest prison population in the world. People and their desperation were silenced by being locked up, forced further into poverty by the welfare reform, or deported. Despite this, a positive arose with the development of alternative media sources and the activists who demonstrated the need for change during a time where of the government and media chose to be complacent.

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The Corrupt Side of Politicians in Chapter 24 of A People's History of the United States, a Book by Howard Zinn. (2022, Jul 15). Retrieved from

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