Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

Here is a remarkable bit from the recently WikiLeaked emails of John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. If it doesn’t quite reveal some nefarious master plan for technoligarch world domination, it at least provides an opportunity to goggle at some extremely dumb campaign stooges.

Let’s set the stage, first. February, 2016. Bernie Sanders is attacking Clinton from the left for having supported her husband’s cruel, punitive welfare reform legislation in the ‘90s—which yanked what flimsy social safety net there was out from beneath millions and consecrated into law racist Reagan-era hysteria about “welfare queen” single mothers—and, more broadly, for being a corporatist neoliberal whose concern for the poor and working class seems never to extend to the point of proposing or supporting any attempt to actually help them in any direct way. She’s still the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination, but Sanders has made enough hay out of this line of critique that it can’t be ignored.

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Clinton’s senior campaign staff—Podesta, Ann O’Leary, Jake Sullivan, Corey Ciorciari, and others—are discussing how to fend off Sanders with Center for American Progress think-tank assbrain Neera Tanden. Sullivan puts out a call for safety-net reform proposals that Clinton can get behind that will defang Sanders’s criticisms of her record on poverty. Tanden suggests some relatively tame changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program:

Source: WikiLeaks

When you say reform you mean changes to TANF?

I would
1 alter the 5 yr limit so it takes account of recessions/downturns
2. Change metric of success of program to reducing poverty not reducing caseload; makes states use money for helping poor, reduce poverty,not other things
3 allow married people to get benefits (so you’re profamily; hard to argue w )

That’s more than 2, but my list.

Next up, Ciorciari brings up a provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), allowing states to help unemployed parents pay for childcare, presumably as a suggestion for something Clinton could propose as a national program:

Source: WikiLeaks

One other idea that could work is on child care. ARRA allowed states to provide additional child care support to parents *between* jobs. For example, Georgia used $23.7 million to provide child care assistance through a new Temporary Child Care Assistance program for parents who are unemployed or underemployed and do not qualify for the existing child care assistance program.

I think we can all agree that these are very mild proposals! Nobody is asking Hillary Clinton to put her name on a promise to imprison all of America’s millionaires and turn their homes into anarchist communes, here. Minor eligibility adjustments to existing programs or campaign proposals is what we are talking about.

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Here comes the reply from senior campaign advisor Ann O’Leary (emphasis added):

Source: WikiLeaks

Getting on phone with poverty/social mobility group in a a few mins. Melissa and Indi have been working up ideas for us with Robert Gordon and Peter Edelman. We need something that works in primary and general. Obama got killed for this in 2012 for making some of these suggestions.

Will send thoughts back in an hour.

As the Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund points out, the reference to Barack Obama having gotten “killed for this in 2012” likely refers to then-Republican nominee Mitt Romney deriding Obama for giving away “free stuff” to voters. The problem here, of course, is that not only did Obama not get “killed” for that stuff—you might recall that Romney actually is not the president of the United States right now—but the person who did get killed for it was ... Mitt fuckin’ Romney! The “free stuff” line of attack backfired in his face, precisely because people generally agree that the government should help poor people improve their lives.

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The bare fact that they were even having that conversation should have made this self-evident, even to this collection of meritocratic centrist androids: Here they were, being challenged hard and unexpectedly from the left by a septuagenarian garden gnome with no party backing, operating pretty much entirely out of a playbook of democratic-socialist domestic policy, while the Republican primary campaign was being thrown into chaos by a nativist ham ogre, and the consensus in the top levels of the Clinton braintrust was, Hmm probably we should not signal too much intent to improve the lives of poor and working-class Americans right now, or our opponents might have to shoot their own dicks off like Mitt Romney did in 2012.

I feel extremely good about the fact that these clueless, cynical, spineless chickenshits will probably be running the United States government in a few months. All of this is working out super great.