She’s been a consistent vote against President Donald Trump’s agenda. She’s fashioned herself a champion for women and climate science. Despite her explicit statements discouraging such talk, she’s frequently cited as a potential 2020 candidate, and is starting to sound a lot more like Senator Bernie Sanders, co-sponsoring legislation with the Vermont progressive to introduce a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Yes, Kirsten Gillibrand is a rising star.
When a tax system allows big corporations and the wealthy to pay little in taxes at the expense of investments in our future, it’s rigged.
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) April 27, 2017
Mnuchin has consistently worked to boost big bank profits at a cost to American families. Will vote against him.
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) February 14, 2017
But despite all that, make no mistake, the New York Senator would be a terrible choice to lead the Democratic Party out from the ashes of Hillary Clinton’s monumental 2016 defeat. She’s too similar to Clinton.
The most obvious issue standing between her and the 2020 party nomination is Wall Street. A consistent ally of the finance industry, Gillibrand has spent what time she has not attacking President Trump, attending fundraisers with Wall Street bigwigs and their allies in DC—a hobby she has cultivated for years which has, in the past, put her at odds with her more reform-minded colleagues like Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut.
Last month, she attended a lunch fundraiser hosted by Steve Schultz, Debbie Wasserman Schultz’ husband, David Carroll, Senior EVP of Wealth and Investment Management at Wells Fargo, and Brett Heimov and Steve Stallmer of the DC lobbying firm Envision Strategy. In April, Gillibrand attended a fundraiser hosted by USAA and Citigroup.
In 2012, her first real election, Gillibrand raked in Wall Street money, receiving a stunning total of $166,420 from commercial banks and their employees, including $26,750 tied to Citigroup, and $5,500 to Wells Fargo. Although relatively active on Twitter, the New York Senator rarely tweets about Wall Street, having only ever mentioned the phrase twice, and never in criticism.
This is not to say Gillibrand has never supported reform. In 2007, she voted for legislation to impose new regulations on lobbyist donations to members of Congress, and she did support the Obama Era financial reforms like Dodd-Frank, even going so far as to propose an amendment to the law to allow the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to crack down on bank fees. Recently, she supported an investigation into Wells Fargo over its fake account scandal.
That said, all things considered, her regulatory advocacy only seems to go as far as party line votes. From the legislation she herself has sponsored and introduced, it is clear that sweeping overhaul is not high on the Senator’s list of priorities.
Rather than a visionary leader, she’s more of a technocrat, ascribing to a limited version of liberalism which has divorced itself from class struggle, and thus favors management to labor. Defined by its light regulatory approach heavily reliant on incentives and industry good will, neoliberalism protects consumers as an afterthought to protecting industry profitability.
Glad to see Citi is stepping up and halting foreclosures for the holiday season. Hope more banks will follow. http://bit.ly/8g6idx
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) December 17, 2009
From an outside perspective, the ideology is fraught with inconsistency. Neoliberals like Gillibrand decry inequality, all the while accepting it as a natural consequence of progress. Though considerably more socially aware than their New Democrat counterparts from the 1990’s, they are fundamentally cut from the same cloth, normalizing and even defending oppression, addressing only those abuses felt by the privileged classes—individuals whose grievances are deemed unjust by the powerful simply by the nature of their relatability.
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) March 1, 2013
Predictably, this approach has done little to alleviate the suffering of millions of people despite so-called “gains” being touted by political and media figures.
For example, much as Democrats like Gillibrand heap on the praise for the Affordable Care Act—a law written by conservative party members insulated from grassroots groups—the truth is, it was poor leadership that caused the most popular newly-elected President in a generation to shun his grassroots army in favor of D.C. insiders and their cautioning against federal expansions like a single-payer system or public option. In the end, 28 million Americans were left uninsured or underinsured.
Millennials in particular, who, by design, were set to pay the highest rates for care in order to ensure older, sicker Americans could afford it, were hurt the most. The Obama administration’s reluctance in the wake of the Subprime Mortgage Crisis and ensuing recession, to use the power of the federal government as Roosevelt during the Great Depression to create jobs, was noticeable. Businesses had cut back, and weren’t hiring. Older Americans who had jobs weren’t retiring because they could not afford to. And so, younger Americans found themselves in a flooded job market, buoyed by contracted work without benefits—and by their parents, who, in turn, keep working to support their grown children.
And so went (and still goes) the vicious cycle. (Please note that Senator Gillibrand, to date, has also not embraced single-payer.)
At a time when Americans are demanding bold leadership and change, it is clear the New York Senator does not fit the bill. She may talk a good game, and support the right symbolic votes, but people today are looking for more than a reliable partisan.