Over the last few weeks, I’ve been dissing Hillary Clinton for a lack of substance in her nascent presidential campaign.
Heading into her big “kickoff” speech Friday in New York, the advance hype suggested that she would talk mostly about her mother’s hard early life. This was intended as a way to repair some of the damage Clinton has taken recently on the famous poll question that asks voters whether a particular candidate “cares about people like you.”
Because I am a substance fanatic, I expected to loathe the speech as one more bit of emotional manipulation designed to postpone further the day when Clinton would have to start outlining her concrete policy positions. Such postponements fit the cynical strategy of a front-runner who doesn’t want to sound too liberal during the primary campaign and then have to tack back to the center during the general election campaign.
Maybe my expectations were too low. But I liked and respected the speech and would say it was a huge step toward substance. It was a strong attack on recent Republican policies and policy proposals; a strong statement of values and goals for the next four years.
It was very liberal. She strongly praised President Obama, whom Republicans will do everything they can to vilify. She rattled the cages of Wall Street and the Super Rich. It was strong on populist rhetoric and goals to make things better for the non-wealthy.
But the speech was light on concrete proposals and on ways to pay for the kinds of programs she endorsed. I hope that she (and everyone seeking the presidency) will go further to outline real changes that she favors and, for those proposals that will require spending, how she will pay for them.
The speech certainly will give the right some things to fear, to shoot down and to hype.
Here are some excerpts:
Clinton referred to “the fundamental American belief that real and lasting prosperity must be built by all and shared by all.”
Standing in a park named for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech, Clinton said of FDR: “He said there’s no mystery about what it takes to build a strong and prosperous America: ‘Equality of opportunity… Jobs for those who can work… Security for those who need it… The ending of special privilege for the few… The preservation of civil liberties for all… a wider and constantly rising standard of living.’
“That still sounds good to me. It’s America’s basic bargain. If you do your part you ought to be able to get ahead. And when everybody does their part, America gets ahead too.
“When President Obama honored the bargain, we pulled back from the brink of Depression, saved the auto industry, provided health care to 16 million working people, and replaced the jobs we lost faster than after a financial crash.”
But under recent Republican administrations, Clinton said, “Instead of an economy built by every American, for every American, we were told that if we let those at the top pay lower taxes and bend the rules, their success would trickle down to everyone else. What happened [under those policies]?
“Well, instead of a balanced budget with surpluses that could have eventually paid off our national debt, the Republicans twice cut taxes for the wealthiest, borrowed money from other countries to pay for two wars, and family incomes dropped. You know where we ended up.
“While many of you are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, you see the top 25 hedge fund managers making more than all of America’s kindergarten teachers combined. And, often paying a lower tax rate.”
“So, you have to wonder: ‘When does my hard work pay off? When does my family get ahead? When?’
“I say now. Prosperity can’t be just for CEOs and hedge fund managers. Democracy can’t be just for billionaires and corporations. Prosperity and democracy are part of your basic bargain too.
“You brought our country back. Now it’s time — your time — to secure the gains and move ahead. And, you know what? America can’t succeed unless you succeed. That is why I am running for President of the United States.”
On GOP policies
“… These Republicans trip over themselves promising lower taxes for the wealthy and fewer rules for the biggest corporations without regard for how that will make income inequality even worse. We’ve heard this tune before. And we know how it turns out.
“They pledge to wipe out tough rules on Wall Street, rather than rein in the banks that are still too risky, courting future failures. In a case that can only be considered mass amnesia.
“They want to take away health insurance from more than 16 million Americans without offering any credible alternative.
“They shame and blame women, rather than respect our right to make our own reproductive health decisions. They want to put immigrants, who work hard and pay taxes, at risk of deportation. And they turn their backs on gay people who love each other…
“But, here’s the good news: There are allies for change everywhere who know we can’t stand by while inequality increases, wages stagnate, and the promise of America dims. We should welcome the support of all Americans who want to go forward together with us.
“There are public officials who know Americans need a better deal, business leaders who want higher pay for employees, equal pay for women and no discrimination against the LGBT community either. There are leaders of finance who want less short-term trading and more long-term investing. There are union leaders who are investing their own pension funds in putting people to work to build tomorrow’s economy. We need everyone to come to the table and work with us.”
On specific policy proposals
As I mentioned above, Clinton didn’t commit herself to a lot of specific policy proposals. But she promised to do so “in the coming weeks.” And she needs to move past populist adjectives to actual ideas that can be legislated and implemented. But the goals she outlined were powerfully evocative, for example:
“Reward businesses who invest in long term value rather than the quick buck – because that leads to higher growth for the economy, higher wages for workers, and yes, bigger profits, everybody will have a better time.
“Rewrite the tax code so it rewards hard work and investments here at home, not quick trades or stashing profits overseas.
“Give new incentives to companies that give their employees a fair share of the profits their hard work earns…
“And we will make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century. Developing renewable power – wind, solar, advanced biofuels… Building cleaner power plants, smarter electric grids, greener buildings… Using additional fees and royalties from fossil fuel extraction to protect the environment…”
On investing in the future
The next few ideas are things that will cost big bucks. She implied above that she wants to tax the rich, but with no specifics yet. Clinton obviously owes us much more detail on how she proposes to pay for ideas like…
“Building an economy for tomorrow also requires investing in our most important asset, our people, beginning with our youngest. That’s why I will propose that we make preschool and quality childcare available to every child in America. And I want you to remember this, because to me, this is absolutely the most-compelling argument why we should do this. Research tells us how much early learning in the first five years of life can impact lifelong success. In fact, 80 percent of the brain is developed by age three.
“Let’s make college affordable and available to all …and lift the crushing burden of student debt.
“Let’s provide lifelong learning for workers to gain or improve skills the economy requires, setting up many more Americans for success.”
On America’s families
Clinton said she wants to “strengthen America’s families” with measures like:
“Parents need more support and flexibility to do their job at work and at home… I believe you should have the right to earn paid sick days.
“I believe you should receive your work schedule with enough notice to arrange childcare or take college courses to get ahead.
“I believe you should look forward to retirement with confidence, not anxiety.
“That you should have the peace of mind that your health care will be there when you need it, without breaking the bank.
“I believe we should offer paid family leave so no one has to choose between keeping a paycheck and caring for a new baby or a sick relative.
“And it is way past time to end the outrage of so many women still earning less than men on the job — and women of color often making even less.”
She wants to “offer hard-working, law-abiding immigrant families a path to citizenship. Not second-class status. And, we should ban discrimination against LGBT Americans and their families so they can live, learn, marry, and work just like everybody else.
On money in politics
She attacked the demise of the post-Watergate campaign finance laws since the Supreme Court ruled on the Citizens United case. “We have to stop the endless flow of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political process, and drowning out the voices of our people.”
She implied that she would use U.S. Supreme Court appointments to move in this direction and specified that “If necessary, I will support a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.”
As she must know, the requirements for constitutional amendments are unimaginably high, especially with the current polarized state of the parties.
A couple of updates/contrary views
As is obvious above, I thought that (especially compared to her previous radio silence on all matters of substance) that Clinton hit a lot of good themes, but still owes us details and concrete proposals. Several voices on the left disagree. Sen. Bernie Sanders (who is, of course, one of her chief opponents for the Dem nomination) has hit her hard for not taking a position on the big Pacific trade deal. (He opposes it. She takes no position on the final deal, since that is still being negotiated, but has also been evasive on whether she supports Obama’s request for a bill that subjects the final deal to an unamendable up-or-down vote.)
Robert Reich, in a tweet (reproduced here on Reader Supported News) gave Clinton an “A” for diagnosing the problem with the U.S. economy but a “C” or worse for specifying how she would fix it.
Molly Ball of the Atlantic issued a major warning to those who take the speech as evidence that Clinton has taken sides in the class wars. Her post, headlined “Hillary Clinton’s Fainthearted Populism,” argues that even in diagnosing the cause of growing inequality, Clinton failed to even lay the groundwork for strong progressive policies. Wrote Ball:
“Here are some things Clinton didn’t say: She didn’t directly call for higher taxes on the rich. She didn’t directly blame Wall Street or financial deregulation for the economic crisis. (In fact, she mentioned Wall Street and banks just once in the speech.) She didn’t say, as [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren frequently does, that ‘the game is rigged’ against ordinary Americans. She didn’t mention the gap between rich and poor at all, and her two mentions of inequality were indirect. CEO benefits and hedge-fund salaries weren’t directly attacked, but used as a point of contrast. Rather than rage against the perfidy and greed of the rich and powerful, as Warren routinely does, or insist that economic villains must be punished, Clinton posited that a better economy could lift all boats—that under her policies, ‘everybody will have a better time.'”