“The Same Priorities She’s Emphasizing Now”: What Hillary Said About Paid Leave, Child Care, Inequality — Yesterday And 20 Years Ago
Following Hillary Clinton’s first major campaign speech on Saturday, purveyors of conventional wisdom have assured us again that she is tacking toward the left to deflect her challengers and mollify her party’s liberal base. Such assertions usually hint that Clinton is not progressive herself, but merely swayed that way by polls and consultants.
On the evening before her big event in Four Freedoms Park, New York’s memorial to its favorite son, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I picked up a copy of her 1996 bestseller, It Takes A Village. (While many journalists once thumbed through it, few seem to remember its contents.) Published during an era when the nation showed few signs of turning leftward, Clinton’s first book offered pithy arguments for the same priorities she is emphasizing now. Consider the views she expressed on family leave — and, in particular, the limitations of the law signed by her husband in 1993:
As I have mentioned, the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees unpaid leave to employees in firms with more than fifty workers. That is a good beginning. Many parents, however, cannot afford to forgo pay for even a few weeks, and very few employers in America offer paid maternity and paternity leave….
Other countries have figured out that honoring the family by giving it adequate time for caregiving is not only right for the family and smart for society but good for employers, who reap the benefits of workers’ increased loyalty and peace of mind. The Germans, for example, guarantee working mothers fourteen weeks’ maternity leave (six weeks before and eight weeks after delivery) at full salary…
Other European countries provide similarly generous leave, some of them to fathers as well as mothers. In Sweden, for example, couples receive fifteen months of job-guaranteed, paid leave to share between them…
As First Lady, Clinton obviously was in no position to demand that her husband’s administration (or the Republican-dominated Congress) institute paid family leave, but her own opinion was clear enough. So was her view of early childhood education, another current issue that she highlighted on Saturday:
Imagine a country in which nearly all children between the ages of three and five attend preschool in sparkling classrooms, with teachers recruited and trained as child care professionals. Imagine a country that conceives of child care as a program to “welcome” children into the larger community and “awaken” their potential for learning and growing.
It may sound too good to be true, but it’s not….More than 90 percent of French children between ages three and five attend free or inexpensive preschools called écoles maternelles…
While I was in France, I had conversations with a number of political leaders, from Socialists to Conservatives. “How,” I asked, “can you transcend your political differences and come to an agreement on the issue of government-subsidized child care?” One after another of them looked at me in astonishment. “How can you not invest in children and expect to have a healthy country?” was the reply I heard over and over again.
Finally, Clinton drew sharp attention to the social instabilities of the post-industrial American economy and the role of government in redressing what she called a “crisis.” Observing that “long-established expectations about doing business have given way under the pressures of the modern economy,” she warned bluntly:
Too many companies, especially large ones, are driven more and more narrowly by the need to ensure that investors get good quarterly returns and to justify executives’ high salaries. Too often, this means that they view most employees as costs, not investments, and that they expend less and less concern on job training, employee profit sharing, family-friendly policies…or even fair pay raises that share with workers – not to mention their families and communities – gains from productivity and profits…
Despite record profits for many companies, the gap in income between top executives and the average worker has widened dramatically….This growing inequality of incomes has serious implications for our children.
She went on to again praise Germany, where “there is a general consensus that government and business should play a role in evening out inequities in the free market system” — and where higher base wages, universal health care, and superb job training guaranteed “a distribution of income that is not so skewed as ours is.”
Writing 20 years ago, when President Clinton was running for re-election against the odds, Hillary hedged her message — and yet she was prescient in addressing the harms of an increasingly unfair economy. What she said then undergirds what she is still saying, more and more forcefully, in this campaign.
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, June 15, 2015
“An Extremely Progressive Agenda”: How Hillary Clinton’s Kickoff Speech Highlighted Her Advantage Over Republicans
Hillary Clinton gave the first major speech of her presidential campaign on Roosevelt Island in New York City, and while it wasn’t quite as heavy on biography as the campaign had led reporters to believe in the past couple of days, it was probably a good preview of what Clinton’s entire campaign will be like: lots of policy talk, with just enough personal content to paint a portrait of a candidate who both advocates for regular people and is a regular person — or, to paraphrase something President Obama once said about her, is regular enough.
This speech, like much of what Clinton does now, is about creating a synthesis out of two related goals or ideas. She wants to energize liberals in a way that also wins independents. She wants to advocate an economic agenda that will be substantively compelling and also creates a personal affinity with voters. It’s Clinton’s good fortune that she has at least the opportunity to do both at the same time.
Presidential candidates come in two basic types: those who can tell a story of personal struggle and those who can tell their relatives’ story of personal struggle. For one of the first times, today Clinton told how her mother was abandoned by her own parents and started supporting herself as a teenager. The point of these stories is to tell people, “I’m just like you.” I understand your struggles and your challenges, and I’ll advocate on your behalf. The truth is that there’s absolutely no relationship between whether a candidate was rich as a child or is rich now and what kinds of policies she’ll pursue as president. But we can conceive of this relationship between the personal and political as a 2 x 2 array with one bad quadrant, one good quadrant and two that could go either way. Here’s my liberally biased version with an example for each, placing Hillary Clinton where she’s trying to place herself:
So FDR was a wealthy scion who championed the cause of the downtrodden, while Scott Walker came from modest circumstances but advocates the interests of the wealthy and corporations. Mitt Romney was a rich guy whom Americans came to believe cared only about rich people, a deadly combination. Clinton is someone who grew up middle-class and is now rich but who would prefer you think of her as a person just like you. Her policy case makes her personal case more persuasive, whereas someone like Walker has to deal with the tension between his personal story and the beneficiaries of his policies.
Of course, personal affinity isn’t all about economic class, and Clinton is obviously counting on women in particular to feel a bond with her and come out to vote. As she said in her speech, “I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I’ll be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.” But while that may have been her biggest applause line, the speech was laden with policy talk, much of it about the economy.
And while some of the positions she mentioned have been more fully fleshed-out than others, what it added up to was an extremely progressive agenda: paid family leave, affordable college education, more infrastructure investments, renewable energy, universal preschool, expanding broadband access and a lot more — all of it wrapped in populist rhetoric (the part about 25 hedge fund managers making more than all of America’s kindergarten teachers seemed to hit a chord).
And I’d challenge Republicans to look at the policy proposals in the speech and say about any of them, “Oh boy, the general electorate isn’t going to go for that.” Which highlights one important way in which Clinton’s path to the White House is easier than that of her potential GOP opponents. They have multiple areas where the goals of winning over Republican primary voters and setting themselves up to assemble a general election coalition are at odds. They need to sound tough on immigration now, but that will hurt them with Hispanic voters next fall. They need to proclaim that the Affordable Care Act must be totally repealed, when most Americans would prefer to make it work better. They need to oppose things like paid leave, minimum wage increases and imposing restrictions on Wall Street bankers, all of which are extremely popular. And they need to do it all while arguing that they understand regular folks and will be their advocates.
Americans might or might not buy that Hillary Clinton is just like them. But the truth is that she could get elected even if most of them don’t, which is something the Republicans probably can’t say.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, June 13, 2015
“Dispensed With The Niceties”: Hillary Clinton’s Grand Strategy To Beat The GOP: Take Bold Positions Early And Often
For the better part of 20 years now, Bill Clinton’s presidency has been synonymous with a hazy political concept called triangulation. Since his advisers made the term famous, it has been used to describe everything from standard-issue compromise, to the willingness to confront reactionary elements in one’s own party (think Sister Souljah), to the appropriation of another political party’s policy ideas. The latter is as close to a proper definition as there is.
One big concern bedeviling progressives is that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy will mark the return of triangulation—the preemptive ceding of ideological turf, at a time when, thanks to partisan polarization, such concessions amount to outright victories for the Republican Party. But the early days of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy suggest these fears are overblown—that she is engaged in an entirely different kind of political positioning, one that carries the promise of significant progressive victories or at least of clarifying the terms of key policy debates dividing the parties.
The nature of the strategy involves staking out a variety of progressive issue positions that enjoy broad support, but it’s not as straightforward as simply identifying the public sentiment and riding it to victory. The key is to embrace these objectives in ways that makes standard Republican counterspin completely unresponsive, and thus airs out the substantive core of their ideas: Rather than vie for conservative support by inching rightward, Clinton is instead reorienting liberal ideas in ways that make the Republican policy agenda come into greater focus.
Most recently, Clinton has adopted an aggressive position in support of expanded voting rights. “We have a responsibility to say clearly and directly what’s really going on in our country,” she said in her latest campaign speech Thursday, “because what is happening is a sweeping effort to disempower and disenfranchise people of color, poor people, and young people from one end of our country to the other.”
This is standard Democratic boilerplate, but in service of something new. Most Democrats have been engaged for some time now in rearguard actions to protect voters from disenfranchisement efforts, and promote a remedy to the damage the Supreme Court did to the Voting Rights Act. These are important efforts, but easily countered. It isn’t unpopular to argue that voters should have to show ID, for instance, or to rail against phantom voter fraud, and it’s easy to gloss over the complex nature of the Voting Rights Act in ways that obscure the real goal of these policies, which is to systemically reduce turnout among disproportionately Democratic constituencies—the poor, the young, and ethnic minorities.
Clinton’s plan, by contrast, demands clarity from her opponents. She has proposed that every American, except those who opt out, be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18, and that every state offer at least 20 days’ worth of early voting. Republicans can’t easily oppose this—and oppose it they must—without being explicit about the fact that they want to keep the voting rolls as trim as possible.
Most Democrats likewise support President Barack Obama’s administrative efforts to liberalize immigration enforcement, and want to create a citizenship track for unauthorized immigrants. Republicans oppose both aims, but have been able to muddle that fact using vague procedural language. Generally speaking, it’s not the liberalization of immigration law they oppose, but the unilateral nature of Obama’s actions. They oppose amnesty, but keep the door to a nebulous “legal status” ajar. Both positions are malleable enough to allow the Republican presidential nominee to tack dramatically left in the general election, and gloss over the hostility the GOP has shown to immigrants since promising to liberalize after Obama’s reelection.
For over a year, Democrats humored the GOP’s wordplay in order to preserve the possibility of striking a legislative compromise that includes something Republicans could call “legal status.” Now that the immigration reform process has collapsed, Clinton has dispensed with the niceties. In promising to preserve Obama’s immigration policies, she called out “legal status” as a ruse. “When [Republicans] talk about legal status,” she said, ’“that is code for second-class status.” She has taken the standard Democratic position and weaponized it. Republicans can’t pretend there’s no daylight between their views and Democrats’ views, because Clinton has defined the Republican position for them, by contrast.
Because this kind of obscurantism pervades the GOP’s substantive agenda—through tax policy, social insurance reforms, workplace regulation—Clinton should be able to deploy the tactic across a wide array of issues. Seizing the first-mover advantage is one of the undiscussed upsides of Clinton’s dominance in the Democratic primary field. It doesn’t guarantee her victory over a Republican opponent, but it will assure that the debate between the two of them occurs mostly above board.
By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic, June 6, 2015
Earlier this week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, along with a gaggle of bored reporters and some boldfaced names in the progressive movement, unveiled a “Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality.” Much like the media event that accompanied its unveiling, the agenda is supposed to be understood as a kind of 21st-century, liberal version of the storied “Contract with America,” the PR stunt that, as legend (erroneously) has it, rocketed Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party to power after the 1994 midterm elections. As my colleague Joan Walsh reported on Thursday, this backward-looking attempt to lay out a forward-looking platform for the Democratic Party did not go entirely according to plan.
Which is not to say it was a failure. In fact, for a photo-op held during a non-election year in May and headlined by a relatively unknown local politician, the unveiling of the agenda probably got more attention than it deserved. Even so, as Joan relayed from the scene, there was some tension at the event — and not only because President Obama’s hard sell of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is driving some liberals to distraction while making others defensive. Sure, the agenda does call on lawmakers to “[o]ppose trade deals that hand more power to corporations at the expense of American jobs, workers’ rights, and the environment,” which is basically how the TPP is described by its foes. But that discord was for the most part kept under the surface.
The real reason de Blasio’s stab at playing the role of Progressive Moses was a bit awkward (despite going much better for him than it did for Ed Miliband) is knottier and harder to ignore. And it didn’t only trip up Hizzoner, but also marred a same-day Roosevelt Institute event on “rewriting the rules” of the economy, which was keynoted by no less a figure than Sen. Elizabeth Warren. It’s an issue that’s long dogged the American left, and the United States more generally, and it’s one that will not go away, no matter how fervently everyone may wish. It is, of course, the issue of race; and as these D.C. left-wing confabs showed, it will dash any hope of a liberal future unless the “professional left” gets deathly serious about it — and quick.
If you haven’t read Joan’s piece (which you really should), here’s a quick summary of how race wound up exposing the fault lines of the left at two events that were supposed to be about unity of purpose. Despite American politics becoming increasingly concentrated over the past two years on issues of mass incarceration and police brutality — which both have much to do with the legacy of white supremacy and the politics of race — neither de Blasio’s agenda nor the Roosevelt Institute’s report spend much time on reforming criminal justice. To their credit, folks from both camps have agreed that this was a mistake and have promised to redress it in the future. Still, it was quite an oversight — and a shame, too, because it justifiably distracted from an agenda and a report that were both chock-full of good ideas.
I wasn’t in the room when de Blasio’s agenda or the Roosevelt Institute’s report were created, but I feel quite confident in saying that the mistake here was not a result of prejudice or thoughtlessness or even conscious timidity. I suspect instead that ingrained habits and knee-jerk reflexes — born from coming of age, at least politically, in the Reagan era — are more likely to blame. Because while the radical left has been talking about and organizing around racial injustices for decades, mainstream American liberalism, the kind of liberalism that is comfortably within the Democratic Party mainstream, is much less familiar with explicitly integrating race into its broader vision.
Let me try to put some meat on those bones with a concrete example also taken from earlier in the week. On Tuesday, President Obama joined the Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne, the American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks, and Harvard’s Robert Putnam at Georgetown University for a public conversation about poverty. And while you’d expect race to come up — what with the African-American poverty rate being nearly three times that of whites, the African-American unemployment rate being more than two times that of whites, and the African-American median household income being barely more than half that of whites — you would be incorrect. As the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates noted in response to this strange conversation, “the word ‘racism’ does not appear in the transcript once.”
Again, it strikes me as unlikely that simple bigotry is the reason. A more probable explanation is that mainstream American liberals like Obama and Dionne (Brooks is a conservative and Putnam is not explicitly political) have become so used to tiptoeing around white Americans’ racial anxieties that they cannot stop without a conscious effort. For the past 30-plus years, mainstream liberalism has tried to address racial injustice by focusing on the related but distinct phenomenon of economic injustice. The strategy, as Coates puts it, has been to “talk about class and hope no one notices” the elephant in the room, which is race. And for much of that time, one could at least make a case that the strategy worked.
But as I’ve been hammering on lately in pieces about Hillary Clinton, the ’90s are over. What made political sense in 1996 doesn’t make nearly as much sense today. Like the Democratic Party coalition, the country is not as white as it used to be. And the young Americans whose backing liberals will need to push the Democrats and the country to the left are the primary reason. If it was always true that the progressive movement could not afford to take the support of non-white Americans for granted, it’s exponentially more true now, when the energy and vitality of the progressive movement is so overwhelmingly the product of social movements — like the Fight for $15 or #BlackLivesMatter — driven by people of color.
As Hillary Clinton seems to understand, a key component of smart politics is to meet your voters and your activists where they are, rather than where history or the conventional wisdom tells you they should be. For the broader progressive movement, that means shaking off the learned habits of the recent past — and, more specifically, overcoming the fear that talking forthrightly about unavoidably racial problems, like mass incarceration, will scare away too many white voters to win. Economic and racial injustice have always been seamlessly interconnected in America; but as leading progressives learned this week, the time when liberals could talk about class but whisper about race is coming to an end.
By: Elias Isquith, Salon, May 16, 2015