A New York Times article Saturday highlights the conundrum facing Hillary Clinton as she runs for president, essentially serving as a perfect exemplar of where we find ourselves in American politics today. As argued in the lede, “With advice from more than 200 policy experts, Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to answer what has emerged as a central question of her early presidential campaign strategy: how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy.” The problem starts with who some of those purported experts are, including the longtime champion of neoliberalism Lawrence Summers.
Clinton has never been a progressive populist in the way some hoped and has instead tended to adhere to the policies of her neoliberal husband and the more “centrist” voices of the party. The New Democratic model seemed to die with the election of Bush and fading popularity of sellout Blair, but we might be in for another round of cultural progressivism and conservative economics, even as the country yearns for an economic overhaul that more equitably shares the benefits of our rise in productivity and profits. Can Clinton shepherd such a change? The early signs are ominous, even as there does seem to be a more progressive bent to some of her early platform ruminations.
In the article it claims, “Although people close to Mrs. Clinton say she has not yet settled on a specific platform, she is expected to embrace several principles. They include standard Democratic initiatives like raising the minimum wage, investing in infrastructure, closing corporate tax loopholes and cutting taxes for the middle class. Other ideas are newer, such as providing incentives to corporations to increase profit-sharing with employees and changing labor laws to give workers more collective bargaining power.” This would be as close to a populist message as we could hope for, but can Clinton push through even a subset of these proposals with a Republican dominated Congress? Can her victory sweep in enough Dems to take back the Senate and soften the GOP majority in the House? At the moment, given the recent history and last election, that seems unlikely.
Early signs instead point to more of the same bipartisan bickering with little substantive work getting done. Obama has finally stood up to the Republicans in the past couple of months and passed some more progressive executive orders, but the battle over the budget and key economic policy loom in the near future, with a sense that the GOP will look to rebound from these post-wave reversals and assert their questionable “mandate.” The country looks on, hoping for a change that seems less likely than ever with four to eight more years of a Clinton administration, and an even dimmer outlook if she happens to lose. Another Clinton/Bush race, which is starting to look likely, really is déjà vu all over again, only worse …