Finding the Narrative for Hillary
by Deacon Blues
I’ve been less than impressed at the initial stages of a likely Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016. She was rusty on the early parts of the book tour, and even the recent appearances like at Tom Harkin’s last Iowa Steak Fry last weekend came across more as detached, regal appearances than those of someone comfortable in her skin and with the electorate. Having said that, Hillary is who she is, and asking someone in her sixties to remake herself into something she isn’t is a fool’s errand.
For his part Chris Matthews thinks Hillary will start in the middle and stay there, while assuming the base will eventually be there for her after she has taken advantage of the current state of the GOP to lock down the middle and independent voters. Her progressive critics assert she is an elitist, too close to Wall Street to credibly campaign as a progressive or populist leader. Even if she did start her campaign as a progressive, her critics would dismiss such moves as simply a move to the base for the primary campaign, to be followed by the inevitable move back to the center for the general election, to reveal as they would certainly say her true colors.
However, my own advice given her unique advantages would be to campaign on what she is: a female candidate committed to fighting injustice at home and seasoned enough to realistically pursue stability and freedom overseas. She’s already sending signals today that despite what her progressive critics think of her, she in fact plans to push for a focus on the midterms and women’s issues, and use her impending grandmother status as an opportunity to frame the debate around “family”. To further this along, and to deal with legitimate criticisms that she has yet to provide a narrative for why she’s running, I’d suggest starting with something overly simple, and building her policy preferences from there like hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree: “Growth and Justice at home; Stability and Freedom abroad.”
“Growth and Justice at Home” allows Hillary to focus on many issues. Under just the “justice” part of that narrative, she could emphasize equal pay, a living wage, affordable child care, Supreme Court-sanctioned gender discrimination (Hobby Lobby), the Violence Against Women act, immigration reform, improving Obamacare, calling out GOP and SCOTUS efforts to destroy voting rights, and attacking a political and judicial system that pays more attention to Wall Street than Main Street. A focus on “growth” rather than income inequality wouldn’t please her progressive critics, but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t make strong arguments for tax reform that favors fairness and job creation here at home, and not preferential treatment for the 1%. This could also include taking fresh looks at how to approach climate change through tax swaps. She can talk up infrastructure banks and reinvigorated incentives for R & D. No, it isn’t a frontal assault on the wealthy and income inequality, but it gets to the same place in a nonthreatening manner that locks up a mandate to act.
A foreign policy based on “Stability and Freedom” reflects Hillary’s more hawkish world view, but more importantly reflects a more realistic view of the world than Obama and his team. Whereas Obama and his team rightly wanted to move the country back from the Bush/Cheney reckless adventurism, they went too far into inaction and disengagement, and into “light footprints”. The administration’s foreign policy has never come from Foggy Bottom, no matter how much Hillary’s critics try and smear her. Although the country does not want more wars or a replay of Iraq all over again, they also do not want to leave the world stage and be isolationist punching bags. They don’t mind a tough and smart outward posture, but also feel that we can’t fix the world’s problems. The last several years have shown that stable regimes making gradual progress are better allies than failed states. Progressives may not like a focus on stability but there is no virtue in instability either. “Don’t do stupid sh*t” makes it too easy for liberal intellectuals to smugly withdraw while telling others to fix their own problems. Whether we like it or not, most of the world looks to us to stay engaged and push for gradual progress. After building up some bona fides with world leaders, Hillary unlike other likely 2016 candidates can credibly say she is best equipped to have America lead once again, and best equipped to seize opportunities even with unlikely partners.