She’s a millionaire, jet-setting diplomat with one of the most recognizable last names in the country. She’s got a public speaking career that pays her six figures per hour, wrote a book for which she received a $14 million advance, and, as a hobby, has a foundation that allows her to flit across the globe to hobnob with billionaires and world leaders. She’s lived the type of life where “dead broke” means you have a $1.7 million home in Chappaqua, NY, and a $2.85 million home near Embassy Row in Washington, D.C.
Nobody should begrudge her success. She has taken advantage of every opportunity that presented itself and, in many ways, created her own luck (and her own misfortune). But her background belies the notion that she is somehow the “champion for everyday Americans.” American voters are often looking for a candidate that they can sit down and have a beer with. Hillary seems like the kind of candidate who would first need to talk with her sommelier.
She also appears to be having similar trouble fully embracing what it means to try and be both liberal and pro-middle class. That job is made all the more difficult because her campaign is largely being backed by the financial industry and corporate interests, which are generally anathema to the Main Streeters she’s courting. True, she’s recently made some pointed comments about income inequality and some questionable comments about how the economy works (“Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs,” Clinton said recently) that are meant to position her as the populist candidate for liberal voters.
But nobody really takes that Clinton seriously, especially her friends on Wall Street whom she has rubbed elbows with for years . William Cohan writes for POLITICO:
Down on Wall Street they don’t believe it for a minute. While the finance industry does genuinely hate Warren, the big bankers love Clinton, and by and large they badly want her to be president. . . To them, she’s someone who gets the idea that we all benefit if Wall Street and American business thrive. What about her forays into fiery rhetoric? They dismiss it quickly as political maneuvers. None of them think she really means her populism.
According to a wide assortment of bankers and hedge-fund managers I spoke to for this article, Clinton’s rock-solid support on Wall Street is not anything that can be dislodged based on a few seemingly off-the-cuff comments in Boston calculated to protect her left flank.
It came as little surprise then that it took Clinton so long to thread the eye of the middle-class needle. A recent New York Times article titled “Economic Plan is a Quandary for Hillary Clinton’s Campaign” described her attempt to gather “advice from more than 200 policy experts” on how to “address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy.” Translation: How to appear populist enough to not lose primary votes to a Warren-style candidate while maintaining the robust donor support from Wall Street banks.
As of now the outcome looks like a sloppily-pasted together mix of policy ideas aimed at growing her voting base, not the economy. Ramesh Ponnuru writes for National Review:
This is a Clintonian mix of some reasonable ideas (like pro-work tax policy, profit-sharing, and trade promotion) and some familiar liberal hobbyhorses, which in many cases contradict one another. A higher minimum wage would undermine employment, for instance, while an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit would reinforce it. More broadly, the bulk of these policies would increase consumption at the expense of investment while others seek to drive greater investment to promote growth. Coherence is not the goal of these proposals, however. They are designed to appeal to voters both by offering a plausible-sounding description of contemporary problems and by offering tangible benefits to wide swathes of the public.
The problem is that Clinton’s ideas, at least the ones she’s touted so far, are not plausible. There is no good way to bring back the glory days of labor unions, while also fostering broad-based wage and job growth in a global economy. Focusing on child care tax credits encourages only one solution (institutional child care) to one subset of those in need (two earner families). And the complete lack of a health care agenda—other than propping up the Affordable Care Act—ignores the fact that many Americans have been burdened by the law.
If her answers to what ails the middle class ring hollow perhaps it’s because it’s been so long since she walked a day in their shoes. Perhaps a few more days in the cornfields of Iowa rather than the galas of New York City will move her toward a true plan for the middle class. Or maybe she’ll just fakes it ‘til she makes it and hope no one is the wiser