Sunday, April 12, 2015

Clinton Announcement: The Left Wants Something

I almost feel like I have nothing to add to the massive politico-journalistic navel gazing that's accompanying Hillary Clinton's SHOCKING announcement that yes, in fact, she IS running for president.

I'm still waiting for the BIG newsworthy announcement: Just where and when is that first Iowa event?

(UPDATE: And of course the release lands five minutes after my post. Monticello Tuesday for the Cedar Rapids media market.  Norwalk Wednesday for the Des Moines market. Both events mid-day, both events look geared for "regular folks" in contrast with the O'Malley-Webb visits to county party fundraisers. Two days in the state for two public events likely means clutch events late Tuesday in CR and early Wednesday in Des Moines.)

But after some thought, I think I may have an angle here.

I've been branded as "establishment" by a few, but I still think of myself as part of the left of the Democratic Party. I am, after all, a Johnson County Democrat.  And my thought on the Whole Big Thing of the Clinton candidacy is: The left wants... something.

I can't articulate exactly WHAT, but let's look at economic messages for a moment.

As you likely know, the first 3/4 of the video is, on purpose, Regular Folks, including some Iowans. Once Hillary finally shows up 1:30 in, she says:
Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times. But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion. So you can do more than just get by. You can get ahead, and stay ahead. Because when families are strong, America is strong.

Clinton is offering a slightly Warrenized version of "good jobs at good wages." It's very appealing to soft Ds and general election voters, and on its face it's not bad. But "the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top" is as strong as it gets, and even that, I suspect, reflects a Warren influence (in advance of a likely endorsement which I expect is scheduled for the first New Hampshire visit).

It also reflects the kinds of focus grouping a lot of us Iowa Democrats heard on three separate message testing calls. By the third call, the message seemed focused on stronger family leave and day care, and raising middle class wages, but the rhetoric was void of torches and pitchforks.

In contrast, here's the initial response from Bernie Sanders to the Clinton announcement:

I specify "initial" because the tweet was quickly deleted and replaced with a message that did not name Clinton directly, but kept the same villains.
Very interesting that Sanders kept the message but retracted the name. Even as Jim Webb and Martin O'Malley crisscrossed the state this weekend, there weren't by-name attacks on the strongest non-incumbent frontrunner since General Grant.

(Clinton aides noted pre-announcement that, other than native son Tom Harkin, no candidate who was not an incumbent POTUS or Veep had cracked 50% in Iowa. That's really lowballing it in this case.)

No, the only one Democrat who seems willing to attack Clinton by name is Lincoln Chaffee, whose surprising expression of interest in the race Friday focused on foreign policy in general and the Iraq War vote in particular. (Jennifer Jacobs noted that in her post-rollout piece: "Some anti-war Iowans will never forgive Clinton for her "yes" vote 12 years ago in favor of going to war in Iraq, several activists said.")

But here's a sample of O'Malley's style:

Note the difference. Clinton is offering a program but Sanders and O'Malley are casting blame. Wall Street. Billionaires. A conservative Supreme Court. "Grotesque levels of wealth inequality" is a much angrier statement than "the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top."

And that's what I sense the left end of the Democrats are hungry for: a rhetoric that blames, or, in CCI-speak, "holds them accountable."

And maybe Clinton can do that. Probably not on foreign policy, and maybe not on economics. Maybe, on social-cultural issues, she can find the right words, the right facet of the record, to persuade enough of the Democratic left to undercut the opposition.

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