The middle class theme feels like setup for the general election. But there's a definite subtext being rolled out, and it's specifically geared for caucus season: defining Hillary as a progressive.
Clinton got tagged, perhaps unfairly, as the "moderate" in the endless 2008 nomination fight, and that tag has only been re-emphasized in the years since, for reasons not entirely her own fault. There was a strong correlation between state Clinton won in the primary and states where Democrats in general and the black president in particular have performed poorly in since. A Kentucky Democrat notes:
In late 2008, Hillary Clinton stumped in Pikeville, the county seat, because Democrats thought she could boost their U.S. Senate candidate and the president couldn’t. The airline hangar reserved for the rally was “packed to the gills,” recalled Combs, with people “pressed against the fence” to see the New York senator.
“I told her, I’m not sure we can win, because you’re not on the ballot, and that other guy—I stopped short of saying black guy—is,” remembered Combs. “If you were on the ticket, these people would come out.”
The Democrats ended up losing that Senate race. Their candidate, businessman Bruce Lunsford, won Pike County by 14 points. Barack Obama lost it by 14 points. And that was the best he’d ever do in Appalachia. In 2012, Mitt Romney, as culturally ill-fit to coal country as any Republican could be, took the county by a 50-point landslide.
Ugly, yes... but hardly Hillary's fault.
There are some real concerns, sure, on foreign policy and economics. Foreign policy was scarcely if at all mentioned on the Iowa visit, but there's a definite effort at economic rebranding.
The most obvious sign of this was the Time 100 piece. The magazine's list of "influential people" included progressive superstar Elizabeth Warren, the dream candidate of the left. And the profile is bylined, not at all accidentally, by Hillary Clinton:
Elizabeth Warren never lets us forget that the work of taming Wall Street’s irresponsible risk taking and reforming our financial system is far from finished. And she never hesitates to hold powerful people’s feet to the fire: bankers, lobbyists, senior government officials and, yes, even presidential aspirants.Two brief paragraphs, but the subject, and the byline, say a lot. Clinton makes her first visit to New Hampshire next week, and while it's modeled on the Iowa Scooby Trip, I won't be shocked if the Warren endorsement happens soon. I expect sooner rather than later, because Warren's star is peaking and the national press is already giving up on the idea Warren will run herself. The sooner the endorsement, the maximum the impact.
There's also the line, obviously Warren-influenced, in the announcement video and repeated on the stump: "the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top."
Charles Pierce at Esquire describes it all very colorfully:
I suspect the Senator Professor will do all she can to make Rodham Clinton president, and then all she can to make Rodham Clinton the kind of president she would like her to be. And, as for the candidate herself, all that talk about the game being "rigged" didn't exactly come out of the air.Another lefty darling, Clinton 42 Labor Secretary Robert Reich, while still offering a progressive policy critique, steps out of his way to praise Hillary personally:
The one thing that the Senator Professor understands that most of these people don't care to understand is that the interests of "average Americans" and the needs of "the business community" in the increasingly competitive global argle-bargle are in direct conflict, and will remain so as long as the "business community" continues to combine the essential patriotism of a potato blight with the business plan of the Barbary Pirates. She's already got them running scared. That can be a huge political weapon for the HRC campaign if they know how to use it correctly, a proposition that, admittedly, I make only 50-50 at this point.
Some wonder about the strength of her values and ideals. I don’t. I’ve known her since she was 19 years old, and have no doubt where her heart is. For her entire career she’s been deeply committed to equal opportunity and upward mobility.But it's not just being noted with personal impressions; Daily Kos is offering data.
Some worry she’s been too compromised by big money – that the circle of wealthy donors she and her husband have cultivated over the years has dulled her sensitivity to the struggling middle class and poor.
But it’s wrong to assume great wealth, or even a social circle of the wealthy, is incompatible with a deep commitment to reform – as Teddy Roosevelt and his fifth-cousin Franklin clearly demonstrated.
As it turns out, based upon her entire service in Congress, Hillary Clinton was the 11th most liberal member of the Senate in each of the 107th, 108th, 109th, and 110th Congresses. That places her slightly to the left of Pat Leahy, Barbara Mikulski and Dick Durbin; clearly to the left of Joe Biden and Harry Reid; and well to the left of moderate Democrats like Jon Tester, Blanche Lincoln, and Claire McCaskill.Likely rival Jim Webb scored in the same middle of the Senate range as Lincoln and McCaskill during the two years he and Clinton served together,which places him on the wrong end of the spectrum to be The Lefty Alternative. Another potential rival, Lincoln Chaffee, ranked as the most liberal Republican in 2005-06, which still put him to the right of any Democrat, but that was two whole party changes ago.
Clinton also scored left of Iowa icon Tom Harkin... but the leftmost is rumored rival (won't happen) Bernie Sanders.
Hillary knows the vulnerability comes from the left, which explains the careful courting of Warren. The Clinton message was being very carefully tested and fine tuned per-announcement, and "the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top" may be as rare as the steak gets.
My bet is the progressive push comes on social issues, as seen by this emphasis:
On Wednesday, Clinton's team clarified one stance she she will take: same-sex marriage is a constitutional right that should be legal in every state.Unfortunately for Clinton, the huge social shift on marriage equality, which has moved faster than any issue I've ever seen, accelerated while she was on furlough from domestic politics, so she seemed to be behind the curve. (Folks also remember that Clinton 42 signed DOMA in 1996.)
"Hillary Clinton supports marriage equality and hopes the Supreme Court will come down on the side of same-sex couples being guaranteed that constitutional right," campaign spokesperson Adrienne Elrod told The Washington Blade, referring to four cases on gay marriage the court is scheduled to hear later this month.
As for the economics, Clinton is trying to thread a narrow needle: offer the red meat, name names and place blame economics the left end of the party wants, while not alienating the high end of the donor base. And the high end is trying to get it...
“Everybody knows that income inequality is going to be a major issue in the campaign, and the vast majority of people who I know are supporting her agree that it needs to be addressed,” said one of Clinton’s leading donors in New York’s financial community. “She’s not saying that a hedge fund manager shouldn’t be making what they’re making. Just that someone in another job shouldn’t be making 300 times less.”...but not quite getting it. Still, like the coal country rednecks, that's not all under the candidate's control either.