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Hillary Clinton’s stand on issues makes her a centrist looking left
Hillary Clinton has herself to blame at least in part for the news media covering extraneous issues in the early stages of her campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. She has said hardly a word about her positions on the issues. There is nothing about her platform on either of her two campaign websites, hillaryclinton.com and readyforhillary.com, or on her Facebook page. In speeches, we get brief tidbits, but nothing substantive.
In a sense, Hillary is saying, “You know who I am and what my capabilities are,” and there is a certain logic to this approach. Let’s start with the reality of the situation: a number of serious constraints have always prevented presidents from veering from the basic direction in which the country is headed—the courts, the legislature and the continuing federal government that goes about its job of running things no matter who is the boss.
Thus, our presidential candidates can be—and usually are—evaluated not just in terms of their political and social stances, but also on their ability to manage the processes of government. And when it comes to the criteria that define an effective chief executive, there are few candidates in American history as qualified as Hillary, at least on paper:
By focusing on Hillary the person, I believe the campaign wants to communicate that Hillary is the most competent presidential candidate around, regardless of one’s political positions. They want us to encapsulate all the positive personality traits and management skills a president needs into one brand name, Hillary!
The subtext of focusing on Hillary the person (read: the celebrity) is the assumption that we all know what the former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady stands for.
Not immediately presenting a complete platform thus postpones the inevitable intra-party clashes, e.g., between those who favor the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, such as Hillary herself, and those who worry that it gives corporations the right to sue countries; and between those who embrace charter schools, again like Hillary, and those who see them as subtle attempts to destroy public unions. Moreover, there can be little doubt that even if Hillary had opened with a full program, Republicans and the rightwing media would still be wallowing in a mud bath of hysterical accusations and bold-faced lies about her. The frenzied and rabid opposition to the Clintons consists primarily of accusations regarding their character flaws. Perhaps to battle this constant character assassination explains why the early campaign message is that Hillary is competent, ethical, caring, effective, flexible and…Well, you know…She’s Hillary!
Whether clever or foolish, Hillary’s campaign rollout certainly frustrates those of us who want the campaign to be about issues. At a certain point, she will have to release a formal platform. But for the time being, we have only her past comments to go on in analyzing what President Hillary might have in store for the country.
But politicians often change their mind, and for a variety of reasons: subsequent events prove them wrong, they get new information, they see the country moving towards a new consensus on an issue, new events embolden them to move further in a certain direction, they are corrupted by cronies and contributors. Only this last example is problematic. Whatever the reason a politician changes her/his mind, the fact of frequent change makes depending on past statements a dubious means of guessing where a candidate stands today.
With that caveat in mind, I plunged into cyberspace to cull from Hillary’s recent comments what her probable stands will be on the biggest issues of the campaign. I based most of this analysis on comments she has made since 2014 or comments she has made so many times that she would be hard-pressed to move very far from her past position. I depended to a large degree but not entirely on the very thorough and accurate nonpartisan website, ontheissues.org, which breaks down how all the potential candidates for either major party’s nomination stand on a large number of issues.
Before presenting the detail, let me sum up what we can say about Hillary Clinton’s probable platform: on social and domestic issues not involving unions, she will follow Elizabeth Warren’s lead, which should make progressives happy. On homeland security, foreign policy, military policy and trade policy, she will continue Obama’s initiatives in virtually every way, which is not such good news for the left.
Now for the detail:
Hillary is a long-time supporter of charter schools and has said she wants to link teachers’ pay to performance, but do it by school and not by individual teacher. These sound like anti-union moves that do nothing to address the real problems facing public education: resource shortages and large class sizes.
She is both for limiting emissions worldwide and for investment by wealthier nations to mitigate the effects of global warming on the most vulnerable nations.
Hillary will probably be a little quicker to send in troops and bombs than Obama was, but will have essentially the same policy. She tends to be hawkish on specific issues:
Hillary has been an outspoken supporter of expansion of the national firearms registry and on placing more controls on gun sales and who can buy and carry a gun.
We know she has long been in favor of universal coverage. We can expect that she will want maintain and perhaps extend the Affordable Care Act.
She supports immigration reform that helps immigrants, by which I think we can assume illegal immigrants, judging from her comments.
Hillary has always supported maintaining and extending aid to the poor and the elderly. Her stands are particularly significant in light of the frequent calls of all the potential Republican candidates for cutting benefits to the poor.
Her past positions do not bode well for civil libertarians. Hillary voted for the misbegotten Patriot Act and its renewal and disapproved of Edward Snowden’s actions.
She opposes privatization and is in favor of raising the cap on how much earnings are taxed for Social Security purposes, which places her left of President Obama. She also stands in stark contrast to every Republican candidate, all of whom want to privatize Social Security and cut benefits.
She supports gay marriage and a woman’s right to control her own body, which again, contrasts with every Republican candidate. She wants to see how marijuana legalization works in Washington and Colorado and is skeptical of the relative lack of research on medical uses.
Taken as a unity, these stands make Hillary Clinton a centrist looking left, a contemporary version of Washington State’s long-time Senator, Henry “Scoop” Jackson.
It’s quite possible that a majority of Democratic voters are more progressive than Hillary, but Pew, Gallup and other polls suggest that a majority of Democrats and independents taken together pretty much agree with Hillary on most things. Additionally, on domestic matters the gap between Hillary and the most left-leaning of the 2016 crew of Republican stalwarts is far greater than the difference between Hillary and the progressive edge of the Democratic Party, which I define as New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio.
Over the course of the next 18 months, I’m sure that Hillary Clinton will say many things that piss off progressives. She will particularly disappoint the left on issues related to unions, defense, national security and homeland security. But everything that every Republican running for president will say will also piss off progressives—and frighten us, too.
copyright 2015 Marc Jampole