“Maybe it’s the grandmother in me,” Hillary Clinton said Monday, “but I believe that part of public service is planting trees under whose shade you’ll never sit.”
The line, which can be attributed to a Canadian farmer named Nelson Henderson, came toward the end of Clinton’s economic address at The New School in Manhattan, but it neatly summarizes the entirety of her agenda.
It’s when Clinton is describing big-picture policies that she sounds most at ease. But when it comes to Hopes and Dreams and Everyday Americans, she sounds like latter-day Bruce Springsteen.
On his 2009 album Working on a Dream he sang of the “Queen of the Supermarket” who bags his groceries amid the “aisles and aisles of dreams.” You get the feeling, listening to the song, that Springsteen, however noble his intention to pay tribute to the average worker, has probably not set foot in a supermarket in a very, very long time.
Likewise Clinton uneasily meditated on the plight of “the single mom” but it wasn’t clear if this was one particular mom or a composite of many moms or just the proverbial single mom, or “the grandmother” who provides child care but can’t live on her paycheck, or “the young entrepreneur” who wants to buy a bowling alley, or the “millions of hardworking Americans [who] tell similar stories.”
In preparation for today’s speech, Clinton and her aides reportedly spent months consulting with over 200 domestic policy advisers, including Neera Tanden, an adviser for her 2008 White House bid, and two former Obama Administration aides: Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein.
Standing in front of 12 American flags at a Hillaryclinton.com-stamped lectern, Clinton spent 45 minutes making a series of ambitious policy promises to the packed West Village auditorium: higher incomes for the middle class through a change to the tax code to incentivize companies to “share profits with their employees”; the appointment of harsher bank regulators; “breaking down barriers” to get more Americans—“especially women”—into the workforce; increased investment in clean renewable energy; “comprehensive immigration reform”; and the reining in of “excessive risks on Wall Street.”
Clinton’s economic philosophy is preventive rather than prescriptive.
She criticized short-term fixes for financial woes and decried a business environment which emphasizes end-of-quarter numbers rather than overall health.
Clinton focused her fire at the Republican field, hitting Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Jeb Bush by name, and tearing into trickle-down policies which, she claimed, have consistently led to disasters that Democrats, including her husband, have been forced to bail the country out of. Her Democratic rivals went unacknowledged, but traces of their influence were everywhere.
She borrowed the Howard Beale rallying cries of Elizabeth Warren and her left-wing primary rival Bernie Sanders, but adapted them to fit her tamer message. (In May, when The New Yorker asked Warren if Clinton was co-opting her message, Warren responded, “Eh.”)
Whereas Warren declares “the game rigged,” Clinton said (as she has since her April announcement) that families feel “the deck is stacked.”
And the Sanders line, “If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist,” was edited to say the regulators she appoints will “understand that too big to fail is still too big a problem.”
Warren and Sanders have called for jail time for big bank CEOs who helped cause the financial crisis. Clinton tiptoed up to that line and then ran away scared.
“While institutions have paid large fines and, in some cases, admitted guilt,” Clinton said, “too often it has seemed that the human beings responsible get off with limited consequences or none at all, even when they’ve already pocketed the gains.” She continued, “This is wrong, and on my watch it will change.” How? She didn’t say, instead promising, as another Democratic Martin O’Malley did last week, that she would “rein in” Wall Street. “Over the course of this campaign,” she said, “I will offer plans to rein in excessive risks on Wall Street and ensure that stock markets work for everyday investors, not just high-frequency traders and those with the best or fastest connections.”