About That Optimism Thing …
Watching the Democrats’ smoothly staged, potently scripted convention last week, voters could easily think that Hillary Clinton has this election in the bag.
The critiques of Donald Trump made devastatingly clear that he’s a preposterous, dangerous candidate for the presidency. The case for Clinton was compelling, and almost every party leader who mattered showed up to make it.
That included President Obama, who answered Trump’s shockingly gloomy vision of America with a stirring assurance that we have every reason to feel good. Clinton forcefully amplified that assessment. She peddled uplift, not anxiety.
But in 2016, is that the smarter sell? Are prettier words the better pitch?
They made for a more emotional, inspiring convention, so much so that many conservatives loudly grieved the way in which Democrats had appropriated the rousing patriotism and cando American spirit that Republicans once owned. But Trump has surrendered optimism to Clinton at precisely the moment when it’s a degraded commodity, out of sync with the national mood. That’s surely why he let go of it so readily.
Clinton has many advantages in this race. I wouldn’t bet against her. I expect a significant bounce for her in post-convention polls; an Ipsos/Reuters survey that was released on Friday, reflecting interviews spread out over the Democrats’ four days in Philadelphia, showed her five points ahead of Trump nationally among likely voters.
But she nonetheless faces possible troubles, and the potential mismatch of her message and the moment is a biggie. She has to exploit the opportunity of Trump’s excessive bleakness without coming across as the least bit complacent. That’s no easy feat but it’s a necessary one. The numbers don’t lie.
— The Trouble for Hillary, Frank Bruni, NYT, today
For a few weeks last winter, into the spring, I kept getting ads on my computer screen from the Clinton campaign asking that we “Tell Trump that America’s already great.” I don’t think I ever failed to groan or roll my eyes at that ad. It was vintage Clinton campaign—a campaign that struck me as never failing to go for the most obvious cliché or, worse, clichéd misinformation about Bernie Sanders’ policy proposals and statements.
They—certainly including Clinton herself—came off as campaign software algorithms. True to form.
It would have been fine to specify things about America that are great. Michelle Obama did that beautifully in her convention speech when she said she wakes up every morning in a home built by slaves, and followed that sentence or preceded it, if I recall, with a statement that America is great.
Her point being that a source of America’s greatness is ability to change in critically important and progressive ways.
And certainly Clinton makes the point, repeatedly, that America’s greatness is so largely because of its ethnic and racial mix, so much of it the result of immigration.
But Clinton undermines her chance to win the election when she just grabs the obvious slogan or generic retort rather than identifying specific areas in which we’re no longer so great: the near-complete end to the long era of social mobility; the downward mobility of many people; the near-complete end to the long era of shared economic gains, and the consequent spiraling, gaping inequality of wealth and of income; and the conversion of the political system from a largely democratic one to an entirely plutocratic one.
The policies in the party’s platform address these. I wish Clinton had mentioned those problems and then said, simply, that the party’s platform and additional ideas from her campaign and from Dems in Congress—Warren, Sanders, Sherrod Brown, Dick Durbin, Jeff Merkley, although she wouldn’t have had to name them—address these and do show the way toward further greatness.
Only just a week ago it appeared that Clinton’s decision to agree to a party platform incorporating so many of Bernie Sanders’ ideas, entirely or in part, was mainly lip service. Her campaign was sending clear signals of this, telling reporters that she was more interested in courting moderate Republicans than Sanders supporters, and suggesting that consequently triangulation would be more prevalent than progressiveness.
Her selection of Tim Kaine as her running mate signaled this, or seemed to anyway, and probably did all the way back 10 days ago. And clearly the courting of moderate Republicans was Bill Clinton’s desired direction; he himself is effectively one these days, after all. And his convention speech, to the extent that it suggested a policy direction, seemed to me to suggest that one.
But to the surprise of, I think, most political journalists and most progressives she appears instead to have flipped the script. It’s the view now of several high-profile commentators that Clinton at the last moment decided break from her norm and do the opposite of what she was expected to do because it’s what she always does: She offered lip service to the triangulators and a seemingly sincere promise to progressives that on much of domestic policy she’s now, genuinely, with them.
I think they may be right.
What if Clinton suddenly had an epiphany and realized three key things? One is that it is not just the Sanders supporters who almost all will vote for her no matter what because the alternative is appalling; it also is moderate Republicans who are likely to do so, almost irrespective of her policy positions. Another is that this is so of the big pro-corporate, pro-Wall Street donors, the ones who lean Democratic and usually donate to Dems, and the ones who are moderate corporate Republicans.
The third one is that most of the Sanders-induced platform planks aren’t actually radical, and are likely to spur a new wave social mobility, reduction of poverty, and a profoundly needed narrowing of wealth and income gaps. Making America great again, in other words.
And the planks are popular.
What Clinton may suddenly have realized, even if her husband has not, is that the Trump nomination accomplishes something no one thought possible: It effectively repeals Citizens United, if only for this one presidential election cycle. Clinton had assumed that she could take for granted progressives’ votes, because as a practical matter progressives have nowhere else to go. But since the regular moderate Democratic mega-donors, and moderate Republican ones too, similarly have nowhere else to go—the rabbit hole isn’t an inviting possibility—Clinton need not actually promise them anything, really, at all.
She may or may not feel liberated. But I’m sort of guessing that once this sinks in fully, she’ll feel not only liberated but elated. This is, after all, the strangest of election cycles. And that would be a very welcome bit of strangeness.
Bruni’s column goes on to illustrate, quite evocatively, the conflicting signals of Clinton’s campaign. His point, which he makes in spades, is that that itself needs to stop, because it’s self-defeating. But he comes down, clearly, on the side of warning against a campaign of continuity-with-a-bit-of-incrementalism.
Campaigning as a true progressive and really meaning it and putting her heart into it would mean cutting the political umbilical cord from her husband and so many of the Clintons’ tight circle. But the political and, here’s betting, the emotional reward to her would more than compensate for the loss of those crutches. She could truly become her own person, if that truly is who she now is. And oddly enough, she, and we, would have Donald Trump, of all people, to thank.
It will never end with you, will it?
“And I want to thank Bernie Sanders. Bernie, your campaign inspired millions of Americans, particularly the young people who threw their hearts and souls into our primary. You’ve put economic and social justice issues front and center, where they belong.
And to all of your supporters here and around the country: I want you to know, I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause. Our country needs your ideas, energy, and passion. That’s the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America. We wrote it together – now let’s go out there and make it happen together.
Full convention coverage »
My friends, we’ve come to Philadelphia – the birthplace of our nation – because what happened in this city 240 years ago still has something to teach us today.
We all know the story. But we usually focus on how it turned out – and not enough on how close that story came to never being written at all.
When representatives from 13 unruly colonies met just down the road from here, some wanted to stick with the King. Some wanted to stick it to the king, and go their own way. The revolution hung in the balance. Then somehow they began listening to each other … compromising … finding common purpose.
And by the time they left Philadelphia, they had begun to see themselves as one nation.
That’s what made it possible to stand up to a King. That took courage. They had courage. Our Founders embraced the enduring truth that we are stronger together.
America is once again at a moment of reckoning. Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart. Bonds of trust and respect are fraying.
And just as with our founders, there are no guarantees. It truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we all will work together so we all can rise together.”
HRC, July 28, 2016
It goes on.
Truly, truly sad.
“And I want to thank Bernie Sanders. Bernie, your campaign inspired millions of Americans, particularly the young people who threw their hearts and souls into our primary. You’ve put economic and social justice issues front and center, where they belong.
“And to all of your supporters here and around the country: I want you to know, I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause. Our country needs your ideas, energy, and passion. That’s the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America. We wrote it together – now let’s go out there and make it happen together.”
Well …YES. That’s my point. That she not only SAID it but, I think, MEANT it.
She surprised an awful lot of people with that.
What IS it with you? My point is really, really clear. Why did you miss it, entirely? Has Warren hacked your AB login?
You are a wonderful, trusting person. Me, not so much. When a politician says to a group that has proven it gives work and money, “I’ve heard you. . . .Let’s work together” with no actions to support the words, I think, “Oh, the ad campaign is now pulling out the ‘New and improved’ slogan.” This is especially true when the description of future action is so very platitudinous and vague.
I’ve long criticized the Democrats for offering laundry lists of programs rather than a narrative for the society, but I felt that Clinton offered neither. She spent a lot of time on “We’ll fix this together” but the whole vision was very individualistic.
Whatever party you belong to, or if you belong to no party at all, if you share these beliefs, this is your campaign. If you believe that companies should share profits with their workers, not pad executive bonuses, join us. If you believe the minimum wage should be a living wage… and no one working full time should have to raise their children in poverty… join us. If you believe that every man, woman, and child in America has the right to affordable health care…join us. If you believe that we should say “no” to unfair trade deals… that we should stand up to China… that we should support our steelworkers and autoworkers and homegrown manufacturers…join us. If you believe we should expand Social Security and protect a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions… join us. And yes, if you believe that your working mother, wife, sister, or daughter deserves equal pay… join us…
The specifics there are “living wage”, which I think is great, but does she think that $12/hour is a living wage? Given how big a disagreement the Sanders people had with the Clinton people over $15 vs. $12, shouldn’t she clarify if she means it? We’re all against unfair anything, including trade deals, but given that a big argument that TPP proponents make for the TPP is that it is important for dealing with China, which way is she whistling, or is she whistling whatever you want to hear on the TPP? Does she have an idea about how to make companies share profits with their workers? If so, why has she kept it a secret?
She gets more specific about plans to use the military as it has been used so far.
The other specific area is the usual, we’ll-solve-low-wages-with-education: after the middle-class kids will get free tuition, she says, College is crucial, but a four-year degree should not be the only path to a good job. We’re going to help more people learn a skill or practice a trade and make a good living doing it. And then goes on to starting your own business. I think the people who pick up my garbage and pick my food should make a good living, too.
This comment is already too long, so I won’t go on. But it bothers me if Clinton really thinks that what she has said constitutes the laying out of a “bold agenda.”
I’m talking just about domestic policy, not foreign policy. But I think what she’s trying to communicate is that she’s now very much on board the progressive train and will be very amenable to the economic-policy agenda of Sanders/Warren/Brown.
There are a couple of things in the platform that attempt to shift some corporate profits from top management to workers. One is a major change in tax policy concerning how executive bonuses are taxed. Another has to do with using tax law to make it much less inviting for corporations to use their profits to buy back stocks and to keep increasing dividends, and instead make it more attractive for them to increase investments and employee compensation.
Those are big deals. There also are pro-labor-union proposals.
The point of my post is that Clinton seems to have become a different politician in what her domestic policy goals as president would be, very suddenly and mostly within the the last 10 days or week or so. That’s because she genuinely fears a Ralph Nader-type situation and because she suddenly realizes that all her previous three decades of political experience and observation suddenly are passe, this is a new era, an economic-progressive one, and because Trump is the Repub nominee she’s actually free, donor-wise, to campaign as a progressive and actually be one if elected.
This is such a new realization for her that you can’t judge it on the basis of her generalities. She couldn’t possibly, just in the last few days, do much more on this than she has done.
But there’s more than three months of the campaign left. My take might be wrong, but it might be right.
I want to add that she’s mentioned a few times, seemingly with pride, that the platform does specify a $15/hr. minimum wage.
She spent more than a year priding herself on being an incrementalist and attacking Sanders as being unrealistic. She’s now campaigning on what is largely his agenda, because what was unrealistic for the last 35 years is now, in this suddenly dramatically changed political climate, realistic after all. And is being demanded by a substantial percentage of voters or potential voters.
” … genuinely fears a Ralph Nader-type situation … ”
Could be a bigger hook than you think. I read in a book —
The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 by Sam Pizzigati —
that FDR held back from going all out progressive until faced with potential populist competition from Huey Long whence he transformed into the FDR we remember today. And that, ditto, Truman did not go all out progressive until faced with the double threat of seceding Southern segregationist Democrats plus the threat of liberal competition from FDR’s vice president Henry Wallace drawing away votes forced him to put on his go for broke whistle stop campaign.
I think it was LBJ who said to Martin Luther King about civil rights legislation, “Make me do it!” There’s always some of that going on which the young progressives don’t seem to know. When they walk away because the powers that be don’t automatically align with their preferences, the 2010 midterms happen.
How true. We stop short of progress.
I had not dared to hope. I’m still not sure whether to trust my hope, given the way HRC has left me feeling betrayed in the past. Having reconciled myself to the fact that she must be elected, or rather, better put, to the fact that Rump must be destroyed, I sort of stopped paying attention to her. I have yet to watch her acceptance speech.
But I have had a sneaking feeling come over me in the last few weeks, which I just didn’t want to think about too much but you obviously have for me, that she might just be coming into her own. She will be elected. She is at the end of her career. She has accomplished her goal of being the first. This feeling of mine, which is more intuitive than rational, is that she is finally free to be herself. She did accept the Sanders platform. She did call to repeal Citizens United. She is influence by the likes of Gloria Steinem. I think she may have expressed to Elizabeth Warren her support for real action re Wall Street.
She is cautious by nature. She is a lousy campaigner but she recognizes, it you are right, that she needs to follow a game plan to win the election. She will always trim her sails, and I have no doubt, rationally, that she will find 100 ways to piss me off, but I trust my gut, and the surging power of progressives may just embolden her.
And as I write this, I get the feeling again not to allow myself to hope too much. Whatever happens, the choices have been made, and she is the only one in the entire world who stands between Trump and the Oval Office. We shall see….
Well before anyone gets too excited about Hillary’s possible move to the left, not only do you have to make sure that she wins the presidency but that the Dems make serious inroads in the House and Senate. Right now the Dems are coming up just short in the Senate and it would take a Hillary landslide to make progress in the House. I do not expect that GOP opposition to anything and everything a Democratic president proposes will be as intense with a white woman as it was with a black man, but I expect it will be unyielding when it comes to anything even slightly liberal. And to the extent that Dems do make in roads in Congress it is likely to be at the expense of the more moderate elements of the GOP. That being said, I am confident that if the left gives Hillary a Congress she can work with, that she will not hold it back. Even Bill did not start out as a moderate Republican–it was only after the GOP captured the House that he moved hard right.
The way to turn both houses of Congress Dem, as well as the White House, is for the now-high-profile, true lifelong progressives–Bernie, Eliz, Sherrod–and some less-well-known ones–Jeff Merkley, Dick Durbin, a couple of others–to campaign nationwide for Dems.
Bernie and Eliz both get a lot of press now, and their pointing out the specifics of the Dem platform–and say it will be enacted if the Dems control Congress and the White House could actually turn both houses of Congress Dem.
Remember: Warren played a large role in getting Bernie’s platform incorporated in the the Dem one to the extent that it did.
Here’s the thing about turning the House Dem: It actually won’t necessarily take a Clinton landslide to do it, because there are people in some states who will never vote for Clinton but who conceivable could vote Dem for Senate AND House member. The trick would be for Bernie and Eliz and Sherrod and Dick to Feingold (in Wisc.) to campaign for and with House candidates–but not have Clinton play any role.
“When they walk away because the powers that be don’t automatically align with their preferences, the 2010 midterms happen.”
how cute and revisionist and utterly wrong but probably popular amongst the emichaels of the world here. but keep telling yourself that is the reason. it’s tots adorbs.
The opening lines of the speech talk about how we need to put pur economic and social justice problems inf front of us and work together to solve them.
So your idea is to say we cannot solve them?
Cause I see nothing in the least optimistic in saying we have these problems and have to solve them. I do see optimism in saying we can solve them.
My idea is to say we cannot solve them? Excuse me?
What are you TALKING ABOUT? My idea is for her to be specific about the what currently is great about America, what used to be great but no longer is, and what could be great that never was great.
In other words, she should not just spout the America-is-still-great cliche cuz, y’know, patriotism. She should identify what is not great and how, fairly specifically, we can solve those problems or move closer to solve those problems, anyway.
I’m convinced that Warren has hacked EMichael’s AB account. Cuz Warren never understands what I’m saying. EMichael does.
if anyone has ever posted a more astute comment in these pages, I missed it. Well said, friend, well said indeed.
Here is your point. It is the same point you have made countless times over the last several months.
“Clinton undermines her chance to win the election when she just grabs the obvious slogan or generic retort rather than identifying specific areas in which we’re no longer so great: the near-complete end to the long era of social mobility; the downward mobility of many people; the near-complete end to the long era of shared economic gains, and the consequent spiraling, gaping inequality of wealth and of income; and the conversion of the political system from a largely democratic one to an entirely plutocratic one.”
You wanted her to give Bernie’s speech. It was not good enough for you to have her credit Sanders for making these, in her words, ” economic and social justice issues front and center”.
You wanted his speech. Anything less means you attack her.
With friends like these……..
Terry and Ms 57,
Notice what Clinton has said: But how are you going to get it done? How are you going to break through the gridlock in Washington? Look at my record. I’ve worked across the aisle to pass laws and treaties and to launch new programs that help millions of people. And if you give me the chance, that’s what I’ll do as President.
She was first lady and later senator in extraordinarily hostile congresses. She says she’ll do the same thing as president that she did in those positions. That’s a fair standard for evaluation.
Interesting how people uncomfortable with history deny it and call it revisionist.
“My idea is to say we cannot solve them? Excuse me?
What are you TALKING ABOUT? ”
What am I talking about? I am talking about your criticism of her speech which contains two parts in this area.
That there are economic and social issues we need to solve. You agree with that.
Then she says we must work together to solve them.
Simple math says if you disagree with her speech, then you have to disagree with one of those two things.
Um, my criticism was the same as Bruni’s: America is great; America is great; America is great! We don’t need to make it great AGAIN; it never STOPPED being great.
Message: Sure, we have problems. But they have nothing to do with a CHANGE in certain things in America. Which is ridiculous if you’re message also says that social mobility has all-but-halted; that incomes for all but the very top have stagnated, for nearly two decades now; that well-paying manufacturing jobs have been eliminated en masse; that the replacement service jobs pay about half that and have no benefits; that unlike in the past, no one but the upper middle class can afford to send their kids to their state universities, and if they do their kids graduate with massive debt; that politics is now a plutocracy (unlike in the old days); etc., etc.
Which was Bruni’s point, and mine.
Terry is right about Congress. If a Republican majority exists in either chamber it will be a significant problem and if they retain both chambers most – maybe all – of what Clinton proposes legislatively will never happen until that changes. I live in a solidly Republican House district, but just a couple of hundred yards from a district that went Democratic in 2008 and reverted in 2010. I see no energy yet in trying to reclaim it. Short of waiting for the 2020 census and hoping that the state-level parties are in better shape to redistrict (or some politically motivated migrating between districts), to me the quick hit for more competitiveness in the House probably is to somehow make it easier for faithful Catholics to vote Democratic. I know many were happy when the “Stupak” group got voted pretty much out of existence, but that coincided with a Republican House that still was pretty comfortable even in 2012 with the President’s reelection. About the Hyde Amendment: yeah the party as it is composed today supports repealing it, but it is quite possible that the incremental votes in the House needed to do it would come from winning more districts that just would not support that. Stupak and company were part of a Democratic majority that passed vital legislation and that their replacements are certainly uninterested in. Were Pelosi still the Speaker, so you think the Senate’s immigration bill would have just gather dust? Maybe fear of Trump will provide all the coattails needed, but not winning Congress back is a real big problem,
The idea that you and Bruni somehow have seen complacency in HRC’s speech is beyond me.
You should probably read it again. Though I doubt you will pay attention to the parts that do not coincide with your hatred for Clinton nor your grief over Sanders’ loss.
you refer to good liberals like Merkely
he may be a good liberal, but like all my other representatives he is unreachable by the unwashed masses like me.
i don’t think you are going to solve anything in America as long as those in office keep their fingers in their ears or conclude, without hearing them, that any mere citizen who has something to say is probably a crank and they can’t waste their time on them.
let me add peter defazio to this comment: one of the most liberal folk in the congress… but trying to contact him or even a member of his staff who deals with Social Security is literally a joke.
Dale, having lived in one or another fairly large state all my life, I well know how remote senators and representatives of large or midsize states are. I don’t remember ever actually trying to contact one with a constituent-services issue, but I’m pretty sure I would have had no way to contact any of them if I’d tried.
I’m talking about getting particular major laws or changes to laws through Congress that liberals care about, and certainly keeping Republican ones from being enacted, not constituent services.
that’s funny as hell. Mekely had one of his aides contact me. It took the aide two weeks to realize I wasn’t asking for help getting my social security check. i never did get him to understand that i was trying to let Merkely know that SS could be paid for with 80 cents per week.
I am sure I could get someone from deFazio’s office to contact me if i wanted constituent services. but since I want to ask the congressman to have the SSA actuaries score a proposal to close the SS actuarial deficit, all I get is a comic runaround.
I did get I nice form letter thanking me for my interest in the new mental health bill. I think it was meant as a joke.