The Democratic frontrunner has reportedly selected the two themes she plans to emphasize in her presidential campaign but seems unconcerned that the twin goals contradict one another.
The March 23 headline in the New York Times proclaimed “Hillary Clinton Tests Two Themes for 2016: Working Together and Inequality.” Laura Meckler reports on a panel discussion at the left-leaning Center for American Progress in which the former Secretary of State “road-tested the two themes likely to shape her pitch to the voters in the 2016 presidential campaign.”
One of those messages naturally emphasized the long-standing pitch of the Democratic Party, certain to be emphasized in any liberal political campaign: that “income inequality is a persistent problem” requiring sweeping and urgent aggressive federal action. “A lot of our cities are truly divided,” Mrs. Clinton lamented. “They have some of the most dynamic, well-educated, affluent people in the world, and people who are trapped in generational poverty.”
The second theme discerned by the New York Times would offer a more novel note to the Clinton campaign: an emphasis on ending Washington gridlock and working together across all partisan and ideological lines.
Of course, Barack Obama rose to prominence on the slogan that rather than “red states” and “blue states” we remained, truly, “the United States of America.” But as a candidate and more importantly as president he has hardly emphasized that goal or made successful efforts to overcome Washington’s polarization. Hillary Clinton apparently means to differentiate herself by stressing her ability to work even with those who passionately disagree with her. She told the Center for American Progress that we must “get out of the kind of very unproductive discussion that we’ve had for too long, where people are just in their ideological bunkers, have arguments instead of trying to reach across those divides and have some solutions.”
What she fails to acknowledge is that addressing her first goal – income inequality – requires efforts at redistribution and that governmental fights over who gets what, and who pays for it, make it harder, not easier, to work together. Typically, liberal politicians mean to level incomes by taking more from the privileged and using those resources for governmental programs that will somehow increase resources for the poor and middle class. In their worldview, society must always play a zero sum game: progress for one segment of the country means sacrifice for another. An effort to divert resources from those who earned them and to assign them to those who didn’t, hardly represents the right vehicle for ending bitter divisions in Congress or in our politics.
This leaves a major opening for conservative candidates for president to touch on the twin themes Hillary has apparently selected in a more credible and less contradictory way. Yes, there appears to be a national longing to reform the bickering and dysfunction that too frequently paralyze Washington, and there is also growing concern over the ability of the poor and the middle class to improve their status – “the right to rise,” as Jeb Bush describes it in his nascent campaign.