Clarion calls from Roosevelt Island

Hilary Clinton’s first official campaign rally kicked off this past Saturday at Roosevelt Island to a crowd of over 5,000. Speaking in the heart of the East River, Clinton undoubtedly seems to have found a new way to pitch herself to a skeptical but nonetheless interested public. In 2008, Clinton saw herself as a (White) working-class hero whose strategy was to cast herself as the stable and serious candidate as opposed to the flashy and youthful Barack Obama who would go on to become the Nation’s 44th President. This time around, Clinton seems to have gotten the message that the Democratic Party is trending liberal, as evidenced by her invoking the populist intonations of FDR.

Because income inequality is now a staple of the Democratic Party, she ensured that it was an issue that she would devote a significant amount of attention to, hence the following quote: “[p]rosperity can’t be just for CEOs and hedge fund managers. Democracy can’t be just for billionaires and corporations…”. She also touched on how the gains from the ends of the Great Recession have mostly gone to the wealthiest in our nation, as well as regaling the audience with stories of her mother who understood poverty and struggle. While there has been recent exaggerations made of Clinton’s supposed “endorsement” of the push for a $15 minimum wage increase, there is in fact no evidence that she said the exact number she would raise the federal minimum wage to would be $15.00. She has certainly endorsed a raise in the minimum wage, and would likely be a supporter of the $10.10 increase that was proposed by President Obama and Senate Democrats last year.

There were other moments where she signaled her acceptance of the recent strength the progressive wing of of the Democratic Party, where she also endorsed “paid family leave, implementing equal pay legislation and protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination in the workplace.” The one issue that was not touched on in Clinton’s speech, which was quickly noted by her strongest challenger Bernie Sanders (current U.S. Senator from Vermont), was the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal currently being negotiated in Congress. There has been vocal and strident opposition to the trade deal from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, while Republicans in the House have been mostly supportive (191 out of 234 House GOP members voted in favor of it last Friday).

Plenty of other issues were touched on in Clinton’s speech. Clinton took on Republican’s penchants for low-taxes and deregulation of business and the environment, how the threat of anthropogenic climate change is real and needs to be ameliorated, and how the Affordable Care Act has been beneficial to millions of Americans. Clinton also assailed the GOP for its increased attempts to curtail reproductive rights, their desires to deport undocumented immigrants (Clinton has fully embraced a path to citizenship for undocumented workers who have been in the country for a significant length of time) and their opposition to same-sex marriage (although younger GOP voters are changing drastically on this issue, per it be legislated by the States). All this is an indication that she sees the new Democratic voter coalition (i.e. mixed-races, youthful, trending particularly liberal on social issues) as her path to the White House. She also lambasted Congress for its lack of productivity, although even if she does win the Presidency that inactivity is likely to continue without a significant change of the make-up of the House of Representatives.

Speaking of poverty, equal rights and the economy will continue to keep Clinton at the head of the pack for the foreseeable future. However, Senator Bernie Sanders has electrified the Clinton opposition and will continue to do so. The bad news for Clinton is that Senator Sanders has invigorated support from the youth and very liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The good news for Clinton is that she has spoken on a much wider variety of issues than Senator Sanders has. While Senator Sanders has made the country’s billionaires his prime target, Clinton has zeroed in on Republicans as her primary target. Not to mention she has spoken about issues like immigration and the need to reinstate all pillars of the Voting Rights Act (section 5 of this legislation was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court one year ago), which appeal to the coalition that brought a victory to President Obama in 2008 and 2012. Time will tell how Clinton handles the e-mail server scandal and the questionable donations accepted by the Clinton Foundation. But one thing is for sure: Clinton saw the success of her husband’s speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and is eager to learn from it by mixing folksiness with wonk-laden policy prescriptions.

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