Hillary’s Pitch to Progressives Overshadowed by Her Silence on Trade

Hillary Clinton’s campaign put on a beautifully staged event yesterday in a speech replete with progressive themes and throwbacks to FDR. Clinton has been eager to sound a progressive populist note, in part to mitigate challenges on her ostensible left from Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley.

Much of the rhetoric of the speech was decent, but it tended to hammer on the usual mainstream Democratic themes:

Mrs. Clinton specified policies she would push for, including universal prekindergarten, paid family leave, equal pay for women, college affordability and incentives for companies that provide profit-sharing to employees. She also spoke of rewriting the tax code “so it rewards hard work at home” rather than corporations “stashing profits overseas.” She did not detail how she would achieve those policies or address their costs.

This is all boilerplate center-left stuff, but it didn’t address actually definancializing the economy or disincentivizing Wall Street profiteering. There’s a big difference between promising a range of safety net programs to help struggling Americans, and actually increasing taxes and regulations on the profiteering sectors of the economy.

More importantly, however, Clinton’s speech was notable for what it lacked: any mention of the trade deals that have been the subject of so much infighting in Washington. For a campaign seeking to pivot to a bold progressive stance, the failure to even mention the subject that is most animating progressive activism today was yet another reminder of how careful Clinton’s instincts are and how stage-managed her campaign is. It also does little to bridge the trust gap between her and much of the progressive base.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders was not so shy, saying that the “good side won on trade.” Martin O’Malley also stated his opposition to TPP long ago.

No matter how much FDR-style symbolism the Clinton campaign tries to adopt, the proof of her genuineness will come when she actually takes a stand on the tough things, rather than rehashing the same warmed over center-left proposals.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.