HRC’s Lost Progressive Legacy

At The Nation, Michelle Goldberg offers a important service for the young and the amnesiac, in a piece that reminds us that her perceived “shift to the left” in the current campaign actually puts her where she’s mostly been in her public career: in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

Yes, she took her husband’s last name and generally muted her feminism in Arkansas after his shocking re-election defeat in 1980, and gave up her public-interest law career to make ends meet (Arkansas governors were the worst-paid in the country). Yes, she brought Dick Morris (who in turn brought Mark Penn) into the White House after the 1994 debacle, blamed by many on her pursuit of universal health coverage. Yes, she broke with her mentor Marian Wright Edelman (and her husband, White House staffer Peter Edelman), over welfare reform. And yes, as a U.S. Senator, she treated Wall Street as a home-state constituency and voted for the Iraq War. But she was and remained more progressive than most of the people she worked with at every stop. That’s been forgotten to an amazing degree.

[I]n a historical irony, Hillary Clinton now needs to convince progressives that she really is who she was once widely believed to be. She is running for president as a progressive feminist, something that would have been utterly quixotic when she entered public life. In a major address on the economy in July, Clinton emphasized the importance of women’s equality in a way that no mainstream candidate has done before, describing equal pay, accessible childcare, and fair scheduling as key to economic growth. She’s making paid leave a signature issue. “I am well aware that for far too long, these challenges have been dismissed by some as ‘women’s issues,’” she said. “Well, those days are over.”

It was thrilling language. Yet after spending so many decades trying to shed her reputation for liberalism, Clinton has amassed a record that many on the left find troubling, if not unforgivable.

Many others find her record ambiguous, and hope her current progressive positioning sticks. Some are going so far as to boost Bernie Sanders’ candidacy to “keep Hillary honest”–a term that begs the question of who HRC honestly is.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.