What is Hillary running for? What is the “big idea” around which she intends to form her campaign for president? This is a good question, but for one Politico columnist, Hillary is offering no answers, at least not yet. But it does look like Hillary is starting to lean toward a left-wing populism, perhaps foreshadowing her main issue for 2016.
Politico’s David Nather is wondering where Hillary’s “big idea” is in his latest column, but he notes that anyone looking won’t find it in her recent book.
This is interesting in that most pre-election political books are published for the central purpose of presenting the candidate’s “big idea.” One of the most famous examples of that is Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative, a book that not only laid out the candidate’s conservative vision but formed the basis for the “big ideas” of a whole generation of conservatives.
Hillary’s book, Nather notes, has nothing by way of big campaign themes.
“But if Clinton has a big idea for 2016, the book–all 596 pages of it–is not the place to look for it,” Nather says. He continues, “any campaign has to have a big idea it’s wrapped around, and that means Clinton still has to spell one out,” something he maintains she has yet to attempt.
Nather also reports that those close to Hillary say her book should not be thought of as a campaign book even though her book tour has all the trappings of a campaign swing.
Nather says, “policy advisers who are close to the Clintons argue that the book doesn’t really break new ground for her–even in the few policy discussions that go beyond her record as secretary of state–so it shouldn’t be seen as a road test for 2016 ideas.”
In the last month, though, we have learned that Hillary makes well over $200,000 per speech even as she claims she don’t really get that money because she “donates” it to her own Clinton charity.
Yet, despite these many times Hillary has appeared tone deaf over the last month by claiming she and Bill are “dead broke,” Nather says that Hillary might be going toward the left-wing populist idea of “income inequality” as a campaign theme.
So, Nather thinks Hilary might be leaning toward making “income inequality” the tent pole around which she will build her campaign. He also says that the issue is the “populist” one for liberals today.
“Income inequality, however, has been an increasingly important part of Clinton’s speeches,” Nather says, “as the topic has gained importance among Democrats–not just Obama but other liberal stars like Sen. Elizabeth Warren.”
In a Facebook video promoting the book, Clinton said the nation needs to deal with the “cancer of inequality.” And in a recent speech to the New America Foundation, Clinton talked about how the well-being of families–and the strength of community institutions like schools, churches and civic organizations–help determine how many people can build comfortable lives.
And in a terrific moment of irony, Hillary’s new populism showed up in her speech to the Aspen Ideas Festival–a convention teeming with affluent, out-of-touch liberals:
Clinton sounded a populist tone, saying Americans should “feel they have a stake in the future and that the economy and political system is not stacked against them.” But she also spoke to more general, middle-class anxieties: “Of course, you have to work hard. Of course, you have to take responsibility. But we’re making it so difficult for people who do those things to feel that they’re going to achieve the American dream.”
So the ultra-rich Hillary Clinton will drive leftward and attack “the rich” as an evil force keeping the poor down even as she rakes in millions a year.
The success of her gambit to left-wing populism, though, might be problematic. The Obama administration was recently revealed to have back-pedaled from just this theme when its internal polling found it a dud issue with voters.
Nather makes another salient point, saying that going all-in on economic themes assumes that “Clinton will be able to shake off the tone-deafness she has shown on the book tour with comments like the one she made about being ‘dead broke’–and the Clintons’ struggle to buy ‘houses’–and later, her insistence that the Clintons ‘pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off.'”
With her recent public relations debacles, Hillary just might have a tough time being taken seriously if she makes “income inequality” her central theme.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.