Pragmatic Hillary versus Bernie the dreamer

Like her husband, Hillary Clinton is the most pragmatic of politicians.

In winning the election in 1992, President Bill Clinton, recognizing he could not push too hard against the nation’s turn to the right during the Reagan presidency, ushered in the golden age of the New Democrats, centrist in philosophy and ideologically malleable.

President Clinton placed the First Lady in charge of framing a national health care plan then deftly dropped it when the potential political damage became clear. He adopted welfare reform and tough-on-crime policies that shook the party’s progressive wing and signed into law a North American Free Trade Agreement in the face of strong labor opposition.

But Washington worked, the economy grew, the federal budget balanced, Clinton won easy re-election, and his approval ratings remained high in a second term, even when confronting an impeachment proceeding tied to a sordid sex scandal.

Hillary Clinton shares the same practical political instincts. She has long shared her husband’s centrist philosophy, yet she has taken note of a party and a nation now shifting back leftward. She's adjusted.

Clinton, once a free-trade proponent enthusiastic about a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal she helped get started as secretary of state, now disavows the TPP for failing to adequately protect American jobs. Cautious on boosting the minimum wage, she has come to endorse the drive for $15 an hour, with a stop off at $12 she expects to sell to Congress. Whilst the financial industry was deregulated during the Clinton presidency, this Clinton vows to use the powers of Dodd-Frank to crack down on the big banks.

Give her democratic socialist challenger, Bernie Sanders, credit for these shifts. The Vermont senator has shown a path to funding a national campaign for office using small donations, rather than the money of powerful special interests, is possible. He has focused attention on the issue that is riling so much of the electorate; the dramatic growth in wealth among the top 1 percent and the stagnation and decline of what had long been America’s strength, its middle class.

Half of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29 percent in 1970, reports the Pew Research Center. At the same time the income share accruing to middle-income households went from 62 percent in 1970 to 43 percent in 2014. This high concentration of wealth has produced a new Gilded Age.

Policy changes are necessary to reverse this trend so that more of the wealth the United States generates flows to working people and reinvigorates the middle class.

Sanders’ solutions include providing a free public university education, giving lower- and middle-class students the ability to improve their earning power and career opportunities without being strapped with debt. He wants the nation to undertake massive infrastructure and clean-energy projects. Sanders’ platform also calls for a national “Medicare for all” health care system. To pay for it all he would raise taxes on the wealthiest, seek laws to prevent corporations from hiding their income offshore, and levy a tax on every stock, bond or derivative sold in the United States, his “speculation tax.”

Some projections show these programs increasing the size of the federal government by as much as 50 percent, this in a country with a $19.2 trillion debt. It is not realistic.

“It’s easier to diagnose the problem, it’s harder to do something about it,” noted Clinton in their most recent debate.

Her proposals are incremental. She would invest more in infrastructure, clean energy, and scientific and medical research, but not on a Sanders' scale. Clinton would work to make student loans more affordable and seek tax breaks for small businesses.

While Clinton will shift for political advantage, that tendency also makes her more likely to seek out the compromises that get policy adopted. Her incremental approach to governance may not be as exciting, but it’s more realistic. As president, Clinton could make the case to the barons of Wall Street that it is in their own interest, and that of the economy, to pursue policies that grow the middle class.

Hardly lovable and certainly flawed — how foolish was it to use a private email server as secretary of state? — Clinton is the most qualified candidate in either party.

The Day endorses Hillary Clinton in the April 26 Democratic presidential primary.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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