Monday, January 21, 2008

Hillary Clinton: The Good Democrat

Hillary Clinton's a good Democrat. She perfectly espouses all the (politically) correct Democratic Party positions, on issues from foreign policy to poverty.

The notion of the "good Democrat" was a term some activists I knew, back in the 1990s, used to describe true-blue liberal partisans.
Today's New York Times story on Hillary Clinton's orientation toward the role of government reminded me of the notion:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said that if she became president, the federal government would take a more active role in the economy to address what she called the excesses of the market and of the Bush administration.

In one of her most extensive interviews about how she would approach the economy, Mrs. Clinton laid out a view of economic policy that differed in some ways from that of her husband, Bill Clinton. Mr. Clinton campaigned on his centrist views, and as president, he championed deficit reduction and trade agreements.

Reflecting what her aides said were very different conditions today, Mrs. Clinton put her emphasis on issues like inequality and the role of institutions like government, rather than market forces, in addressing them.

She said that economic excesses — including executive-pay packages she characterized as often “offensive” and “wrong” and a tax code that had become “so far out of whack” in favoring the wealthy — were holding down middle-class living standards.

Interviewed between campaign appearances in Los Angeles on Thursday, she said those problems were also keeping the United States economy from growing as quickly as it could.

“If you go back and look at our history, we were most successful when we had that balance between an effective, vigorous government and a dynamic, appropriately regulated market,” Mrs. Clinton said. “And we have systematically diminished the role and the responsibility of our government, and we have watched our market become imbalanced.”

She added: “I want to get back to the appropriate balance of power between government and the market.”

In the last two weeks, Mrs. Clinton has devoted most of her public remarks to the economy, and she won the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucus largely because of support from households making less than $50,000 a year, according to polls conducted by Edison/Mitofsky.

Mrs. Clinton’s approach to the economy would have three main components. She would roll back the Bush tax cuts for households with incomes over $250,000 while creating more tax breaks below that threshold; impose closer scrutiny on financial markets, including the investments being made by foreign governments in the United States; and raise spending on job-creating projects like the development of alternative energy.

“We’ve done it in previous generations,” she said, alluding to large-scale public projects like the interstate highway system and the space program. “But we’ve got to have a plan.”

Using blunt and at times populist language in the interview, Mrs. Clinton, Democrat of New York, tried to steer a course between the often business-friendly themes embraced by her husband and the straight populism that John Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina, has used in his presidential campaign this year. Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s main rival for the Democratic nomination, has also begun using more of her kitchen-table language in recent days.

Although the two Clintons share similar views on a wide range of economic issues, she has long been more skeptical about the benefits of freer trade and other aspects of a free-market economy. While he peppered his 1992 campaign speeches with both populism and calls for personal responsibility, including welfare reform, she talks less about irresponsibility among individuals and more about irresponsibility in corporate America and the government.

Perhaps the bigger difference, though, is that Mr. Clinton was running for president when the federal budget deficit was much larger than it is now and the United States seemed to be falling behind Western Europe and Japan in economic competitiveness. Mrs. Clinton is running when the economy has grown at a healthy clip for six years but incomes for most Americans have barely outpaced inflation.

Republicans say that her tax increases on the affluent and her spending proposals would increase the deficit, but Mrs. Clinton’s advisers respond that she, like her husband, is a fiscal conservative. They add that reducing the deficit is no longer sufficient, because today’s problems have less to do with the size of the economic pie than the way it is divided.

“Inequality is growing,” Mrs. Clinton said. “The middle class is stalled. The American dream is premised on a growing economy where people are in a meritocracy and, if they’re willing to work hard, they will realize the fruits of their labor.”
It's controversial to claim that "the middle class has stalled." In fact, more and more families have seen upward mobility since the decade of the 2000s began.

But more about that later. I'm watching Hillary Clinton right now at the CNN Democratic debate in South Carolina. She's riffing on how the U.S. is "disrespected" in the world and how Americans need to have a "stake" in the political economy again.

I'm not "live blogging," though. Check out Ann Althouse for that, or Katherine Seelye at the New York Times.

Instead, just remember that there are clear differences between the parties this year, which I think about more and more as we get into this election season.

No matter who the nominees of the respectives parties are, the Democrats will push to expand government by raising taxes and increasing entitlements, while the Republicans will push to limit tax liability through the extension of the Bush tax cuts; and the GOP will best represent traditional values of personal responsibility and upward mobility.

Sure, but the GOP has lost its fiscal responsibility under the Bush administration, folks will say, right? Not exactly, spending as a percent of GOP under the Bush administration has been at historical lows, largely driven up by defense expenditures - to fight the implacable foes bent on America's destruction - and emergency hurricane relief.

Don't bet on a comparable level of restraint under a Democratic administration in January 2009. The next "good Democrat" in the White House - whoever that ends up being - will make sure of that.