So, Hillary’s taken a few questions from the press now. But something more interesting than that has been happening over the past month: She has moved to the left or signaled her intention to do so on a pretty broad range of issues. All of you who want Elizabeth Warren in the race? Chill, people. She practically is.
Now, for all I know it might make the Clinton people cringe to see me write that, because it surely provides some degree of ammo for the right. But I reckon the right would have noticed this without my intervention, so my conscience is clear. But this is the emerging reality: If you are a 40-something Democrat who has voted over the years for Bill Clinton and Al Gore and John Kerry and Barack Obama, it’s looking like you are about to cast a vote next year for the most liberal Democratic nominee of your voting lifetime.
Start with the two positions she’s taken since the announcement video that have probably gotten the most attention. Her immigration position is considerably more aggressive than Obama’s, expanding his executive actions to allow more people to obtain work permits. Then, on prisons, she famously called for the end of the era of mass incarceration. The speech was filled with pleas to get low-level and nonviolent offenders out of prison and with sentences like “there is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes.”
There’s a lot more where that came from, usually announced, or mentioned, in those meetings with voters that the press following her so loathe. Here are the four most notable ones. These aren’t fully fleshed-out policy proposals, but presumably those will come:
• She told an audience in Keene, New Hampshire, that the country needs a free and universal pre-kindergarten program.
• At Tina Brown’s Women in the World summit in New York, she called for greatly expanded after-school and child-care programs.
• Also in Keene, she came out for closing the carried-interest loophole for hedge-fund managers, and the rhetoric was pretty populist, as she told furniture workers: “You are in the production of goods, and I want to do everything I can to support goods and real services and take a hard look at what is now being done in the trading world, which is just trading for the sake of trading. And it’s just wrong that a hedge fund manager pays a lower tax rate than a nurse or a trucker or an assembly worker here at Whitney Brothers.”
• And most important from my personal point of view, she’s been speaking out strongly in favor of paid family and medical leave, saying to a questioner at a Norwalk, Iowa, roundtable: “Well, boy, you are right on my wavelength because, look, we are the last developed country in the world that has no national paid leave for parenting, for illness. And what we know from the few states that have done it—California being most notable here—is it builds loyalty. If you really analyzed turnover in a lot of businesses where you have to retrain somebody—well, first you have to find them and then you have to retrain them—making your employees feel that you care about these milestones in their lives and you give them the chance to have a child, adopt a child, recover from a serious illness, take care of a really sick parent and get a period of time that’s paid just cements that relationship.”
These six positions—along with her support for a much higher minimum wage that’s indexed to inflation—almost by themselves make Clinton the most on-paper progressive candidate (and putative nominee) since who knows when. She is saying things that one never thought the Hillary Clinton of 10 or 20 years ago would have said.
It may be true that it’s less that she’s changed than that the times have, and she’s adapting. But hey, give her credit for adapting. Last summer, during her book tour, she said she didn’t think paid family leave was possible. Now, she’s talking like someone who isn’t merely describing a crappy reality but someone who sees that the point is to change it.
There are some important positions she hasn’t taken yet. On the TPP trade agreement, most obviously, which is one on which I think she might go against the left, although I’m just guessing. I want to see what she has to say down the road about entitlements. Something tells me, the way she’s been talking so far, that there won’t be much emphasis on grand bargains and being responsible and raising the retirement age. I’ll be curious to see, for example, whether she endorses raising the payroll tax cap. I went to see West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin speak at Brookings the other day, and he said he’d gladly support raising the cap to help fix the entitlements’ insolvency problems. If Joe can say it, can Hillary?
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column urging liberals to suck it up and accept the fact that Hillary Clinton was the choice and there’s too much at stake and there’s nothing else to do so just get over it and support her. That column didn’t say much about her positions. It was just about the Supreme Court and what a nightmare Republican rule would be.
But at the rate she’s going, very little sucking it up will be required. She’s turning into a bona fide progressive. She may not go for the class-warfare rhetorical jugular with quite Warren’s gusto. But “the top 25 hedge-fund managers together make more money than all the kindergarten teachers in America,” which she said this week in Iowa, is close enough for me, and a lot closer than I thought she was going to be at this stage.