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In her first major campaign speech Saturday, Hillary Clinton promised essentially a more aggressive and liberal version of Barack Obama’s presidency, listing a series of challenges such as the huge wealth gap between the rich and the rest of America that the president has tried to address but even many Democrats say Obama has not fully solved.
Clinton’s husband famously declared in 1996 that “the era of big government is over.” But the former secretary of state and First Lady argued in her campaign “kickoff speech” that the wealthy and the powerful are increasingly capturing the gains of the U.S. economy and that a more forceful role for the government is needed to help middle-class and poor Americans.
While not explaining how she would fund these programs, Clinton urged the creation of millions of clean-energy jobs, paid sick and family leave for all workers and pre-school for all American children.
Clinton said she would push to make sure women get paid as much as men and reform the nation’s immigration laws to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Obama has proposed versions of all of those ideas.
But Clinton went further left than the president on some issues, calling for automatically registering all Americans to vote when they hit age 18 and a constitutional amendment to limit how much wealthy individuals and corporations can be spend on political campaigns.
“The middle class needs more growth and more fairness, for a lasting prosperity,” Clinton said.
Her speech illustrated the sharp changes in politics since Obama’s election in 2008. Obama rose to the presidency with a huge focus on foreign affairs, namely getting U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. And the president suggested he would unify Washington and end the bickering between the two parties.
“Democracy can’t just be for billionaires and corporations.”
Clinton’s speech had only a few sentences on national security, even though she served as Secretary of State from 2009-2013. This may reflect the challenges Obama and his team have faced in trying to wind down the U.S. military presence abroad while also preventing civil wars and the rise of groups like ISIS in the Middle East.
Clinton made a few nods to working with Republicans, but much of her language was a blistering attack on the GOP. Clinton suggested Republicans are obsessed with cutting taxes on the rich, ready to deport undocumented immigrants and intolerant toward gay, lesbian and transgender Americans.
"They shame and blame women rather than respect our right to make our own reproductive health decisions,” Clinton said in her remarks.
At another point in the speech, Clinton argued Republicans, “turn their backs on gay people who love each other.”
In another shift from the start of her husband and Obama’s presidencies, Clinton was very populist in tone, reflecting a Democratic Party that in 2015 increasingly views Wall Street and the financial sector as directly pitted against everyday Americans. She specifically named nurses and veterans as the kind of people who she is looking to help.
“While many of you are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, you see the top 25 hedge fund managers making more than all of America’s kindergarten teachers combined. And, often paying a lower tax rate,” Clinton said.
She added, “Prosperity can’t just be for CEO’s and hedge managers,” Clinton said. “Democracy can’t just be for billionaires and corporations.”
And Clinton, dogged for months over the millions she and her husband have made by giving speeches to financial institutions, said “reining in the banks” was one of her major goals.
Clinton’s speech was akin to a State of the Union address by a sitting president at times, as she covered a wide range of different policy issues without going into great detail on any. It at times closely paralled the State of the Union Obama gave in January, in part because Clinton and the presidency share many of the same policy ideas.
The kickoff speech, delivered in New York, will do little to alter the direction of the 2016 race. Clinton, who had been expected to run for years before, formally announced her candidacy in April and is the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination.
And many of the ideas Clinton articulated are familiar to Republicans, since President Obama has proposed many of them.
But Clinton’s focus on gay rights, voting rights and women’s pay pose challenges for the GOP. Obama won in 2008 and 2012 in part because young, minority and female voters heavily favored him.
Clinton’ speech illustrated that she will appeal strongly to those same voting blocs. Republicans will have to figure out both issues and political appeals that can blunt her advantages among these voters.