Maybe I need to go back and listen again to HRC’s speech Saturday, because Rebecca Traister (not known for being soft on Clinton) sees a lot more there than I did. (With some historical background for the young folks!)
It’s not all that’s gutsy about Clinton’s latest roll-out, which she marked on Saturday with a lengthy, policy heavy speech. There’s also the fact that a mainstream Democrat is trying to become the first woman president by invoking Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her speech, billed as her Campaign Kickoff, replaced recent Democratic simpering about Ronald Reagan and “reaching across the aisle” with jabs at trickle-down economics and a chilly invitation to cooperate with “willing partners;” that was refreshing. But even more surprising was hearing decades of centrist posturing give way to a citation of Roosevelt’s call for “Equality of opportunity … jobs for those who can work … Security for those who need it … The ending of special privilege for the few … The preservation of civil liberties for all … a wider and constantly rising standard of living.”
“That still sounds good to me!” bellowed Clinton, in her sturdy way.
And while Clinton’s delivery, like Clinton herself, was more dogged than flowery, even her language on Saturday showed leftward shifts toward sanity. Banished were the anodyne residents of “Main Street”; instead, Hillary spoke of “poor people” and “the wealthiest” and “income inequality,” mentioning the “middle class” only as a dying historical possibility in need of “a better deal.”
These are strong words, and certainly some new words, coming from a candidate with a long history of playing people-pleasing, power-appeasing, over-careful politics.
But this Hillary seems less afraid. In fact she seems downright determined to run straight into the blades of her own perceived weaknesses. On Saturday, she addressed her advancing age with a one-liner about how she “may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but … will be the youngest woman President in the history of the United States,” as well as with a feminizing crack about hair-dye and a senescent reference to the Beatles. In the campaign video released the day before the speech, she referred to her maddening tenacity and personal drive—the things that had half of her party hollering for her head in 2008—by laughing, “I think by now people know: I don’t quit.” She was also startlingly eager to remind people of that time she helped steer health care reform into a congressional iceberg during her husband’s administration, noting, “We worked really hard; we weren’t successful. I was really disappointed.”
Most striking is Clinton’s willingness to showcase an older iteration of her professional persona: the one that was so unpalatable when she debuted it nationally, 25 years ago.
To undergird her new liberal policy positions on everything from immigration to incarceration to equal pay and paid family leave, Clinton is trotting out old biographical details—specifically the kinds of early professional commitments she’s spent years trying to make us forget. As a law student, she reminded the crowd, she investigated conditions faced by migrant workers and later became the head of the Legal Services Corporation, where she “defended the right of poor people to have a lawyer.” Clinton did not name the people who she was working for: Walter Mondale (on whose Senate subcommittee on migrant workers she served as a student) and Jimmy Carter (the president who appointed her to run Legal Services in 1978). But her prior associations with those two liberal politicians seem like exactly the kind of thing she’s now looking to advertise, after years of stowing them in a closet, somewhere under her unused cookie trays and Tammy Wynette LPs.