Clothed in rhetoric condemning economic and social inequality, Clinton’s address acknowledged the power of the Obama coalition of young and minority voters, striking a very different note from the triangulated social conservatism of her husband’s presidency. She promised to help pretty much everyone except Republican presidential candidates and hedge-fund managers, arguing that the country needs an “inclusive economy” supported by an “inclusive society.” She proposed laws barring discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, backed universal preschool and child care, supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants with clean records, demanded easier access to the polls and endorsed a constitutional amendment re-imposing restrictions on political spending.
In one of the best lines in her speech, Clinton mocked the cowardice of Republicans who dodge reporters’ questions on climate change. “They’ll say, ‘I’m not a scientist,'” she said. “Well, then why don’t they start listening to those who are?”
In one of the worst lines in her speech, Clinton again punted on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, bowing to progressives’ current anti-trade hysteria. “Advances in technology and the rise of global trade have created whole new areas of economic activity and opened new markets for our exports,” she said, “but they have also displaced jobs and undercut wages for millions of Americans.”
But, thankfully, Clinton also avoided some of the worst populist excesses of the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party. Crucially, Clinton emphasized the importance of economic growth, innovation and efficient government, not rigid regulatory and tax policies or unaffordable expansions of entitlements. “The middle class needs more growth and more fairness,” she said. “Growth and fairness go together. For lasting prosperity, you can’t have one without the other.” Clinton appears to be aligning herself with Democrats who stress the importance of economic competitiveness and flexibility in enabling the country to keep up with global competition and advance the standard of living.
It remains to be seen whether Clinton can harness the energy of progressives without buying more fully into their extravagances. But for those seeking care and substance, her speech was a pretty good opening move.