It’s time for Hillary Clinton to deliver her own Sister Souljah speech . The original speech , of course, was delivered by her husband during his 1992 presidential campaign. In it, he distanced himself from what many believed to be liberal orthodoxy by criticizing Jesse L. Jackson for having rapper Sister Souljah, who had advocated a violent black response to white-on-black violence, speak at a public rally. Bill’s speech was a screechingly loud dog whistle to moderate white voters: I won’t put up with noxious nonsense that may add to a climate of violence, he was saying, just because it originates in the African American community.
That, of course, is not the message Hillary Clinton needs to deliver. Her Sister Souljah speech should go something like this: I won’t put up with noxious nonsense that endangers our economic prospects just because it originates on Wall Street.
Unlike Bill’s speech, there needn’t be anything dog-whistlesque about Hillary’s. There are distinct policies she can propose that would solidify her Democratic support, broaden her backing among independents and help her silence the squawking albatross she wears around her neck: the perception — reality, actually — that she’s too close to high finance.
The first such policy would be to call for a financial transaction tax that would cover the costs to students of attending public colleges and universities. Her fellow candidate for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), has already advanced this proposal before rapturous crowds, but the ideas that free public higher education is good for the nation and that Wall Street can and should provide the funding have appeal well beyond liberal circles.
Neither half of this idea is anything new. For the greater part of the 20th century, tax dollars funded most state and city universities and colleges. (Indeed, the founding father of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol, attended the City College of New York for free. If it was good enough for Kristol then, it should be good enough for aspiring neocons, and every other student, today.) As for the financial transaction tax, the United States imposed one from 1914 through 1966.
In recent decades, however, state support for public colleges and universities has plummeted, while tuition has soared and student debt skyrocketed to $1.2 trillion — a burden that hobbles the economic lives of millions of young (and not so young) Americans, and the broader economy as well. For millions of others, a college education is unaffordable: Where once the United States led the world in its share of young adults who graduate from college, it has fallen to 14th place .
Sanders’s proposal follows that of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who calls for a levy of 0.5 percent on the trade of stocks, 0.1 percent on bonds and 0.005 percent on derivatives, with offsets to taxpayers with incomes under $50,000. Besides enabling more Americans to go to college, this would reduce the amount of high-frequency “flash” trading that now dominates stock exchanges and shrink finance’s swollen share of the economy.
This year, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), introduced a bill, backed by the Democratic House leadership, that would establish a financial transactions tax, though in this case to pay for a tax credit designed to help the middle class.
While Democrats in general support the policy of taxing Wall Street to create a better functioning economy, Clinton in particular needs to do so. New stories about her family’s links to the billionairiat dribble out daily, each one a hurdle to her credibly waging the kind of campaign she seems to want to run. Democrats won’t win in 2016 without harnessing the popular dismay — rage might describe it better — at the nation’s drift toward oligarchy. A recent CBS News/New York Times poll showed that 84 percent of Americans believe that big money has too much influence in U.S. politics, and 85 percent believe that campaign finance requires either “major changes” or “needs to be completely rebuilt.” Clinton has said she’ll call for constitutional changes to diminish the role of money in politics, and she needs to go big, with proposals that withdraw the First Amendment protections with which the Supreme Court has cloaked big money’s purchase of U.S. politics and government.
Clinton is scheduled to make the first major speech of her campaign on June 13 at the FDR Four Freedoms Park on New York’s Roosevelt Island. In 1936, while speaking of “organized money,” the president after whom that island is named declared: “I welcome their hatred.” If Clinton wants to win, she needs to deliver a Sister Souljah speech that engenders at least some of that hatred.