The New York Times has a piece today about exactly how long Hillary Clinton has been a populist on economic issues. This is an interesting issue that has Clinton in a tight spot. On the one hand, she wants voters to associate her positively with the good economic times of her husband’s presidency. On the other hand, she faces significant pressure from the ascendant left wing of the Democratic Party, which repudiates a number of policies from that era: free-trade deals such as NAFTA, a reduction of the tax rate on capital gains, a top income-tax rate that stopped shy of 40 percent, repeal of the Glass-Steagall restrictions on banks’ investment activities, etc.
But the real heart of the matter didn’t come until the final four paragraphs of the story:
“In a meeting with economists this year, Mrs. Clinton intensely studied a chart that showed income inequality in the United States. The graph charted how real wages, adjusted for inflation, had increased exponentially for the wealthiest Americans, making the bar so steep it hardly fit on the chart.
“Mrs. Clinton pointed at the top category and said the economy required a ‘toppling’ of the wealthiest 1 percent, according to several people who were briefed on Mrs. Clinton’s policy discussions but could not discuss private conversations for attribution.
“Still, Mrs. Clinton will pitch that ‘toppling’ with a very different style than (Sen. Elizabeth) Warren, a bankruptcy expert whose populist message has been laser-focused on holding Wall Street accountable. Mrs. Clinton will present proposals for changes in the tax code as a way of also investing in education, infrastructure and communities.
“Mrs. Clinton ‘wakes up asking how she can accomplish real things for families, not who she can attack,’ said Gene B. Sperling, an economic adviser in the Clinton and Obama administrations. He added, ‘When she shows that fighting populist edge, it is for a purpose.'”
First of all, there’s that word “toppling.” In the context of populism, “toppling” has a particular connotation that goes well beyond academic debates about the proper level of the top marginal tax rate and how to spend any increased revenues. If that word makes an appearance from Clinton or her campaign beyond this particular article, we could rightly interpret that as more than your average populist pander. There’s a darker undertone to that kind of talk that ought to be alarming to more than just the Republicans of left-wing caricature.
Second, it takes a significant amount of chutzpah for someone who has been accepting six-figure speaking fees from public colleges — whose graduates, in many cases, have five- and six-figure levels of student-loan debt — to pit “the rich” against “investing in education.” Clinton (and, of course, her husband) make about as much for each paid speech they give as “the rich” make in a year according to the populism of Barack Obama.
Finally, if you actually believe that line of Sperling’s — that she (or any politician, for that matter) “wakes up asking how she can accomplish real things for families” — then you, dear voter, need to be reminded of a bit of wisdom from the game of poker:
If you can’t figure out who is the “mark” at the table, chances are you’re it.
Oh, there’s “a purpose,” all right, for that “fighting populist edge” Team Clinton is at pains to make sure you notice.