Hillary’s last chance to prepare for 2020

2016 could be a really interesting election. Or not.

If the R’s nominate a right-wing flame thrower, Hillary Clinton (hereafter “Hillary,” meaning no disrespect) the Democratic Nominee Presumptive (hereafter DNP) can just coast to the middle of the spectrum and pick up the votes of Republicans who have been nervous since 1964, when Barry Goldwater spooked them. If I were her campaign manager and cared about nothing except her victory margin, that’s what I would do and I would put on my resumé, “guided the candidate to a clear victory.” [1]

hillary 6That would provide no basis at all for her to govern, however. She would do what she could in her first term and then she would settle in to apologize to the American people that they were still working way too hard and were still poor. And the American people would still refuse to listen to anything she says because she has not yet apologized to then for her failure to “fix the economy. [2] Below is a piece I wrote in March 2014 about the forthcoming electoral disaster for Democrats. I am citing it today because that is just where President Hillary Clinton will be in March 2019 if she runs the kind of campaign I have described above.

My view is that the economy we have now is the kind of economy we are going to have for the foreseeable future…So think about this. You’re President Obama and you want to talk about some important things. You might want to talk about raising the minimum wage, so people can afford to buy things again. You might want to talk about penalties for companies that outsource their labor force—“shipping American jobs overseas,” is the way President Obama puts it. You might want to talk about the cost to ordinary workers of the obscene levels of executive compensation CEOs are granted. You might want to talk about the strength of labor unions as the only way to guarantee that contractual obligations will be met by employers.
Or you might want to talk about something else. You might want to talk about the deplorable state of our transportation infrastructure or the unenforced environmental regulations that result in polluted air sheds and watersheds. You might want to talk about sustainable levels of energy use and securing those levels from non-polluting sources.
And let’s say the American people agree with your positions on everything that is named in the last two paragraphs. It doesn’t matter! Why? Because the American voters have not yet put in their hearing aids. They will hear no reasons—other than your own culpability, which is assumed—why the economy is what it is and why it will continue to be that way. They will engage in no other conversations, no matter how urgent those conversations might be because they can’t hear what you are saying. They want you to apologize first and that means fixing the economy.

That mess—the mess President Obama was in by March 2014 and will be in until the end of his presidency—is the mess Hillary will be in as the person who presides over this economy which is rich and robust at the top and thin and brittle from the middle on down. The 2016 campaign is Hillary’s only chance to make her presidency about something else. The “something else” is the way the economy works. and whether the America people understand how the economy works.
What do the American people understand at the moment? Here are two relevant measures from a January 2015 Gallup Poll.

hillary 7

“…dissatisfaction is relatively high with the way income and wealth are distributed in the country today, indicating that the public’s concern is focused more on the inequality of results as the system plays out, rather than on the chances people have of improving their lot within the system. These attitudes are not new. Gallup polling over the decades has consistently shown that Americans believe money and wealth should be distributed more equally in U.S. society, and have consistently supported higher taxes on the rich to help achieve that aim.”

Hillary could build her campaign on this dissatisfaction if she wanted to. It is consistent “over the decades” as Gallup says and two thirds of the American people is a lot of people. Notice that it is a systemic measure, not an individual measure. The reason to take this as a campaign theme would be that it will mobilize a lot of people and get her elected and bring that issue front and center in her first term.

The reason not to take this as a campaign theme is that the difficulties will still be there in 2019 and any Congressman or Senator running for office in 2020 would have a lot of reason to distance himself/herself from President Clinton.

If the economic difficulties are, as I argued in the Obama post, “the new normal,” then they will still be there in 2020. The difference is that by 2020, they will be President Clinton’s fault because she has “presided” [2] over the continuation of failed U. S. policies.

There is another way to go. It doesn’t make anything better, but it does change the explanation for why things are still bad from a systemic explanation to a personal hillary 3explanation. In this campaign approach, “the richest 1%” are not just the beneficiaries of the way the economy works; they are they reason it works that way. “It” is their fault!

In the expression “it” is their fault, what is “it?” American businesses have adapted to modern methods of production and to global opportunities for consumption. They are using very low cost workers—some robotic, some just underpaid [3]—and, in the absence of an American middle class to sell the products to, they are selling them to the middle classes of the BRIC nations, as they are called: Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

They are satisfied with the way they produce and the way consumers consume because they make a lot of money that way. Nothing is going to change that. Very large amounts, from what they make by running their businesses that way, show up as “executive compensation.” These executives are “fat cats,” a name chosen to show their availability as villains. [4] Hillary could blame these executives for the plight of the middle class. The plight of the middle class is that they are working harder than ever and are continuing to fall behind economically. If that’s a system effect—that’s the way business is these days—it is politically inert. If it results from the greed of the fat cats, who manipulate the process to enrich themselves and to impoverish the rest of us, it is not inert. It is, in fact, a call for a politics of retribution. It is the kind of political action embedded in the Robin Hood stories.

hillary 1Hillary is going to have to go one way or the other. If she campaigns on making things better for “those who follow the rules and work hard”—the Obama mantra—the voters will be after her blood by 2019. She promised systemic improvements and I am still poor. Off with her head! If she campaigns successfully—a major question [5], to be sure—she will not have changed the system, but she will have changed who is to blame for the system.

If that’s all she does, Hillary will have changed the conversation for four years. If she wrings a great deal more money out of the companies—the ones who impoverish American workers so they can sell competitively to the middle classes of the BRIC countries—she can put in place a substantial safety net. That won’t make people less poor, not in the spending money sense—but it will provide at public expense a lot of the services—high quality child care, for instance— that now require out of pocket expenditures by workers who are receiving poverty level wages.

Frankly, I don’t see her chances of making that transition successfully even if she wanted that more than anything else and I don’t think she does want it that much. Elizabeth Warren might, but Hillary doesn’t.

Therefore, I predict that Hillary will confront plummeting popularity in 2019 as more and more people blame her for “how things are,” even if they would have been exactly like that if her R competitor has been elected.

Hillary needs to solve the problem. She can’t do that. The problem is global and endemic. It is, as Gov. Brown (CA) [6] said of California’s desiccation, “the new normal.” She can blame the fat cats for the problem, setting off a wave of retributive voting and possibly even legislation. The fat cats will outlast her; they might accept a little bit of regulation and taxation. Not much. Or she can accept the system in its general terms, tax the rich and establish Sweden-style buffers for the poor.

“Sweden-style”buffers—it’s awkward, but I don’t have to call them “socialist” if I call them “Sweden-style”—will require a fundamental change of heart among Americans. According to that same Gallup poll, 60% of Americans are “satisfied with the opportunity for a person in this nation to get ahead by working hard.” Apparently “getting ahead” is what they want. They don’t want their poverty to hurt less and that is what President Clinton would be offering them—in the best of the three scenarios.

The foundation for Hillary’s popularity in 2019 is being laid right now. Good luck, Hillary.

[1] In the one case when I had the chance, that is what I did do. In 1982, my candidate took out an incumbent county official ih a race that I, as the manager, affected not one whit and I put on my resumé that I had “guided the candidate….”
[2] You have to apologize first. Then they’ll listen. But it only works for a few times.
[3] That is, after all, what Preside-ents do
[4] “Under” in “underpaid really should require a measure of what they should be paid. Marx argued that they should be paid the value they have added to the product. Many labor economists have argued that they “should” be paid whatever they contract to work for, provided that it is within the law and poverty-level wages are eminently legal.
[5] President Franklin Roosevelt called them “malefactors of great wealth.” In the campaign I managed, a campaign very Republican in tone although the office we were seeking was a nonpartisan office, they were called “heavy hitters.”
[6] The top 1% are very adroit in adapting to challenges of this kind. They will defeat the message if they can. The R’s will call it “class warfare.” They will defeat the messenger if they can unless it means electing a Tea Party candidate. Failing those, they will adapt to the new demands in ways that will allow them to keep most of their earnings, but take a well-publicized step in the direction of “reform.”
[7] It’s like “Miami of Ohio.” Oregon has a “Governor Brown” now too, so Jerry Brown is (CA).

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About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. My wife, Bette, is the First Reader (FR) of the posts. I have arranged that partly because she helps me write better posts than I would otherwise and partly because I can hold her responsible for the mistakes that I would, otherwise, have to own up to myself.. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsey. I'm a dilettante.
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