By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
I won’t do a “hot take” on the meta — the crowd, the logo, the reaction, Clinton’s hair, what the Sabbath Day gasbags said on Press the Meat — but instead will focus solely on the text of Clinton’s rollout speech, which is important for what it says, the way that it says it, and most importantly for what it does not say. I should say at the outset that post-2008 — and especially since the TPP fight — I’ve mentally unbundled party, candidate, and policy. That said, here’s the text of Clinton’s speech (as delivered).
As we might expect from the speech’s location on Roosevelt Island, Clinton explicitly claims FDR’s mantle. From the introductory portion of her remarks:
[CLINTON: It is wonderful]To be here in this beautiful park dedicated to Franklin Roosevelt’s enduring vision of America, the nation we want to be.
You know, President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms are a testament to our nation’s unmatched aspirations and a reminder of our unfinished work at home and abroad. His legacy lifted up a nation and inspired presidents who followed.
And quoting directly from FDR’s Four Freedom’s speech:
CLINTON: President Roosevelt called on every American to do his or her part, and every American answered. He said there’s no mystery about what it takes to build a strong and prosperous America: “Equality of opportunity… Jobs for those who can work… Security for those who need it… The ending of special privilege for the few…(cheers, applause.) The preservation of civil liberties for all… (cheers, applause) a wider and constantly rising standard of living.”
(Interestingly, Clinton’s quotes are not the actual Freedoms; we’ll get to that in a moment.) After some buildup, she then goes on to structure her speech around four policy areas (which I’ve to say is refreshing, although not refreshing enough, as we shall see). Here they are, organized into a single list instead of being scattered through the speech:
CLINTON: If you’ll give me the chance, I’ll wage and win Four Fights for you.
- The first is to make the economy work for everyday Americans, not just those at the top.
- Now, the second fight is to strengthen America’s families, because when our families are strong, America is strong.
- So we have a third fight: to harness all of America’s power, smarts, and values to maintain our leadership for peace, security, and prosperity.
- That’s why we have to win the fourth fight – reforming our government and revitalizing our democracy so that it works for everyday Americans.
Before l take a look at the talking points that Clinton places under these four heads, let me quote Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, so we can compare and contrast them to Clinton’s. The context is different; Clinton’s is a campaign speech, and Roosevelt is addressing Congress, as a re-elected President, in his State of the Union speech, in 1941, before our entrance into World War II (hence the references to “everywhere in the world,” and “translated into world terms”). Here’s FDR:
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.
Notice the extreme specificity and material basis of FDR’s language: Freedom from want; freedom from fear. You know, today, in your very own life, whether you are in want or in fear. You don’t have to ask anybody else, and it doesn’t take some sort of credential plus a processing fee to figure it out. Now contrast Clinton: “[M]ake the economy work for everyday Americans.” What the heck does that even mean? Certainly nobody knows what “everyday Americans” means. This is focus-grouped bafflegab emitted by Democratic consultants who are slumming it on the Chinese bus instead of the Acela because optics. Could we be in fear or in want after the economy “works”? Who knows? And if Clinton believes we won’t be, why not say that?
With that, let me poke holes in some of the policies under Clinton’s Four… Four… Well, Four Whatever-the-Heck-They-Ares, since FDR’s “Freedom of” and “Freedom from” construct seems to have been disappeared from Clinton’s reversioning of FDR’s material. I understand that the Clinton campaign, in a White House-style policy shop operation, will be rolling out more concrete material in the next 513 days, so I’ll focus only on major gaps and contradictions. (The talking points won’t necessarily be in speech order, though the headines will be.)
“Make the economy work for everyday Americans, not just those at the top”
CLINTON: “I will rewrite the tax code so it rewards hard work and investments here at home, not quick trades or stashing profits overseas. (Cheers, applause.)”
You will? Really? Article 1, Section 8 says differently.
CLINTON: “We will unleash a new generation of entrepreneurs and small business owners by providing tax relief, cutting red tape, and making it easier to get a small business loan.”
First, I suppose it’s OK to appropriate Republican rhetoric, Third Way fashion — “tax relief,” “red tape” — but it sure seems odd to do so after claiming Roosevelt’s mantle. Second, we’ve got entire industries (Uber; AirBnB) whose business model is to gain market share by breaking the law, and I’d like to know what Clinton thinks about ignoring “red tape” entirely. And that’s not just a theoretical concern for small business, since the so-called “sharing economy” — Yves calls it the “shafting economy” — threatens them as well. (What does it mean for local restaurants and Farmer’s Markets that food plus a recipe can now be delivered via an app?)
CLINTON: “To make the middle class mean something again, with rising incomes and broader horizons. And to give the poor a chance to work their way into it.”
First, note the shift from “everyday Americans” (whatever that means) to “middle class” (whatever that means) and “the poor” (I think we know what that means). Because Clinton cannot really define who her programs target, it’s not possible to determine who will actually benefit from them; hence, “mean something” is vacuous. People can project, of course, but 2008 should have taught us the danger of doing that. Second, there are well-known policies that provide concrete material benefits to wage workers, and which it would be easy for Clinton to support, if she in fact does so. The first is raising the minimum wage, not to Obama’s pissant $10.10, but to the $15 that so many on the ground are pushing for. Silence. More radically, we have programs like the Basic Income Guarantee or the Jobs Guarantee (or both). Programs like this would be of great benefit especially to those who have been cast out from our permanently shrunken workforce, and will in all likelihood never work again. These programs target millions, and so who benefits is easy to see. Silence.
CLINTON: “There are leaders of finance who want less short-term trading and more long-term investing.”
There are leaders in finance who are walking the street but who should be in jail. It’s hard to see how “confidence” can be restored for “everyday Americans” until elite criminals no longer have impunity. Of course, taking a stand like that would make life hard for Clinton with the Rubinite faction of the Democratic Party, along with many Wall Street donors, and many contributors to the Clinton Foundation, but corruption isn’t my problem. It’s Clinton’s. So, again, silence.
“Strengthen America’s families”
First, note again how abstract Clinton’s words are. Where FDR says “freedom from fear,” Clinton says “not anxiety.” Where FDR says “freedom from want,” Clinton (with Wall Street) says “confidence.” Second, and as usual, what do Clinton’s words even mean? Let me revise them: “I believe Social Security benefits should be raised, not lowered, and that benefits should be age-neutral. It’s unconscionable that the younger you are, the worse off you will be when you’re old. I also believe that Social Security benefits should begin at age 60, so more can retire from the workforce, and more young people enter.” This is not hard. It doesn’t take a think tank to work out.
CLINTON: “[I believe] that you should have the peace of mind that your health care will be there when you need it, without breaking the bank.”
What does that mean? Well, we know what it means. It means tinkering round the edges of ObamaCare, keeping the sucking mandibles of the health insurance companies firmly embedded in the body politic, and not bringing our health care system up to world standards.
CLINTON: “I believe you should have the right to earn paid sick days. (Cheers, applause.)”
Given the above, we’re in school uniform territory now.
“Maintain our leadership for peace, security, and prosperity”
CLINTON: “I’ve stood up to adversaries like Putin and reinforced allies like Israel. I was in the Situation Room on the day we got bin Laden.”
‘Nuff said. (On Bin Laden, “got” is nice. And see here, here, here, and — for grins — here.) SMH, but maybe somebody should ask Clinton, just for an opener, if she supports a grotesquely expensive fighter aircraft with buggy software that randomly catches on fire, and if she doesn’t, what she’d do with the money.
“Reforming our government and revitalizing our democracy”
CLINTON: “We have to stop the endless flow of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political process, and drowning out the voices of our people. (Cheers, applause.)”
So wouldn’t it be very appropriate Clinton I to stop
influence-peddling giving paid speeches right now, instead of hedging his bets, and saying he’ll stop only under a Clinton II administration? To be fair, this is good:
CLINTON: “If necessary, I will support a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. (Cheers, applause.)”
However, the shout-out to a specific policy advocated by Move to Amend might make one reflect on the curious lack of specificity so prevalent elsewhere in the speech.
CLINTON: “I want to make it easier for every citizen to vote. That’s why I’ve proposed universal, automatic registration and expanded early voting. (Cheers, applause.)”
This is good, but bizarre. Trivially, the Democrats are at least a decade late on this, the sign of a sclerotic party that can’t defend its putative constituents on even the most basic level. Critically, Clinton is defending people’s right to vote without defending their right to have their vote counted. This is especially weird after after Jebbie tried to steal Florida 2000 for Bush II — although 308,000 Florida Democrats voting for Bush and not Gore swung the election — and after all that weird stuff that happened in Cuyahoga County, Ohio in 2004. Why not bring America up to world standards at the ballot box, too, and prevent election theft? Silence.
There’s plenty to like in Clinton’s speech at the talking point level. (For example, on immigration, she does support “a path to citizenship,” though curiously not an end to mass incarceration, or reforms to policing.) But over-all, I think any grand vision disappears in a welter of bullet points, vague language, and a resolute unwillingness to present policies that would visibly benefit all Americans, instead being tailored to the narrow constituencies of the sliced up version of America so beloved by the political class.
Here’s a random factoid you can use to frame whatever policy options a candidate presents. I keep track of #BlackLivesMatter shootings on my Twitter feed, and most of them come with pictures of the scene. The pictures come from all across the country, as we might expect, and I have started looked at the backgrounds: Invariably, there are signs of a second- or third-world level of infrastructural decay and destruction: Cracked sidewalks, potholed roads, sagging powerlines, weed-choked lots, empty storefronts, dreary utilitarian architecture just as soul-sucking as anything the Soviets could have produced. But that’s not the factoid. This is (“What Silicon Valley Can Learn From Seoul”, NYT):
To maintain South Korea’s lead, the country’s Science Ministry recently announced a $1.5 billion initiative to upgrade Korea’s mobile infrastructure. By 2020, the government predicts, it will be 1,000 times faster — so fast you could download a feature-length movie in approximately one second. In the same time frame, the Federal Communications Commission hopes to wire most American homes with broadband Internet with speeds of at least 100 megabits per second, or roughly .
“One-sixtieth of South Korea’s goal.” Just let that sink in. In fact, our Internet is so bad that Asian software designers need to dumb their software down to even get it to run here. (Bet that’s a trade barrier you didn’t know about.)
Your crazy uncle you can’t talk politics to may think the poors deserve their fate. But what you and he may be able to agree on is that this factoid shows is a massive — dynastic and party — failure in the duty of elites to “promote the general welfare” (U.S. Constitution, Preamble). Yes, Reagan set the context. But that the Clinton Dynasty (so far, Clinton I) and the Bush Dynasty (Bush I and Bush II), and the candidate of the “progressive” nomenklatura, Obama, have all conspicuously failed to remedy, or even notice, such a global failure is such a colossal pratfall as to be hilarious, if only you don’t think of the terrible opportunity costs to the hundreds of millions of U.S. citizens who don’t live in Silicon Valley or near a stop on the Acela. And the same goes for public policy in general.
My point is not that Clinton doesn’t have a broadband talking point; she does, a good one (“broadband brought up to global standards for the 21st century”). My point is that elite public purpose failure to match or even come close to world standards — “In world terms, “as FDR puts it — is true no matter where you look, and throughout Clinton’s speech. It’s all like that. (It’s certainly true in health care.) World standards are what our candidate should be judged by on everything — not just broadband — we are failing miserably, though profitably (for some), and if those standards are too low, we should raise them. That’s what FDR did. If Clinton wants to be the next Roosevelt — the FDR that Obama so very conspicuously failed to be — then she’s going to have to work a lot harder than she did in her campaign rollout.
We need more from Clinton — more from all candidates. Much, much more. People are starting to notice.
 If I had my Magic Markers out, I’d be noting that “It is wonderful to be here…. To be here… To be here” is an example of Obama’s favorite rhetorical device: Anaphora. I don’t know if that’s a result of personnel from the Obama campaign now crafting speeches in Brooklyn, a decision to use rhetoric that Democratic loyalists were already familiar with, or a conscious decision to meld Obama-like rhetoric with more Clintonian policies.
 For those who came in late, “Franklin Delano Roosevelt”, “Franklin D. Roosevelt,” or “FDR.” For some reason, it’s fashionable among some Democrats to say “Franklin Roosevelt,” as Clinton does here. I don’t know why that is; to promote a sense of personal familiarity with FDR by politicians who couldn’t carry FDR’s cigarette holder? To subtly detach the Democratic Party from its historical roots? Personally, I think it’s a terrible locution. It ambiguates what was not ambiguous. Imagine a young person watching this speech, and imagine it’s their very first political speech: The 74th Anniversary of the Four Freedoms speech is this year, and given our terrible education system, I can well imagine them thinking that “Franklin” and “Franklin Delano” were two different Roosevelts from the Roosevelt dynasty, just like “Teddy” was a different Roosevelt, and another “Teddy” was a different Kennedy.
 I am so, so tired of Democrats who “fight for” or ask me to “stand with.” It’s very Alice in Wonderland: “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.” Forget about fighting. How about winning?
 Another case of anaphora, this by FDR.
 To be fair, we probably meet world standards in financial sector bloat and criminality. And we’re certainly #1 in very expensive fighter jets that randomly catch fire. Are those really races we want to win, or even be in?
One would have thought that the Obama administration would have cured anybody of voting for a candidate based on their biometrics. On Obama’s watch, income inequality increased at a greater rate than under Bush, and Obama was particularly ineffective (or effective, depending on your viewpoint) at delivering concrete material benefits to his putative base, especially in terms of jobs or housing. In other words, Obama failed to deliver on the most basic levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, even if he did deliver some “Self Actualization” (the highest level) to those who had the basic level taken care of. Of course, it’s hard to self-actualize when you’re in want from losing your job and in fear from losing your home.
“Glass ceiling” verbiage or no, there is, therefore, no reason to think that Clinton’s putative base will do any better than Obama’s did under Clinton II. And, if you have a daughter, and you think a woman President would be a “role model” for her, I’m dubious. First, let’s translate slightly: “I think it’s important for my daughter to see a hatchet-wielding austerity enforcer for the Big Banks like Christine LaGarde as the head of the IMF.” Really? Second, allow me to suggest that the better role model for your child is a politician they can see or meet personally, at the local or state level, rather than a faraway figure gesticulating on a small glass screen. Finally, and more pointedly, I would suggest that the best possible political role model for your child is you, and that if you are not already, you should set an example for your child yourself, even if it’s only calling your Congresscritter on the phone. Any action counts.
Relatedly, Clinton is also running as a mother (“My mother taught me,” “I wish she could have seen Chelsea”), or, as Slate — it would be Slate — gracelessly put it, “One Tough Mother.” I’m not unmoved by Clinton’s personal testimony in regard to her maternal identity, but if I buy into Clinton-as-mother, I also buy into Clinton-as-family-member, and therefore into Clinton-as-dynastic figure. But I’m not at all sure I want to do that, because then I have to buy into that dynasty’s “ginormous and ever-evolving hairball of tangled and conflicted personal and institutional relationships.” After all, Cersei Lannister thought she was a good mother, too, and she had a network a lot like Hillary Clinton’s. Corruption, in other words, is part of the problem.
Readers, I said I would have this in the morning. But I won’t hide behind the fact that this is my morning! The piece just took longer to write than I thought it would.