Since Hillary Clinton entered the 2016 presidential race, we’ve heard about her up-and-down poll numbers, her email server problems, her transparency issues, her authenticity and her campaign strategy.
What we haven’t heard much about are her plans for America.
That’s partly her own doing and partly because of what the press has chosen to focus on.
Early on, Clinton orchestrated her public appearances so she was listening rather than talking. She opted to meet with small, targeted constituencies rather than give speeches to the public. Her campaign’s packaging of her primarily as a daughter and grandmother may have been intended to paint a soft image of Clinton as a person. But as chief Democratic rival Bernie Sanders has drawn approving crowds by pounding on corporate greed and unfair trade provisions, many voters — this writer included — have been looking for Clinton to acknowledge and respond to the alarms.
Last week, Clinton finally got specific about those and other issues when she sat down for her first editorial board interview. For nearly two hours, never consulting a note or an aide, she answered questions from the Des Moines Register, ranging from reproductive choice to Mideast policy. I would have preferred different answers to foreign policy questions than some of the ones she gave, but that’s another column. She was impressive in her grasp of the issues.
She really wants to study a problem methodically before tossing out solutions. She showed those of us hungry for calls to action that she’s at her best working out the nitty-gritty details rather than tossing out rhetorical sound bites. In response to some questions, like those on climate change and energy independence, Clinton freely acknowledged she’s still working those out.
We’re used to a different response from the Republican front-runner, who assures us, without explaining why, that Mexico will pay to build a wall between our countries, and makes grandiose claims, without an economic plan, about the prosperity a Donald Trump presidency would bring. Clinton was particularly effective in building connections to her central theme of an income crisis facing working Americans, whose wages are not keeping pace with costs.
Wage stagnation, she argued, is eroding the American dream — eating away at middle-class lifestyles and threatening the next generation. This is both an economic and a political crisis, she said, because when people feel left out, they grow insecure and frustrated, wondering, “What kind of country are we if they are losing their place in it?”
Her approaches include raising the minimum wage and creating penalties for companies whose CEO pay and corporate profits go up while worker pay doesn’t. She advocated corporate profit-sharing, providing more incentives in the tax code for companies to invest in long-term research and development — and in workers. She wants to close tax loopholes and limit tax deductions for the wealthy.
While praising the Affordable Care Act’s success in driving down the overall cost of health care, Clinton said the ongoing high out-of pocket-costs of health care and drugs contribute to the economic hardships facing individual Americans. She proposes limiting the tax benefits drug companies can get from marketing and advertising and permitting the Medicare program to negotiate drug prices.
Clinton also wants to lift the ban on importing drugs from countries with high safety standards, and to have the federal government approve more generic alternatives to brand-name drugs. She said pharmaceutical companies now pay competitors working on lower-cost generics not to bring them to market. And, she said, they pressure politicians to vote to their advantage.
The corporate influence peddling denounced by Clinton is enabled by Supreme Court rulings that allow corporations to spend freely to influence election outcomes. She said “dark money” in 2014 accounted for one-third of independent campaign spending; the spenders went unidentified. She called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling and vowed to appoint only justices who would vote against its premise.
Agree or disagree, Hillary Clinton left us with lots to mull over. Now it’s time to stop talking so much about who or what she is, and having a national conversation about her proposals.
Rekha Basu: firstname.lastname@example.org