Greece’s continuing economic woes threaten to send the European Union into chaos. China creates islands in the South China Sea on which to build military bases to threaten our allies. ISIS claims more of Iraq and the White House contemplates another influx – don’t call it surge – of “military advisors” and bases to counter the threat. The Russia/Ukraine conflict festers.
The presumptive Democratic nominee for the White House, Hillary Clinton, spent four years globetrotting and meeting foreign heads of state, ostensibly in service of the country. Based on this experience, one would assume she has something constructive to say about these issues. Yet she apparently does not, and she has assiduously avoided wading into foreign policy issues since declaring her candidacy for the presidency.
Instead, after she overcame the early scandals of private email usage at the State Department, and reemergence of Sidney Blumenthal, she has been spending her time talking about prison overcrowding, racial strife, and now, in her latest effort to avoid the realm she supposedly mastered, she is talking about the story of her own mother, Dorothy Howell. This latest, shall we call it reset, of her campaign is evidence that she has no idea what her campaign is about.
This Saturday, Clinton held her first campaign rally on Roosevelt Island in New York. She talked about her mother’s experience in dealing with the Great Depression in an attempt to connect her own image with that of FDR, whose presidency began in shadow of the Great Depression and ended amidst World War Two.
About the New York speech, a Clinton campaign spokeswoman said, "(Clinton) has long been inspired by FDR's belief that America is stronger when we summon the work and talents of all Americans.” "Her fight, like his, is to work to ensure that everyday Americans can achieve not just a sense of economic stability, but lasting prosperity."
If Clinton is seeking to channel FDR, it won’t work. On foreign policy, his greatest legacy was wartime leadership. Would a President Hillary Clinton send us into another war and lead the way FDR did? To recall, she supported the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, changed her mind for political reasons, abandoned the troops in their mission, and then ran for president in 2008 on the strength of her anti-war views. Having served as Secretary of State, her position on the possible re-escalation of the Iraq war is what, exactly? No one knows.
Furthermore, if Clinton is seeking to channel FDR on domestic policy, that too is bound to fail. Clinton is a progressive true believer like Obama. But every Obama attempt to apply New Deal-type programs to 21st century programs – e.g., Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, the stimulus – has produced waste, political strife, and endless lawsuits. And, these programs and their inevitable failure has helped to drive President Obama’s poll ratings lower than President George W. Bush’s.
The park where Hillary held her campaign rally, Four Freedoms Park, was the site of an FDR 1941 speech in which he discussed “equality of opportunity, jobs for those who can work, security for those who need it, the ending of special privilege for the few and the preservation of civil liberties for all.”
In the past 70 years, Democrats have abandoned two of these pillars: equality of opportunity has been traded for equality of outcomes (see affirmative action), and jobs for those who can work has been traded for endless government handouts (see 99 weeks of unemployment insurance). They have not, however, abandoned the populist nonsense of “ending of special privilege,” or the undefined dream of “civil liberties preservation.” If Hillary’s recent comments are any indication of where she stands on these issues, then we are likely in for a campaign obsessed with class warfare and “civil liberties/rights” as she defines them. Further, what are the “special privileges of the few” if not earning more than $25 million in speaking fees since January 2014?
Regardless of the specific themes of her campaign, the bigger question is, what is the reason for the attempted FDR comparison? And will an appeal to a president dead over 70 years resonate with today’s voters, especially the younger Obama coalition voters? Likely not.
By seeking to tie her candidacy to the legacy of FDR at this point, Hillary appears to be intentionally steering her campaign away from the hope/change/youth approach successfully employed by Obama, and more towards an attempted AARP and union coalition. The elderly remember the FDR presidency, and the unions miss the influence they wielded under his administration. But neither constituency represents the future, and neither does Hillary Clinton. FDR is not a hero to college age students, working women, and minorities. He had no meaningful record of accomplishment for any of these groups, and neither does Hillary.
To appear strong and competent and overcome, well, herself, she needs a strong political reference point. Smartly, she is not running as Obama’s progressive successor. Nor is she running as a successor to her husband’s rocky and scandal-ridden but ultimately popular presidency. Who is left? To paraphrase Lloyd Benson, she’s clearly no Jack Kennedy. Vietnam and a failed Great Society do not exactly inspire, so Lyndon Johnson is out, as is Jimmy Carter with his sweaters and his long national nightmare. Hence FDR, the last great Democrat president.If Hillary is really counting on riding a wave of New Deal nostalgia to the White House, she’s either clueless or delusional. As we’ve seen over the past six years, neither are good qualities in presidents.