Hillary’s Tightly Scripted Campaign

Posted: Oct 15, 2007 11:20 AM
Hillary’s Tightly Scripted Campaign

At a recent Congressional Black Caucus presidential candidate forum Hillary Clinton upped the stakes for pandering to potential voters. She proposed a $5,000 “baby bond” for every child born in America. This account would grow over time and serve as a nest egg for college or as a down payment on a first home.

I am sure Senator Clinton thought this would be just another example of her innovative thinking; further proof of just home much she cares about children and families. Who wouldn’t want a $5,000 bond to give their children a financial foundation for the future?

But the reaction was less than positive. Republicans jumped on it as just another example of Hillary’s liberal big spending habits noting that she has proposed on the order of $724 billion in new spending in her various proposals.

But it wasn’t just her political opponents who ridiculed the idea. $5,000 multiplied by the 4 million children born each year means outrageous costs. And that doesn’t even take into account the cost of the government management of the program. Not surprisingly, voters and reporters alike were skeptical. The Chicago Tribune labeled it “Clinton’s Baby Boondoggle.”

In the face of all of this criticism Hillary soon dropped the baby bond idea, but she picked up where she left off. Hillary switched to a proposal to give targeted individuals a $1000 refundable tax credit to set up a 401(k) type retirement account.

The irony in this new proposal is that it looks an awful lot like President Bush’s social security proposal. You might recall that when President Bush proposed allowing workers to choose to put their social security payments into private investment accounts in order to take advantage of the dynamism and wealth of the stock market, Hillary and other Democrats reacted as if this was a threat to the very American way of life. They promised that privatization would never be an option.

Now, in typical Hillary fashion, she is attempting to have it both ways when it comes to retirement security. Seeking to provide a benefit to the politically important middle class she is more than willing to use the private sector to her benefit. A completely government funded and controlled program would simply be too expensive, so she offers a targeted tax credit and piggybacks off the very benefits of the market that she criticized President Bush for offering.

This dynamic reveals the tension at the heart of Hillary’s tightly scripted campaign. Her natural tendency is to propose government-controlled programs to fix any and all social ills. She wants to appeal to the liberal base of her party while at the same time offering targeted programs to key voting groups. The baby bond was just such an attempt but it backfired.

The problem is that these programs cost a great deal of money and Hillary has claimed the centrist mantle of “fiscal responsibility.” So there are only so many programs she can propose and retain even a small amount of credibility on that front. This explains her move toward targeted tax credits and private investments. She gets to appear to be addressing an important issue without breaking the bank. Even Hillary knows there is a limit to what government can spend. But it is worth noting that lots of smaller programs can quickly add up as well.

In a moment of candor, Hillary even admitted this. In an interview with the Boston Globe she said: “I have a million ideas. The country can’t afford them all.”

What the country really can’t afford is Hillary Clinton in the White House.