Notes on Hillary’s acceptance speech:
Beginning: Shaky! Calls Bill “my Explainer in Chief.” The way she said it, it seemed a bit of a put down. More than a bit. With the required testimonial to Joe Biden and now-ex-Dem Bernie Sanders, the speech’s opening minutes were a festival of phoniness.
Dealing with economic anxieties: Mid-speech, Hillary finally got around to grappling with the fundamental source of conflict in this election the shortcomings of the economy.
And I’ve heard from so many of you who feel like the economy just isn’t working. Some of you are frustrated – even furious. And you know what??? You’re right.
But what’s the first plank in her platform for “good jobs with rising wages”? It’s an odd one!
I believe that our economy isn’t working the way it should because our democracy isn’t working the way it should. That’s why we need to appoint Supreme Court justices who will get money out of politics and expand voting rights, not restrict them. And we’ll pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United!
Seems as if Clinton’s wage-boosting efforts are … um, easily sidetracked. More fundamentally, the economy isn’t not working because our government isn’t working. The economy isn’t working the way it should because of large tectonic forces within the economy are conspiring to lower the economic return to labor, especially unskilled labor. Those forces are technology, trade, and (yes) immigration. Basically, trade outsources the jobs of (mainly) the less skilled; technology automates them out of existence — and then we import millions of eager, cheap immigrants to do the unskilled (and skilled) jobs that remain, as kind of a coup de grace to American workers. It’s not at all clear that politics — ungridlocked or not — can produce solutions powerful enough to significantly neutralize these forces (except maybe on immigration, where Hillary is on the wrong side).
Hillary does get around to proposing other possible nostrums: Preventing corporations from getting tax breaks but “handing out pink slips.” (How?) Green jobs (one of Obama’s conspicuous failures, no?). “Comprehensive immigration reform” (which would have an especially depressing effect on wages if it includes the massive new guestworker provisions of the failed Gang of 8 bill). Profit sharing and a higher minimum wage (promising but limited). Standing up to China (Hillary’s details are as vague as Trump’s). Universal health care. A big infrastructure plan. This portion of the speech is such a jumble, with job-boosting policies so mixed up with other causes — fighting climate change, “a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions” — that it doesn’t give the impression of someone focused like a laser on the roots of the anger that led to Trump’s rise.
Anti-Trumpism: Hillary’s Trump bashing seems more successful — certainly more effective than Obama’s airy idealism of the night before. “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” Arguably the best line of the night.
Self-humanizing: Less successful! Hillary’s self-history quickly degenerated into the policies she’s supported, and how she pursued them — “we gathered facts” — plus stock representative examples of ordinary Americans, the Ryans and Laurens who allegedly inspired her. In the show-not-tell department of character revelation Hillary wasn’t too strident but seemed more than a bit smug (which I suppose she has a right to be).
Smart moves: Embracing the Dallas police. Distributing lots of American flags. Talking about 9/11. But those are all no-brainers, aren’t they?
Overall: Expectations were low (at least around here). Hillary exceeded them. The speech will do her good (in large part by doing Trump harm). She seemed a plausible president, — you could imagine living with her for four years, as long as you didn’t have to endure too many speeches like this one. It will be a shock if she doesn’t retake the lead in national polls. But it’s a long campaign. Plenty of time to see how each candidate reacts under pressure.
Two other points:
- “I alone can fix it.” Hillary repeatedly mocked this Trump claim as authoritarian. I don’t like it much myself. But there’s a sense in which it is true. If, as Hillary claims, the power of money in politics is so great that good policies can’t get enacted, then it really is only a rich or wildly famous self-funder, one who doesn’t need to suck up to donors, who can fix it. Donor money was blocking political solutions — e.g., Wall Street regulations — before Citizen’s United, after all.
In fact, Trump said “I alone can fix it” in exactly this campaign finance context. (“When [the] Secretary of State rakes in millions of dollars trading access and favors to special interests [I] know the time for action has come. …I have seen firsthand how the system is rigged against our citizens.”) It wasn’t a general statement of indispensability.
2) The new new Democrats: Between this week’s celebration of ethnicities and the convention’s hodge podge of featured causes and the ‘Welcome GOPs” theme and the attempted Hillary character rebuild there wasn’t a lot of time or space for … the old Democratic policy catechism. (Yes, health care. But welfare? Food stamps? Affirmative action? Unionism? Redistributive taxation — as opposed to ‘following the money’ to the top 1% to pay for things)? They’ve all kind of washed out in Hillary’s new Uniparty. Many of them won’t be missed. We’re down to policies proven to appeal to the middle, which is where a Uniparty more or less has to be.
Except on immigration, where there is a clear policy contrast between Hillary and Trump, and where a lot of the campaign, I suspect, will be waged.