If You Listen, Hillary Is Trying To Tell You What Her 2016 Message Will Be

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at a forum sponsored by the Center for American Progress in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Clinton said Thursday that voters need to turn pay inequity an... Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at a forum sponsored by the Center for American Progress in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Clinton said Thursday that voters need to turn pay inequity and women's economic security into a political movement in the November elections and beyond, pointing to an issue that could animate a future presidential campaign. (AP Photo/Molly Riley) MORE LESS
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When Hillary Clinton spoke about women’s economic issues last week at the Center for American Progress in Washington, the attuned listener might have caught a few phrases that sounded familiar. Laments about the fiscal plight of waitresses, bartenders, and hair stylists. The need for Americans to not only be able to get to the middle class, but stay there.

That’s because they had appeared during another Washington speech that Clinton gave, to the New America Foundation in May, a speech filled with new rhetoric that might not have been fully appreciated then for what it was: a first look at what her economic message in 2016 might be. People close to Clinton refuse to connect the themes of those two speeches to her nascent (and not yet official) 2016 presidential campaign. The official line is she remains undecided on whether to run at all. But those close to her told TPM these are issues she’s worked on for a long time and would likely continue to focus on in the future.

In these two speeches are echoes of her failed run in 2008 and more distant echoes from her husband’s campaigns in the ’90s. But in the context of a 2016 bid, if you want a first peek at what her prospective presidential message would look like, then that is where you should start. They aren’t fully formed policy prescriptions just yet. They are closer to rationales for her running again this time. But she is honing her rhetoric and a few themes are starting to crystallize that could become the basis for cohesive message that pulls together her personal biography, her political priorities, and specific policy proposals.

I Can Complete The Economic Recovery.

The forward-looking message of change that’s de rigueur for presidential candidate is tricky when the candidate is running to replace a member of his or her own party and was a top cabinet official in their administration, as Clinton would be. And even as the unemployment rate has fallen a high of 10 percent in October 2009 to 6.1 percent in August 2014, Obama’s approval rating on the economy was still stuck at 35 percent last month, according to Gallup.

Clinton seems to have a handle of the line she wants to toe: Obama saved us from worse economic struggles (as his defenders have been saying for years), but the work isn’t over. Implicit, of course, is that she — if she runs — would finish the job.

“We haven’t seen a full recovery from the economic crash,” Clinton said Thursday at CAP. “When the president came in, he deserves an enormous amount of credit for staunching the bleeding and preventing a further deterioration and getting us out of that ditch we were in. But we know unless we change our policies, a lot of the benefits are not going to be broadly shared.”

“It’s not just about more jobs for more people and better paying jobs,” she said. “It’s making sure that the people themselves get to keep those benefits and build that future back that they are so desperate to see for themselves.”

It was an even more pointed riff on the same theme she explored in the New America speech in May.

“Now, unfortunately, it’s no secret that for too many families in America today, that isn’t the way it works anymore. Instead of getting ahead, they’re finding it harder than ever to get their footing in our changing economy,” she said then. “The dream of upward mobility that made this country a model for the world feels further and further out of reach. And many Americans understandably feel frustrated — even angry.”

I Can Restore The Middle Class And Re-Open It To Everyone.

The notion of “upward mobility” was central to Clinton’s message to the New American audience in May. She described it as “time-tested wisdom” that was “at the heart of what I believe is the basic bargain of America.”

And some specific language on the subject reappeared again on Thursday at CAP.

“We could all tell stories about people who we know who have been really egregiously impacted by the failure of our political leadership on the other side of the aisle,” she said, “to recognize the importance of making sure that people who work hard, play by the rules — that old description — have a chance to get into the middle class and certainly a chance to stay in the middle class.”

Here is how Clinton described that basic bargain of America, as she sees it, in May: “No matter who you are or where you come from, if you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll have the opportunity to build a good life for yourself and your family.”

“The numbers are stark: More than four out of 10 children born into our lowest-income families never manage to climb out of relative poverty,” she said then. “Forget about getting rich. I’m just talking about getting into the middle class and staying there. That shouldn’t be as hard as it is now.”

That isn’t translating into full-bore policy prescriptions yet, though she did namecheck things like universal child care and California’s new paid sick-leave law on Thursday. But it is the diagnosis around which a policy platform could be built.

I Can Finish The Historic Work Of Equality For All.

Clinton has also been enthusiastically putting a progressive and populist framing on these issues.

“Americans are working harder, contributing more than ever to their companies’ bottom lines and to our country’s total economic output, and yet many are still barely getting by, barely holding on, not seeing the rewards that they believe their hard work should have merited,” she said at New America in May.

“And where’s it all going? Well, economists have documented how the share of income and wealth going to those at the very top — not just the top 1 percent, but the top .1 percent or the .01 percent of the population — has risen sharply over the last generation,” she said. “Some are calling it a throwback to the Gilded Age of the Robber Barons.”

So income inequality has been a big part of the message. But it’s also been married to inequality between the sexes. At both the New American and CAP events, the same factoid made an appearance: That three-quarters of jobs that rely on tips — like “waiters, bartenders and hairstylists” as she said on both occasions — are held by women.

“Forget about a glass ceiling,” Clinton said Thursday. “These women don’t even have a secure floor under them.”

And she said Thursday that these issues should be used to mobilize voters — in the 2014 midterms and moving forward.

“When we can turn an issue into a political movement that demands people be responsive during the election season, it carries over,” Clinton said. “These issues have to be in the lifeblood blood of this election and any election.”

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