EDIT (05/08/2018): I was reminded that I wrote this article today and I’d like to publicly acknowledge how well it has aged.
Long before we knew what this election was going to become someone on my twitter feed remarked that if Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton won it’d be the day that “politics became boring again.” Recent polls have Clinton’s chances of winning so high that she’ll not only win every single swing state, but also claim several red states like Arizona and Georgia. Ironically, Donald Trump may go down as one of the biggest losers in recent history. It’s fun to talk about Trump because he’s the edge case. He’s the guy that might drive all of civilization off a cliff. Even if he didn’t cause the apocalypse, it’s a mystery what his presidency might change if he did win. However, it seems pretty clear that that isn’t going to happen. What also isn’t clear is what a Clinton presidency would look like. Of course we know the general jist of liberal policies and continuing the work Obama started, but how much of Clinton’s campaigning was appealing to voters and how much of it was saying what she intends to do?
In the January debate, MSNBC asked the candidates what they would do in their first 100 days of office. Hillary Clinton answered with this plan:
“I would work quickly to present to the congress my plans for creating more good jobs in manufacturing, infrastructure, clean and renewable energy, raising the minimum wage and guaranteeing finally equal pay for women’s work. I would also be presenting my plans to build on the Affordable Care Act and to improve it by decreasing the out of pocket costs by putting a cap on prescription drug costs by looking for ways that we can put the prescription drug business and the health insurance company business on a more stable platform that doesn’t take too much money out of the pockets of hard working Americans. And third I would be working every way that I knew to bring our country together. We do have too much division. Too much mean spiritedness. There’s a lot we have to do on immigration reform, on voting rights, on campaign finance reform, but we need to do it together. That’s how we’ll have the kind of country for the 21st century that we know will guarantee our children and grandchildren they deserve.” -Hillary Clinton. January 17, 2016.
Sounds pretty detailed. But if you pull that clip back by one minute you’ll see that Bernie Sanders answered first and a different image starts to form. Listening to Sanders’ answer compared to Clinton’s, it shows her answer was meant to mute every single one of his points and portray herself as the more reasonable version of his goals. Sanders says he wants to establish unified health care as a human right, raise minimum wage to 15 dollars, create jobs by rebuilding America’s infrastructure and “bring America together” by making the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. Keep all that in mind and re-read Clinton’s statement. She matches every single point. It’s a clear debate tactic and not indicative of what she’ll actually do, even if she actually believes in implementing all those ideas on a hypothetical level.
Another major portion of the Hillary Clinton campaign has been “electing the first female president.” It would be a historical moment in tandem with electing the first black president. Obama’s historic election also saw higher turnout of new voters. The 2008 election saw many black voters showing up on election day for the first time. The thinking for Clinton may be that women would turn out in similar numbers to vote for her and be a part of another historic election. Yet, I’m skeptical that Clinton is as passionate about the in vogue feminist topics as she puts on. Despite pushing for “equal pay for equal work” Clinton’s own staff reportedly had a pay-gap among the female and male staffers. As for her support in the “listen and believe” mantra for sexual assault victims, her complicated history with Bill Clinton’s alleged victims may blur where she truly stands on that issue. I don’t doubt that Clinton has had her own run-ins with gender discrimination and I’m sure she supports the concept of equality, but her political career doesn’t trend toward these types of issues. She’s a big-ideas type of politician who doesn’t get involved with interpersonal policymaking.
Clinton’s preference for looking at the big picture is on display with how she handled the “superpredators” mini-scandal during the campaign trail. When the Bernie Sanders crowd realized he was doing awful with Black Americans, they found an old clip of Hillary Clinton referring to gang members with “zero empathy” as “superpredators” and that they had to be “brought to a heel.” For context, the clip originated from 1996 when Hillary Clinton was First Lady. Bill Clinton had previously passed a Crime Bill that was tougher on criminals as was the national conversation on crime, partly because the House of Representatives and the Senate were both controlled by Republicans who were strongly in favor of “three strikes you’re out.” The clip was taken from this defunct era, literally twenty years ago, brought into the modern day where the word “institutionalized racism” is common and Hillary Clinton was asked if she thought her use of the word was racist. Personally, I thought the question was unfair and it seems most of her supporters agreed because her polling barely saw a downtick.
However, her response shows Clinton’s disinterest with tackling a personal issue like racism. She immediately jumps to underfunded schools and lacking economic opportunities for minorities. Her critiques were primarily from the Black Lives Matter movement, but her response was as if it was a bullet point in a dense economic policy reform. This moment may have been the most illuminating moment of the campaign.
If her answer to the superpredator question didn’t give a sense of her priorities, then her running mate certainly did. Clinton picked Tim Kaine as her running mate reportedly to reinforce her image as the “sensible choice.” After the announcement she gave insight on how she came to this choice over other progressive prospectives like Warren, Castro or Booker:
“I have this old-fashioned idea. If you’re running for president, you should say what you want to do and how you will get it done.” -Hillary Clinton. July 23, 2016.
Tim Kanie is a terrifically boring candidate. There’s nothing on his career resume that jumps out. He runs government efficiently and that’s about all you can say. Which might be exactly what Hillary Clinton wants to do.
I think it’s a fool’s errand to guess what any President’s exact plans will be. The possibilities are nearly endless. It’s probably a good guess to assume that Clinton would tackle education. Obama somewhat famously ignored education in his first term to tackle health care instead. The system hasn’t seen a major reform since No Child Left Behind, which has been called a disaster by both parties, but education isn’t the only aspect of our system that’s in dire straits.
Low-level research on topics like the IRS or America’s infrastructure will reveal that there’s a lot of issues in the country that have needed moderate maintenance for some time. These issues may not be as exciting as ending racism or getting everyone on electric cars, but they are necessary. Since many of these goals are considered “boring,” they get ignored. Even loftier goals like “equal pay for equal work,” a concept that’s disputed in the economics community, sidetracks conversations about maternity leave, or vacation leave. These issues have been on the national stage for twenty years and haven’t seen progress.
Clinton’s positioning of being the “sensible choice,” and her positional preference for big issues, it’s possible she’ll turn out to be the Janitor President. We gave her all our crap. We spat on her the entire time, but maybe she’ll end up doing the job that nobody else wants to do. That might be what we need.
That’s my hopeful wish for her Presidency. If her first week in office she introduces a bill for Campus Speech Zones, I’m going to be pissed.