By Brent Budowsky - 06/25/14 07:53 PM EDT
I am a progressive populist who strongly supports Hillary Clinton for president. But I must admit, the most memorable aspect of Clinton’s carefully orchestrated book tour for Hard Choices could be the discussion about whether she is fully in tune with the temper of our times on matters of wealth and opportunity in America.
There is a growing concern in Democratic circles, which I share, about whether the Hillary Clinton who could run in 2016 is repeating the mistake she made in 2008, when she ran as the inevitable and invincible candidate of a political establishment held in widespread public disrepute.
The mood of the electorate is anti-Washington, anti-establishment, anti-incumbent, anti-crony capitalism, anti-politics as usual and anti-status quo. The great battle of American politics is which candidates give voice to these sentiments and offer a future in which tomorrow is better than today and the American dream is not a thing of the past.
Voters don’t give a damn about the net worth of the Clintons. They don’t want to demonize the wealthy. They want leaders who will give them a fighting chance in a fair economy whose rising tide lifts all boats — including theirs.
The danger for Clinton is not that she made money giving paid speeches to big banks, though this is not the preferred path to the presidency. The danger is that she has spent so much time immersed in the world of the wealthy and powerful that she could fall victim to a Stockholm syndrome of elites and lose touch with the heartbeat of a nation in which many are jobless, hungry, hurting, disenfranchised by politics and falling behind in making ends meet.
In a recent Gallup poll, confidence in Congress fell to 7 percent, putting approval of lawmakers within reach of approval of Saddam Hussein, while approval for Pope Francis, the world’s leading voice condemning the idolatry of money, approaches 70 percent.
Voters don’t care how many insiders revolve around Planet Hillary or which advisers are up or down in Hillaryland. They don’t care about the cleverness of her calculations, the benefits of her caution, the surge of her super-PACs or the great migration of consultants from Team Obama to Team Hillary.
Americans favor a fighting underdog and rebel against the inevitability of a candidate’s coronation following an imperial march to victory, surrounded by coteries of courtiers who cling to the candidate to milk her for money or use her to get power and constantly tell us what she really believes.
If the political Gods would grant me one wish, it would be to meet Clinton at a secluded corner table at a local tavern with no aides, consultants or pols — just Hillary, me and Jack Daniels. And when we have sipped enough to shed our inhibitions, I would plead:
You don’t need to deny your wealth or condemn the wealthy, but to challenge them to lift the whole nation together in what Springsteen sang was the land of hope and dreams, in which those who have the most share a sacred calling to help those who have less. Tell voters about the passions in your soul, the courage of your convictions, the dreams in your heart, not about becoming president but about why, of a land that is lifted because nothing is beyond us when we are inspired to act together.
Hillary Clinton is a wonderful person and great public servant whose work has helped countless people. She has conquered sexism unlike few women in history, but unlike in 2008, she must now conquer the Stockholm syndrome of elites, abandon the illusion of coronation and sound the trumpet to summon the nation to the better days we yearn for.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.