At the State of the Union address early this year, President Obama delivered the most explicitly liberal speech of his presidency, a genuine call to arms that expands on the past successes of Democratic policies. It was Democrats, indeed, who enacted “worker protections, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity.” It was Democrats who “gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure and the Internet — tools they needed to go as far as their effort will take them.”
The speech included none of the middle-of-the-road, centrist Third Way pablum that has infected the party for a generation. It was, in short, exactly what liberal activists had spent years calling for. And the architect of that speech? John Podesta. The same John Podesta who now chairs Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
That simple connection suggests Clinton is shedding her husband’s ideological baggage and aiming for a truly progressive presidency. Why, after all, would Podesta help craft such an explicitly liberal State of the Union address if he was then going to help take it all back with Clinton? That address might have been the beginning of a rhetorical bridge spanning the Obama and future Clinton presidencies.
If you oppose Clinton from the left, you might scoff at such logic. But the actions of her nascent campaign certainly support that theory.
For example, there is her choice of Robby Mook as her campaign manager. In 2013, Mook helmed Terry McAuliffe’s successful gubernatorial run in Virginia — the first time the same party occupying the White House has won the state since 1973. Sure, Mook justly gets a lot of credit for winning with a candidate as flawed and unappealing as McAuliffe. But the real beauty of that victory was that McAuliffe won by running an explicit base turnout election.
Traditionally, Virginia Democrats focus heavily on rural white voters with gimmicks like sponsoring NASCAR cars. Mook instead focused heavily on the ethnically and racially diverse D.C. suburbs in Northern Virginia and African-American communities in places like Richmond, and delivered an elusive off-year electoral victory for Democrats. In fact, Mook was so successful, there was no African-American voter drop-off between 2012 and 2013.
If Clinton was interested in another tepid I-stand-for-nothing campaign, she could’ve brought back Mark Penn for another losing effort. But you don’t hire Mook to depress your best supporters. Quite the opposite, in fact.
On actual substance, Clinton’s early speechifying is also cause for optimism. On immigration, she now supports measures far beyond anything Obama has proposed, generating enthusiastic support from the Hispanic community. She’s been saying all the right things on police brutality and criminal reform (as her husband admits the mistakes of his get-tough-on-crime policies). And on income inequality, where even her staunchest liberal supporters can be skeptical, Clinton is striking a populist tone — and her lack of support for the president’s lobbying efforts on behalf of his Pacific trade deal hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Indeed, for those hoping to generate a genuine primary challenge against Clinton, she’s provided very little ammo for them to work with. When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) entered the primary with a stirring call for a stronger middle class, Clinton tweeted in response, “I agree with Bernie.” The old Clinton wouldn’t have been caught dead anywhere near those words.
So for those hoping that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Sanders would push Clinton to the left, it appears it’s too late. She’s already there.
Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.