The “Ready for Hilary” campaign has launched a not-very-subtle courtship of discontented Democrats, those leftish liberal activists who yearn for anybody but another Clinton. The not-yet candidate herself spoke to their concerns indirectly when she recently addressed the Silicon Valley Conference for Women. Clinton sketched out progressive goals for family-centered labor-market reforms. They were like love bombs for bleeding-heart liberals.
Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress, the shadow think tank that speaks for Clinton-Obama politics, issued a more substantive agenda in a 161-page report from its self-appointed “Commission on Inclusive Prosperity.” The co-chair was Lawrence Summers, former Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton and senior adviser to Obama. He performed an intellectual conversion equivalent to a double somersault in gymnastics. The new ideas were actually old ideas that progressive advocates have championed for decades to no avail. They were ignored or rejected by Summers himself and the two Democratic presidents he served.
Never mind, the message is: Hillary gets it. She’s ready to confront the inequality thing. She will bring fresh ideas to the campaign on how to reverse the deterioration of middle-class American life. Her list includes everything from parental leave to care for newborn infants to equal pay for women and paid vacations for all working people. The CAP agenda, among many sound ideas, opts for stronger labor unions, worker ownership of corporations, faster growth and full employment, a reformed global trading system that for American working people will become a “race to the top” instead of the bottom. What’s not to like?
But the Clinton seduction encountered a rocky start. In some progressive quarters, the shape-changing rhetoric inspired anger and abiding skepticism instead of applause. Many liberal advocates were reminded why they didn’t want Hillary in first place. Some saw a leopard changing spots into tiger stripes. Still, many policy activists were pleased that their agitation for Elizabeth Warren or other potential candidates was causing serious heartburn in establishment circles. The dissidents intend to do more.
Summers was especially infuriating with his condescending remarks. He has a well-known talent for foot-in-mouth (recall his Harvard speech on why women don’t do well in science and engineering). On economic reform, he offered a warning: “It’s not enough to address upward mobility without addressing inequality. The challenge, though, is to address inequality without embracing the politics of envy.”
“Envy” of the wealthy is a popular trope among the “1 percent” (remember Mitt Romney’s defense of his). In Summers’s case, he may have been thinking of his own grand windfall. A few weeks before his CAP report was issued, Summers hit the jackpot with the initial public offering for Lending Club. As a member of its board of directors, the Harvard economist had accumulated more one million shares in stock and options, priced at 70 cents each according to SEC filings. After the IPO, the stock was trading at $28 a share.