Clin­ton dis­tances her­self from Obama’s style, if not his sub­stance

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - Dan Balz dan.balz@wash­post.com

new york— Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton kicked off the sec­ond phase of her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign here on Satur­day, and it was clear that, as much as she might broadly em­brace Pres­i­dent Obama on pol­icy, she will present her­self as a dif­fer­ent kind of chief ex­ec­u­tive.

It has long been said that vot­ers use pres­i­den­tial elec­tions to cor­rect per­ceived de­fi­cien­cies in the in­cum­bent. Ask­ing for con­ti­nu­ity of power while nev­er­the­less ad­vo­cat­ing changes, Clin­ton ap­pears ea­ger to con­trast her­self with Obama in ways that are both sub­tle and di­rect.

If Obama spoke of trans­for­ma­tion, Clin­ton is run­ning as a worka­day prob­lem solver with a lengthy to-do list and the poli­cies to match— an in­cre­men­tal­ist who will mea­sure progress in small changes as much as grand achieve­ments.

If the Obama who de­feated her eight years ago was the can­di­date of soar­ing rhetoric, of hope and in­spi­ra­tion, Clin­ton is run­ning as a dogged and determined fighter at a time when many vot­ers are look­ing for ev­i­dence of achiev­able re­sults.

If Obama is faulted for hav­ing failed to de­velop re­la­tion­ships with Repub­li­cans— or even Democrats, as Fri­day’s trade vote in the House re­minded— Clin­ton will be pre­sented as some­one whose ap­proach is not that of a pres­i­dent of­ten de­scribed as dis­tant from other elected of­fi­cials. The for­mer sec­re­tary of state chose a stunning and sym­bolic set­ting for her first big rally: Franklin D. Roo­sevelt’s Four Free­doms Park in the mid­dle of the East River on the tip of Roo­sevelt Is­land, with ex­pan­sive views of the New York sky­line.

In choos­ing the site, she linked her­self to Roo­sevelt’s le­gacy of lift­ing up the Amer­i­can peo­ple from the Great De­pres­sion. But as she noted, this is not Roo­sevelt’s time— nor, as she added, is it 1993, when her hus­band took of­fice, or 2009 when Obama con­fronted the Great Re­ces­sion.

“We face new chal­lenges in our econ­omy and our democ­racy,” Clin­ton said, of­fer­ing her­self as some­one pre­pared to dig more deeply into the en­trenched eco­nomic prob­lems that have re­sisted so­lu­tions from Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Clin­ton’s ad­dress was par­ti­san and pop­ulist and per­sonal. It was many speeches in one. Aides had de­scribed it as the foun­da­tion upon which her can­di­dacy will be built, to be fol­lowed with a steady se­ries of pol­icy speeches that will fill out the broad out­lines she of­fered Satur­day.

One part of her speech drew sharp contrasts with her Repub­li­can ri­vals. She blamed the GOP for the col­lapse of the econ­omy and, by im­pli­ca­tion, the prob­lems that re­main. “Fun­da­men­tally, they re­ject what it takes to build an in­clu­sive econ­omy,” she said.

She was dis­mis­sive of those who are now seek­ing the GOP nom­i­na­tion. “There may be some new voices in the pres­i­den­tial Repub­li­can choir,” she said, “but they’re all singing the same old song, a song called ‘Yes­ter­day.’ ”

It’s worth not­ing that when he an­nounced his can­di­dacy two months ago, Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Florida cast Clin­ton as the can­di­date of yes­ter­day.

A sec­ond part of the speech ap­peared de­signed to keep her Demo­cratic ri­vals at bay. Us­ing pop­ulist lan­guage, she railed against the top 1 per­cent and sought to re­as­sure ner­vous pro­gres­sives that she shares their val­ues, even if she has not yet shown she agrees with them on the de­tails of pol­icy.

Those in­clude what she de­scribed as the im­bal­ance be­tween those at the very top and the rest of the pop­u­la­tion— the gap be­tween CEOs and hedge­fund op­er­a­tors and the peo­ple whose wages have stag­nated and who feel as if the deck is stacked against them.

She said she is run­ning to make the econ­omy work for all Amer­i­cans, “the suc­cess­ful and the strug­gling.” But the poli­cies she out­lined were aimed at the strug­gling, with the suc­cess­ful des­tined to be asked to pay more. “Pros­per­ity can’t be just for CEOs and hedge-fund man­agers,” she said. “Democ­racy can’t be just for bil­lion­aires and cor­po­ra­tions.”

It’s doubt­ful, how­ever, that rhetoric alone will sat­isfy those on her party’s left, or ri­vals for the nom­i­na­tion such as Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.) or for­mer Mary­land gover­nor Martin O’Mal­ley. No­tice­ably ab­sent on the day af­ter House Democrats dealt Obama a big de­feat on trade was any men­tion of a topic that has be­come a ma­jor is­sue for the left.

A third part of the speech brought out the pol­icy wonk in Clin­ton, an ex­ten­sion of her hus­band, for­mer pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton. Out­lin­ing four ma­jor am­bi­tions, she salted in enough ideas to fill out an en­tire State of the Union ad­dress.

She talked about new in­cen­tives for busi­nesses that share prof­its with work­ers, a rewrit­ten tax code, more­money to spur in­no­va­tion, am­bi­tious clean-en­ergy poli­cies, an in­fra­struc­ture bank, pre-K and child care for ev­ery child, col­lege af­ford­abil­ity, paid fam­ily leave and sick leave, a ban on dis­crim­i­na­tion of gay and trans­gen­der Amer­i­cans, a path to cit­i­zen­ship for im­mi­grants here il­le­gally.

At other points, she spoke more per­son­ally, though this, too, pro­vided a con­trast with Obama, who has used his bi­og­ra­phy to of­fer the nar­ra­tive thread for his larger po­lit­i­cal and pol­icy goals.

Clin­ton’s sub­ur­ban up­bring­ing was more far more pro­saic than Obama’s story, and so in her speech here on Satur­day, Clin­ton found in­spi­ra­tion for her can­di­dacy not in her own up­bring­ing, but in the poignant story of her mother’s.

Dorothy Rod­ham suc­cess­fully emerged from a child­hood of trauma and ne­glect, and it was that ex­pe­ri­ence, Clin­ton said, that has be­come the mo­ti­va­tion for her ad­vo­cacy for chil­dren and for strug­gling fam­i­lies— and now the foun­da­tion of her 2016 cam­paign.

On Fri­day, the Clin­ton cam­paign re­leased a video that of­fered touch­stones in Clin­ton’s life and ca­reer. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing com­men­tary— her own and that of oth­ers— sought to high­light what her ad­vis­ers see as her most im­por­tant at­tributes: that she will be a fighter for peo­ple who need one.

Def­i­ni­tion of a fighter? “Some­one who won’t give up,” the nar­ra­tor in the video says.

Recipe for progress? “There are no mir­a­cles in this,” says Mar­ian Wright Edel­man, for whom a young Clin­ton worked at the Chil­dren’s De­fense Fund. “It’s hard work. It’s stick­ing with it. It’s per­se­ver­ance.”

The video high­lights one of Clin­ton’s big­gest set­backs, the fail­ure to en­act com­pre­hen­sive health-care re­form dur­ing the first two years of her hus­band’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But it also makes note of the later pas­sage of the Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram. “You have to get up off the floor and keep fight­ing,” Clin­ton says.

On Satur­day, she said that lead­er­ship means “you have to push through the set­backs and dis­ap­point­ments and keep at it. I think you know by now that I’ve been called many things by many peo­ple. ‘Quit­ter’ is not one of them. Like so much else inmy life, I got this frommy mother.”

Whether any of this will change cer­tain per­cep­tions of Clin­ton is a dif­fer­ent ques­tion. For­many Amer­i­cans, im­pres­sions of Clin­ton are baked into their con­scious­ness. Some peo­ple love her; some loathe her. Some are solidly in her cor­ner; some are lost no mat­ter what she does.

The past 18 months have seen a steady and sig­nif­i­cant decline in her per­sonal rat­ings. Her ad­vis­ers think some of that comes with any politi­cian wh ohas been in the arena as long as she has.

Clin­ton is not run­ning to be liked by ev­ery­one, though that’s not to say her cam­paign won’t seek to im­prove her im­age. In­stead, she is seek­ing to show that what is most au­then­tic about her is that she knows the fight she wants to take on and has a com­mit­ment to do­ing the job as best as she knows how. What she doesn’t yet know is whether that will be enough for a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans.

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