How Liberals Will Fail to Beat Hillary

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 8 2013 2:22 PM

How Liberals Will Fail to Beat Hillary

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What, me worry about Social Security?

Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Pennsylvania Conference for Women

Progressive Democrats in the House and Senate are attempting to shift the Overton window in budget discussions, and get their colleagues on board with an expansion of Social Security. This is a so-so story on its own, so it's being twinned in some places with a more speculative tale of whether this is Bad for Hillary. Dave Catanese:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

“Social Security in 2016 could be the Iraq of 2008, meaning a definitive issue that primary voters make decisions based on,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is leading a concerted charge for expansion of the FDR-era program. Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, characterized the coming battle over reforming the nation’s safety-net programs as a seminal moment for Democrats. “It’s a real point of conflict and battle within the Democratic Party. It endangers the Democrats’ ability to win elections. You don’t want to go into a presidential election saying, ‘I’m going to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.’ That’s the formula for making sure there’s not the first woman president.” And Justin Ruben, the head of the 8 million-member MoveOn.org, has been even more unequivocal, saying in April, “Any Democrat who is voting to cut Social Security benefits is probably kissing his or her presidential aspirations goodbye.”

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Well, OK, but when exactly does Clinton get the chance to do that? She's not in elective office, and won't be unless she wins the presidency. If she ends up getting behind some "grand bargain" that would cut the welfare state, she could say so, but what in her record suggests that she would? If you go back to any of Clinton's economic statements from 2007 and 2008, they were generally progressive without being surprising. 

"It isn't right that the wealthy and the well-connected have gotten so many more benefits than the middle class and working people have," said Clinton during the 2008 South Carolina primary. Her response: 

- Tax increases "on the top."

- An expanded earned income tax credit.

- A moratorium on foreclosures.

Nothing on Social Security there, but since 2007 Clinton's been for subjecting more income to Social Security taxes. "Raising the retirement age is not an answer," she said during the campaign. "Cutting benefits is not an answer. We need to get back to the fiscal responsibility that we had in the 1990s, when we weren't draining the Social Security fund any more."

Point is, it's not like Clinton was a heretic on this the way she was a heretic on Iraq. The less clicky version of this story (actually, Catanese gets there) is one in which progressives in Congress move the party left, and Clinton adapts, the way Mitt Romney adapted from 2008 to 2012. That seems more realistic than a candidate starting further in the hole than anyone did against Hillary last time, and trying to rouse the base by pointing out that she took a speaking free from Goldman Sachs.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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