In their bid to push Hillary Rodham Clinton to the left, liberal activists are trying a tactic more commonly associated with the right.
Progressive standard bearer Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, was in Washington on Tuesday, kicking off a campaign to pressure politicians to embrace a 13-point policy blueprint, much the way Newt Gingrich did in 1994, just before Republicans took control of Congress. The effort is timed to influence Clinton as she develops her policy agenda.
But can the De Blasio plan have anything close to the effect of Gingrich’s Contract With America?
Gingrich thinks not. He wrote in the New York Post this week that the contract articulated a vision that already prevailed among Republicans, whereas De Blasio is picking a fight within his own party, timing the effort to influence Clinton as she develops her agenda.
The bigger challenge De Blasio faces, though, may be articulating a plan as simple and straightforward as the tax cuts, welfare cuts and government reform that conservatives rallied around before taking control of Congress two decades ago.
That much was clear Tuesday morning at the National Press Club, where De Blasio appeared with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D. Mass.) for the unveiling of the 113-page policy report that inspired De Blasio’s blueprint.
The report, written by Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and released by the nonprofit Roosevelt Institute, has 331 footnotes. It details how the “trickle-down” economics that has prevailed in America for 35 years has “decimated America’s middle class” and lays out a model for replacing it.
Before De Blasio and Warren spoke, a panel of economists and policy experts talked about “asymmetry” within the economy, the historical roots of inequality and the ways in which the Federal Reserve functions.
Not exactly easily digestible campaign propaganda.
De Blasio is trying to boil it all down to something that resonates with voters. His blueprint focuses on the report’s call to expand Social Security, provide universal pre-kindergarten and boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“There needs to be a movement that will carry these ideas forward,” De Blasio said. The New York mayor, who ran Clinton’s first campaign for Senate, has lately become something of a nuisance to her. He and Warren are taking the lead in pushing Clinton to make policy commitments she might prefer to sidestep.
“There are those times that leaders have to hear sharply the people’s voices and follow through,” he said Tuesday. “And not be overawed by the political limits we have created for ourselves.”
Liberal activists have generally been pleased by the direction the Clinton campaign is going. But the limits of their influence is also coming into focus. Clinton has proved adept at endorsing some key progressive principles without boxing herself into policy commitments that might alienate swing voters in the general election.
Her refusal to take a firm position on the big Pacific trade deal the Obama administration is trying to close is a particular source of irritation to progressives eager to stop it.
“We cannot keep pushing through trade deals that benefit multinational companies at the expense of workers,” Warren said. The senator also put Democrats on notice that some in the party need to rethink their approach to the economy.
“A lot of Democrats seem to have floated along with the idea that economic growth is in direct opposition to strengthening the well-being of America’s working families, and we have to choose growth over our families. That claim is flatly wrong.”
Warren didn't mention it, but there is a term for the type of economic policy the senator says has been so damaging for Democrats, coined when the party controlled the White House in the 1990s: Clintonomics.