Democrats are right about one thing. There is more to Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy than her lies about obeying government rules for her emails, destroying evidence demanded by Congressional subpoenas, and conflicts of interest between her family foundation and her work as secretary of state. Granted, it’s hard to get past Clinton’s sense of entitlement about the presidency and her arrogant resentment of the notion that she ought to be held accountable for her actions. But, influenced by the shift to the left in her party’s base, Clinton is also offering a rather ambitious agenda for the nation. Like the similar yet even more radical proposals put forward by her chief Democratic rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, the Clinton plan for America is offering a lot of free things as well as traditional liberal talking points. But the problem with all this free stuff is, of course, that is not free to the taxpayers who will be required to pay for it. While pundits have said the right’s ability to force GOP candidates to avoid the center is hurting their ability to win a general election, the ability of the left to pressure Clinton into calling for a new era of big government that could set America on the same path that eventually sank Greece in an ocean of debt won’t help her in November 2016.
Clinton’s plans are so ironic that even the New York Times couldn’t resist bringing up her husband’s famous statement in his 1995 State of the Union address that “the era of big government is over.” What was interesting about that line is that it was, of course, a reaction to the GOP’s 1994 midterm landslide. Unlike Barack Obama, who was rebuked in two such electoral thumpings in 2010 and 2014 but refused to try and deal with Congress, Clinton embraced Republican ideas and made them his own. The result was that a lot got done, and the Democrat was able to claim ownership of welfare reform and a balanced budget that had been forced upon him by his opponents.
But that sensible moment in American history might as well as happened a century ago as far as Mrs. Clinton is concerned. Given her chameleon-like ability to shift her stands on a host of issues on both domestic and foreign policy, it’s hard to say what her real principles, if she has any, are, other than, that is, a relentless ambition. But whatever is at her core, Clinton understands that if she is to mobilize her party’s base and get the large minority turnout that Obama could count on and which she desperately needs, a shift to the left is required.
That’s behind the laundry list of liberal big government programs that Clinton is prepared to roll out. She wants free college tuition, kindergarten and child care, not to mention a vast jobs bank and bonds sales to pay for free infrastructure projects, new legal protections for illegal immigrants and an expanded bureaucracy to monitor gun sales. As the Times points out, the price tag for all of this is impressive. Several hundred billion dollars would be needed to get it going and even more to sustain them.
That sounds good to liberal Democratic primary and caucus voters, though Sanders’ even pricier ideas sound even better to them. Like Sanders, Clinton plans to tell Democrats that she can pay for it by taxing the rich. But, as the Times notes, there is no evidence for a vast shift to the left on the part of the bulk of the electorate. Most Americans still think government is too big and intrusive. They also know the country is already sinking in debt that has grown exponentially on President Obama’s watch as he expanded government principally via ObamaCare.
While Clinton ran for president in 2008 as a centrist determined to revive her husband’s policies and return the country to prosperity, the 2016 version is going to be very different. It’s a subject for debate as to whether, as the Times indicates, that this reflects her true political orientation as an activist liberal in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt.
But surely even left-wingers know that the politics of the New Deal or even Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society don’t offer much help for an American economy and society that has changed fundamentally since then. What “New Democrats” like Bill Clinton understood in the 1990s was that their party had to adapt to a post-liberal age in which Americans wanted an effective and compassionate government but not the sort of intrusive federal leviathan that had caused so much damage as a result of Great Society excesses. Yet that is exactly where Clinton is heading with her proposals. The Greek example may seem far-fetched, but that is the inevitable fate of any society that writes entitlement checks that cannot be cashed.
Liberal Democrats may think their moment is returning but, like all parties in thrall to their ideologues, they are blind to the political costs of a swing to the extremes. Only the far left really believes that higher taxes on the rich can pay for their big government dreams. It is precisely those middle-class Americans that Clinton talks about representing that will pay most heavily for more government. The lurch to the left may help Clinton fend off a feeble challenge from the implausible Sanders, but she may pay a high price for a campaign that is a formula for defeat in a general election.