Robb: Clinton is comfortable moving left

Robert Robb,
Robert Robb

The conventional wisdom is that the protracted primary contest with Bernie Sanders has driven presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton uncomfortably to the left. I don’t think that’s the most accurate description of what has happened.

There is no doubt that Clinton moved to the left during the primaries. But I don’t think she’s uncomfortable with where she has ended up. In fact, I suspect she finds it liberating.

Except on foreign policy, Clinton has never seemed an authentic centrist.

Her husband governed from the center as president, either out of conviction or political calculation. Probably a bit of both.

Bill ran as a “New Democrat,” still committed to Democratic ideals of social justice but supposedly with a greater respect for markets and limits on government’s competence. He grew the state by small measures and made deals with Republicans on welfare reform, free trade, budgets, financial market deregulation and a reduction in the capital gains tax.

The only policy issue on which Hillary was directly involved, health care, stands in contrast to this small-ball liberalism and bipartisanship. Hillarycare would have forced every American into a government-sanctioned HMO. It was quintessential big-state liberalism.

Bill’s New Democratism was politically popular and many, including Hillary as she launched her own political career, claimed fealty to it. But today’s Democratic Party has long abandoned it. Today’s Democratic Party wants to remake the United States in the image of Western Europe, with a state-directed economy and heavily regulated labor and capital markets. Sanders has just been more open about it.

Hillary is inauthentic in trying to give voice to the populist sentiment driving this transformation within the Democratic Party. The Clintons have become very wealthy gaming the system Hillary now denounces as rigged. But having government experts control more of the economy is something she would seem authentic in supporting.

And Donald Trump gives her room to be more authentic about government control of the economy, to move to the left without the political risks that might obtain in a more normal political year.

Trump’s critique of Hillary, as is his critique of everyone, will be personal, not grounded in policy differences. Policy ain’t his bag.

Moreover, it’s not clear that, in terms of government control of the economy, Trump has that sharp of a disagreement with Clinton

Trump, after all, has vowed, as president, to call CEOs on the phone and tell them where they can and cannot build manufacturing plants.

Even as far left as Clinton has moved, she hasn’t asserted the authority to do that.

Reach Robb is a columnist for The Arizona Republic.