28 February 2024

Hillary Clinton’s Messaging Has Familiar Ring to It

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Sounding a theme that seemed suited to a presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton said the “basic bargain” of America is that people who “work hard and play by the rules’’ get the chance to build a good life. Mrs. Clinton is giving hints of the themes and agenda that would animate her campaign if she were to run for president, offering the barest sketch of what could evolve into her basic stump speech. Yet, the ideas are, in a sense, frozen in time. Mrs. Clinton has offered the same thoughts—in virtually identical language—at earlier stages of her political career.

She talked about the “basic bargain” in 2007, using nearly the same wording in the Web video announcing she was running for president. Her husband, Bill Clinton, used the formulation years earlier. Mrs. Clinton’s call for “evidence-based decision-making” dates at least to 2006. And ending tax breaks for so-called offshoring dates to Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 campaign but also to 1992, when Mr. Clinton included it in his own campaign manifesto.

The familiar language underscores a central challenge that Mrs. Clinton would face as a candidate: How does someone who has been a household name for nearly a quarter-century, as a first lady, senator and secretary of state, inspire voters with fresh ideas.

Clinton loyalists say her near-universal name recognition cuts both ways. It is one reason she has vaulted to the top of every poll of Democratic voters. But that familiarity could be a handicap, they say, if people see her as a throwback to another era.

The 67-year-old isn’t a candidate yet and has ample time to refine a message—and she may yet decide that the ideas she has long championed are right once again for the moment. But some Democratic strategists are saying Mrs. Clinton must spell out a more concrete case for why she wants the presidency and where she would lead the country.

Republicans candidates have begun laying out policy specifics, or they are officeholders with recent records to run on. Mrs. Clinton, by contrast, has been largely absent from the political realm for six years, which draws additional attention to her language in her few forays into public policy.

In recent speeches, Mrs. Clinton has brought a new element to her thoughts on policy: her status as a grandmother. Even if babies aren’t grandchildren of former senators and presidents, they should have the same educational opportunities and prospects as 3-month-old Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky, she says. But at this stage, some of Mrs. Clinton’s speeches seem to borrow from past addresses. In a radio address he gave in 2000, then-President Clinton used the “basic bargain” idea that Mrs. Clinton repeated many years later, at the steak fry and political fest in Iowa three months ago hosted by Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.

Mrs. Clinton’s criticism of policies that give “tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas,” made at an event this fall for a Democratic Senate candidate, has long been part of the Clinton policy arsenal. Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor and co-founder of the Mayday PAC, a group that seeks to change the way campaigns are funded, said that Mrs. Clinton faces the risk of sounding stale.

Click here to access the full article on The Wall Street Journal. 

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