Presidential candidates all have to provide a clear and concise explanation as to why they want to be president. Faltering on this question can ruin an entire candidacy before it even begins (e.g. Teddy Kennedy). Hillary Clinton’s answer, as it was portrayed in her candidacy announcement yesterday, is an interesting one. She claims that, “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion.” Now there’s nothing explicitly shocking here (sounding a bit like an off-hand boxing metaphor), but there’s more thinking behind it than first meets the eye. Champion how, and against what?
Many will recall that it was President Bill Clinton who once famously announced that, “the era of big government is over.” Can we tell from yesterday’s announcement whether Hillary agrees? Well, no, not definitively — but I do think we’re getting some hints in this direction. It goes back to the basics. The basic liberal idea is that individuals should be able to live freely in society and have equal opportunity to make a decent living. This political ideal goes at least back to FDR. The threats to this liberty come from those within society that have concentrated economic and social power. The exploitative rich, the existence of male patriarchy and white privilege, make it harder in today’s society for “everyday Americans” to get ahead. The most appropriate institution to “champion” everyday Americans in this struggle is of course a big, strong government. Or so goes the typical liberal vision.
Of course, in being a “champion,” she could have other adversaries to “everyday Americans” in mind — like big government itself. Were she a conservative Republican wanting to champion everyday Americans, that explanation would certainly fit. But remember, Hillary isn’t only a self-described progressive Democrat, but she’s been getting a lot of criticism recently from her left flank. The growing concern is that Hillary will become another disappointing centrist, as Obama has ultimately turned out to be in the eyes of many progressive Democrats. Her main task early on, it would seem then, is to fire up the party. Under the current circumstances, this means distancing herself both from Obama’s weak follow-through on his agenda, and her husband’s presidential record from the 90’s of “triangulation” and bi-partisan compromise.
I would therefore call hers a very good answer to the “Why?” question. It opens the door to a broad narrative about the role of government, and what it should be doing to serve everyday Americans. And, it shows from Day 1 Hillary’s goal of connecting with everyday Americans, and opposing those forces — whatever they may actually be — that cause harm.