Clinton lays out vision, looks for FDR-Obama coalition

Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to supporters Saturday, June 13, 2015, on Roosevelt Island in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to supporters Saturday, June 13, 2015, on Roosevelt Island in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) AP

Hillary Clinton’s new campaign for the presidency is being built on policies she says will boost the middle class, but also are aimed at appealing to the coalition of voters forged by Franklin D. Roosevelt and modernized by Barack Obama.

Standing on a narrow island between Manhattan and Queens named for FDR, Clinton on Saturday evoked Roosevelt’s New Deal when speaking of new ways the federal government could lift the American families left behind during the most recent economic crisis.

“If you do your part you ought to be able to get ahead,” Clinton said in her first rally of the 2016 campaign. “And when everybody does their part, America gets ahead too.”

Clinton told more than 5,000 supporters that she would increase economic fairness, boost family leave, ease college debt and combat climate change if elected to the White House.

She included them under a broad theme that the United States should be measured by the success of its families, not its wealthy, and will urge Americans to trust her to fight for the middle class. 

“Democracy can't be just for billionaires and corporations,” Clinton told the cheering crowd. “Prosperity and democracy are part of your basic bargain too.”

She contrasted herself with the slew of Republicans presidential hopefuls who would turn to what she calls the tired, unsuccessful tactic of lowering taxes for the wealthy and imposing fewer rules for the largest corporations.

“There may be some new voices in the presidential Republican choir,” Clinton said. “But they're all singing the same old song.”

Her speech frames her most detailed vision for the country so far as she seeks to harness the same coalition of female, minority, youth and gay voters that twice propelled Barack Obama to victory. The enthusiastic crowd flew small American flags and snapped photos with their phones.

“I’m really excited to see she’s taking about issues even the president isn’t talking about,” said Jacob Glick, 22, of New York, a recent Cornell University graduate. “She’s defying a lot of expectations.”

Betsy Steinman, 65, of New York, said she is glad Clinton is talking about raising the minimum wage, securing voting rights and immigration. “She’s standing up for the middle class,” she said.

Clinton was joined at the rally by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea, marking the first time the family will campaign together since she entered the race.

“No more dynasties,” said Bob Kunst of Miami Beach, one of the few opponents outside the event, who held a sign. “Had enough of Bill + Hill.” He plans to protest former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign kickoff in Miami Monday too.

Clinton spoke from Four Freedoms Park, a memorial celebrating the four tenets outlined in Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address: the freedoms of speech, worship, want and fear.

There, she spoke of her own four broad goals: strengthening the economy, helping families and communities, getting unaccountable money out of politics and protecting the country from foreign threats.

The 45-minute speech, her first event open to the public since she announced in mid-April, was full of policy proposals, but short on details. She is expected to outline specifics weekly through the summer and fall.

Clinton already has been accused of moving to the left as she tries to win over more liberal voters.

She’s pledged to do more than Obama to halt the deportation of immigrants who are in the United States illegally. She’s called for an overhaul of the criminal justice system, including body cameras by police and fewer Americans sent to prison. She supports a nationwide in-person early voting period of at least 20 days and automatic voter registration at the age of 18. She backs same-sex marriage and says it is a right afforded by the Constitution.

William Galston, a former adviser to Bill Clinton and now a senior fellow at the center-left Brookings Institution, said the issues Clinton is pushing now are merely a response to the changes in “her party, the electorate and the facts on the ground.”

The circumstances surrounding some of issues, including immigration and college debt, are profoundly different than they were one or two decades ago. “The world has completely changed,” he said.

Those proposals appeal to Hispanics, blacks, gays and lesbians and young voters. But while they appeal to left-leaning voters, they probably would not hurt her with moderate and independent voters in a general election.

“This speech shows that the center of gravity in the Democratic Party is changing – moving away from corporate Democrat priorities and toward populist ideas,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

But Clinton refuses to take a stand on some key issues, including the 12-nation trade pact being debated by Congress, the amount of increase of the minimum wage and the Keystone XL pipeline.

“I don’t understand how any candidate, Democrat or Republican, is not speaking out on this issue right now,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., one of Clinton’s three opponents, told reporters this week at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.