WASHINGTON -- Is Hillary Clinton actually moving left, and if so, why?
The answer is yes, though not on every topic. And the reason is to push young voters' turnout and grassroots organizing enthusiasm as close as possible to the levels that President Barack Obama enjoyed in 2008.
“After two terms of President Obama, it won’t be easy, but our challenge is to again excite the passion of the youngest voters,” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told fellow Georgetown Law Center alums at a luncheon last week.
The campaign aims to fire up millennials with both a tailored approach to the issues and innovative use of technology. For the latter, the team recently brought aboard a former high-ranking Google manager to push new initiatives in social media and big data-guided outreach.
As for issues, Clinton advisers and Democrats close the candidate say she will focus on matters of particular appeal to those voters ages 18 to 33. The idea is that she will go strongly to the left on social issues, move somewhat less left on economic issues, and remain a centrist on foreign policy, military affairs and terrorism.
The target areas include climate change and other global environmental concerns, and social issues broadly defined -- including support for same-sex marriage; a path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants; and criminal justice reforms such as changing harsh sentencing rules, reducing the current reliance on incarceration and opposing "militarization" of local police forces.
Clinton also plans to take a measured, big-picture approach to dealing with the overbearing influence of corporate wealth and the resulting public cynicism. She will advocate a higher minimum wage and support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. But she's not about to become an all-out, rail-against-the-banks populist in the manner of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). And as she did this week, Clinton will talk up the role of small business and innovation.
Especially on climate and social issues, the calculation is that the entire electorate has rapidly moved left, led by the youngest voters, whose views on the full range of these topics is starkly more liberal than those of the oldest voters. It’s become almost too easy to ridicule Republicans speaking to young audiences as “out of the mainstream.”
“On climate change, some of the Republicans remind me of Alfred E. Neuman,” said Podesta last week. “What, me worry?”
Economics are a closer question among millennials. Their distrust of big-government solutions is robust; their doubts about the efficacy of programs such as Social Security is deep. They believe in entrepreneurship, if for no other reason than that the old pyramid of lifetime hiring is gone.
So far, Hillary Clinton has avoided taking firm stands on the Keystone XL pipeline or the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. If and when she is forced to do so, she’ll flat-out reject the former, one adviser predicts, and look for less-than-sweepingly ideological reasons to temporarily oppose the latter.
If the goal is to instill passion in millennials, however, there is little reason to dwell on foreign policy, or so it seems. A recent poll shows that the current crop of youngest voters is noticeably less worried about terrorism than the previous cohort.
The overwhelming American consensus is that the Iraq War was a mistake and that the bomb-and-drone approach to ending terrorism and making the U.S. safer hasn’t worked. But that doesn’t necessarily mean voters want the U.S. to withdraw from the world. It’s more likely to mean that voters, especially millennials, don’t see the "Global War on Terror" as central to the 2016 contest. So even though Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state is her top official on-the-job experience, she isn’t going to make it the centerpiece of her campaign.
Republicans will still dwell on what she did and didn't do at the State Department. But it’s doubtful young voters will care.