Donald's Gropes Versus Hillary's Tropes

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speak simultaneous
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speak simultaneously during their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Supporters of Hillary Clinton can thank their lucky stars that Julian Assange leaked excerpts from her Wall Street speeches the same day that another leaked recording showed Donald Trump descending to new lows in his loutish bragging of his sexual exploits.

Happily, the Trump revelations knocked the Clinton speeches out of the headlines, and produced reverberations in the form of other Republicans withdrawing their support as well as demands for him to quit the campaign -- demands that will keep cascading and dominating the news cycle for days.

By contrast, Clinton's closed-door comments, ingratiating herself with Wall Street donors, are not all that surprising. They demonstrate what is well known -- she is basically a centrist Democrat, with a pro-business view of trade, inclined to cut bankers a lot of slack in assigning blame for the 2008 financial collapse, and still stuck in the budget-balance folly.

As recently as the first presidential debate, Clinton repeated the canard that tax cuts (rather than deregulation) were the primary cause of the 2008 meltdown, and embraced budget balance as a measure of virtue. She has moved into a more critical stance on trade, mainly because of shifting public opinion, pressures from the Sanders campaign, and to counter Trump's pseudo-populism.

Probably the most damning single line in the transcripts -- if in fact they are authentic -- was her comment that it's necessary to have both "a public and a private position" on contentious issues.

How damaging will these leaks be? They would have been a lot more damaging had they surfaced during the closely fought Democratic primaries against Bernie Sanders. They will surely put the more progressive wing of the Democratic constituency even more on guard against Clinton backsliding, as they should be anyway.

On the whole, it's salutary to have this stuff out. Now that it's out there, it's pretty tame compared to the latest Trump bombshells, which will put Trump on the defensive for another week, after his terrible previous week trying to explain away his tax dodging. (Assange does claim that he has even more damaging stuff to release, but he is not exactly the most reliable guy in the world.)

On balance, it's constructive for progressives to have some concrete ammunition to keep the pressure on Clinton.

Wall Street really has no place else to go. Bankers and investors are appalled by Trump. The real-time movements of stock futures during the first presidential debate suggest that financial markets consider the prospect of a Trump presidency a disaster in the making.

Whenever Trump seemed to score points off Clinton, stock futures fell. When Clinton did well, they rose.

Financial markets like predictability and competence. A Trump presidency would be anything but predictable and far from competent. His reckless policies could set off a global depression, at a time when the global economy is far from robust.

As for Clinton, the challenge is to push her not to pursue more of the same -- a recovery that still doesn't fully reach Main Street and a financial industry even more concentrated than it was before the 2008 crash.

As president, Clinton would have the leverage to complete some of the unfinished financial reforms of the Dodd-Frank Act through tougher enforcement, to move trade policy in a very different direction, and to break with the budget balance orthodoxy -- if only she would use it. Some of this would require congressional assent, but executive power is extensive in the area of financial regulation, enforcement, and trade.

Democratic progressives have been keeping a close eye on key economic policy positions to be filled by Clinton, and pressing for commitments from her to reject the usual suspects who either come from Wall Street or support light regulation and fiscal conservatism.

These posts include not only the highly visible ones of treasury secretary and head of the National Economic Council, but second-tier power positions such as head of the Office of Management and Budget, director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), and chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Under Obama, these jobs went to regulatory and fiscal conservatives and to allies of Wall Street. Under Clinton, they had better go to far more progressive appointees, or Clinton will stay stuck on the pro-Wall Street track that defined the last two Democratic administrations.

Compared to the risks of a Trump presidency, of course, making sure that Clinton appoints progressives to the key economic posts is a nice problem to have. But it is something to watch carefully.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and professor at Brandeis University's Heller School. His latest book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility.

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