Hillary Clinton: First Impressions

On May 6th, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held her first two fundraising events in San Francisco. I attended an afternoon event, featuring a confident, positive Clinton. While Hillary didn't address all of the questions that liberals might have asked, she gave enough specifics to win over most, if not all, Clinton skeptics.

Clinton used her announcement video to establish populist themes. Clinton observed, "Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times. But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top... Everyday Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion." The same tone dominated her San Francisco address.

First in Iowa and again in San Francisco, Clinton talked of four big fights that will focus her campaign rhetoric.

The first is "building the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday." Clinton touts the economic progress made under the Obama administration and her plans to build upon it by addressing inequality. Hillary emphasized that a major feature of her economic initiative will be policies that help small businesses.

The second "fight" is "strengthening families and communities." Hillary Clinton recently wrote: "You shouldn't have to be the granddaughter of a president or a secretary of state to receive excellent health care, education, enrichment, and all the support and advantages that will one day lead to a good job and a successful life."

An important part of this populist stance is raising the minimum wage. Another is improving the education system. Clinton promised to help those who are burdened with student loan debt - this might be a holding place for an announcement that she supports Senator Elizabeth Warren's plan to refinance student loan debt.

Clinton includes immigration reform as an important component in her fight to strengthen families and communities. On May 6th, Clinton said:

The American people support comprehensive immigration reform not just because it's the right thing to do -- and it is -- but because it will strengthen families, strengthen our economy, and strengthen our country. That's why we can't wait any longer... for a path to full and equal citizenship.

At the San Francisco gathering, Hillary Clinton expressed her full support of The Affordable Care Act and her intention to strengthen Obamacare.

Clinton's third "fight" is "fixing our dysfunctional political system and getting unaccountable money out of it even if that takes a constitutional amendment." Clinton acknowledged that a winning campaign will require raising a huge amount of money -- The New York Times reported that she plans to raise $2.5 billion. She observed that's the reality she has to compete in but that doesn't mean our political system works.

Finally, the fourth "fight" is "protecting our country from the threats we see and the ones that are on the horizon." Hillary mentioned the complexity of the situation in the Middle East and the new form of threat posed by the Islamic State (ISIL). She also mentioned cyber terrorism.

At the event I attended, Clinton didn't mention the threat posed by global climate change; however, her campaign manager, John Podesta, has indicated she'll make "climate change & clean energy" a major concern of her campaign (and package it as a threat to national security).

Hillary Clinton demonstrated a level of energy and optimism that I hadn't seen before. Perhaps, as some have observed, she's buoyed by the weaknesses of the Republican candidates. More likely, she's decided to run the campaign on her own terms, and doesn't feel beholden to the legacy of her husband or Barack Obama.

Writing in The New Republic, Brian Beutler observed:

In America, in 2015, large swaths of people with wildly differing political ideologies... are converging on a series of assumptions they didn't always share... that the drug war is a moral and practical failure; that three-strikes laws, mandatory minimum sentences, and myriad other aspects of our criminal justice system are flawed, racially biased, and in desperate need of reform; that the loosening of certain financial regulations in recent decades was disastrous; that the Iraq war never should have happened.

Hillary Clinton seems aligned with these sentiments. She's softened her position on medical marijuana. In April, Clinton spoke of the need for reform of the criminal justice system and an end to "the era of mass incarceration." She hasn't come out and said, "the loosening of certain financial regulations was disastrous" but to many observers she seems to be aligning with Senator Elizabeth Warren, (a recent New Yorker article on Warren observed that Clinton and her staff have been consulting with Warren and her staff.) And in her updated memoir Clinton admitted that her support for the Iraq war was a mistake.

Obviously, anything can happen between now and the November 8, 2016, presidential election. However, based upon first impressions, it looks like Hillary Clinton is on track to become America's first female president.