Hillary Does What Democrats Should Do: Make Like FDR

U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton gestures as she speaks during a rally at Lincoln High School in Des Moin
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton gestures as she speaks during a rally at Lincoln High School in Des Moines, Iowa August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Hillary Clinton is doing what Democrats should have been doing all along, and that's looking and sounding -- and, if given the chance, acting -- like FDR. This means going big, big, big and fully using government to radically ramp up new programs and initiatives to tackle everything from the nation's crumbling infrastructure to the chronic unemployment, especially among the urban poor.

Her FDR-like chorus was in full effect in her speech at a Michigan auto and aircraft parts manufacturing plant near Detroit. She promised a big spending spree to the tune of nearly $300 billion on a vast array of infrastructure building and repair projects; roads, bridges, airports schools, sewer systems and so on. The projects would create new jobs for thousands.

Clinton made it clear that she expects the rich to foot much of the bill by demanding hefty tax hikes on them. She added the final FDR touch to her big spending plan by promising to plop the legislation on Congress' table within her first 100 days in office.

Now in line with the FDR theme, Clinton knows full well the perils ahead. The biggest threat is the Congress that she'll have to go to with her big spending package. If it's still a GOP-controlled Congress after November, it will be as hostile to the big budget and tax increases. It waged war against a far more modest jobs and infrastructure spending plan by President Obama than Clinton will offer. GOP rival Trump has already taken shots at her plan with the standard GOP rap about Democrats soaking the rich, further eroding the living standards of the middle class and igniting inflation.

The loud message is that it's DOA if it ever hit Congress, and that it's nothing more than a campaign stump promise to get votes. And besides that, the public would be so up in arms at the big spending that it would trigger backlash at the polls against the Democrats in the mid-term elections. The GOP used that tact in 2010 when it grabbed the House. It claimed the win as a total rejection of the Obama administration's program on health care, financial reform and stimulus spending, and claimed that Americans loudly clamored for a return to fiscal conservatism, permanent tax cuts for the super-rich, and a sprint backward on expanding government programs in education, housing and highway and urban infrastructure construction and reconstruction.

But Clinton is on far more solid ground if she follows through with the pledge than her GOP and right-wing economist assailants would have one believe.

After his smash presidential reelection win in 1936, FDR took a drubbing a bare two years later in the 1938 midterm elections from the GOP. The Democrats lost seven seats in the Senate, and a crushing 81 seats in the House.

The economy turned even sourer in the two years after Roosevelt's 1936 land slide win, and unemployment crept up higher from its still double digit numbers. The GOP played hard on the feeling that the New Deal wasn't working, and that it had run out of steam and that the real answer to the nation's economic crisis was to turn things back over to big business and let it run the economic ship without the Roosevelt and New Deal governmental restraints, agencies, tampering and meddling.

Roosevelt ignored the administration baiters and lurched left. He increased spending on job programs, continued to pound the "economic royalists" for subverting the economy and attacked auto and steel giants and the superrich "Sixty Families" for doing everything to stymie the recovery. In a fireside chat, FDR talked bluntly with the American people immediately after the 1938 election and made it clear he would not reverse course and that he'd do everything he could to "create an economic upturn" by keeping the government firmly in the business of creating jobs and economic security for the millions still suffering from the Depression.

Clinton is doing the same. However, she also will have to fight the one thing that has kept Democrats since LBJ from making the fight against poverty, wealth and income inequality, and making the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes a party staple. That is the deep fear of being perennially branded, baited and reviled with the label and the perception that Democrats reflexively do tax and spend -- that is spend at the expense of the middle class for programs that aid the poor and minorities. Democrats did lose elections in the 1980s to Reagan and Bush, and always the losses came with the tag that the Democrats were fixated on tilting to minorities. The race-tinged appeals did shell-shock the party. Bill Clinton was unabashed in basing his 1992 presidential campaign on courting the white middle class, and erasing the GOP-imposed stigma of the Democrats as solely the party of and for minorities. It worked. Clinton won and won again in 1996. This even more firmly implanted the notion and the fear that Democrats must run from big spending on jobs and infrastructure as being synonymous with pandering to minorities.

That's a history that Clinton is largely rejecting. And well she should. FDR did and the country was the big winner for it.

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Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a consultant with the Institute of the Black World and an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio-one. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Pacifica Radio.