- - Monday, October 12, 2015


At tonight’s Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton will play up her left-wing bona fides in an attempt to revitalize her campaign. That’s extra difficult this time around when her main opponent, Bernie Sanders, is an avowed socialist.

The question is: Will the viewers buy her act? Her decades of controversies — from making a 10,000 percent profit trading cattle futures by apparently reading The Wall Street Journal to claiming she and Bill were “dead broke” after they left the White House — should make anyone more than a little skeptical.

Take Mrs. Clinton’s opposition last week to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal that she actively advocated as secretary of state. By one count she supported it 45 times between 2010 and 2013 and said in 2012: “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements .”

But Big Labor is against it. And her 180-degree turn on the issue appears to be a naked attempt to suck up to unions and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who threatened not to endorse Mrs. Clinton this spring if she didn’t play ball on this issue. The liberal blog The Daily Beast accurately sums up voter reaction to this reversal: “Hillary’s trade flip-flop shows how dumb she thinks we are.”

Same story with her recent opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which she was seemingly in favor of before she was against it. This summer she finally said she was opposed to the pipeline after years of equivocating and in 2010 saying that she was “inclined” to support it. This policy position is a sop to Big Green in order to keep the support of another powerful Democratic Party special interest in check (although it will aggravate a few unions who were counting on those pipeline jobs).

These flip-flops — along with earlier ones on gay marriage, crime and the Iraq War (to name a few) — show Hillary has few political positions of her own; she shifts depending on which way the political winds blow. Such a strategy may allow her to dominate an incredibly weak Democratic primary field, but it will surely hurt her in the general election and her ability to govern were she elected.

Her vacillations are certainly a major reason why a recent poll found that the word Americans most frequently associate with Hillary Clinton is “liar,” with other top responses being “dishonest” and “untrustworthy.”

What’s ironic is that the relatively centrist message that she presumably actually holds, and has evoked at times on the campaign trail, could actually resonate with voters looking for common-sense solutions to real problems. At her economic speech this summer, Hillary correctly identified raising the incomes of Americans as the No. 1 economic issue. A clear-headed approach on how to achieve wage growth would connect with a voting public uninterested in political sideshows or soak-the-rich platforms of her Democratic contenders.

And what about the interest on the soon-to-be $19 trillion borrowed debt or the coming bankruptcy of the country if Social Security and entitlement-driven health care continue to suck up most of the tax base? What are Hillary’s solutions to those issues? If she wants to get to the left of Mr. Sanders on funding those, she may have to start selling off federal lands and buildings.

Her proposals on how to address big problems are a greatest hits list of failed progressive policies, including the small-ball ideas of dramatic increases in the minimum wage and more unionization. These policies retard wage growth rather than encourage it by reducing job opportunities and economic vibrancy.

To actually increase wages, Hillary would be wise to take a page from her husband’s playbook. Bill “big government is over” Clinton successfully resisted calls to dramatically increase the minimum wage as well as other counterproductive mandates, and real wage growth ensued.

However, her husband’s influence is no match to that of Democratic special interests. Hillary is likely to continue her leftward drift. The era of big government has got another retread waiting in the wings.

Richard Berman is president of Berman and Co., a Washington public affairs firm.

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