Politics & Policy

Clintons Are in No Position to Surf the Populist Wave

(Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty)


With apologies to Buffalo Springfield, there’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.

Here’s Bill Clinton in Spokane, Wash., making the pitch for his wife last week: “But if you believe we can all rise together, if you believe we’ve finally come to the point where we can put the awful legacy of the last eight years behind us and the seven years before that . . . ”

The awful legacy of the last eight years? That’d be a strange thing for any Democrat to say, but it’s particularly odd given that Hillary Clinton has made it abundantly clear that she’s running for a third Barack Obama term.

Last year, she loved telling voters that she wasn’t running as a continuation of Obama. But that was before Bernie Sanders ignited a left-wing populist backlash against the status quo. Unable to get to Sanders’s left — understandable, given that it would require embracing Bolshevism — Clinton was forced to defend the administration she worked for.

Also, as has been widely reported and dissected, Clinton’s strategists concluded months ago that she had no choice but to embrace Obama and his policies, because Obama is popular with precisely the voters Clinton needs in order to assemble a winning coalition. These voters may think the country is on the wrong track, but they don’t blame Obama for it.

That’s one reason why Team Clinton has charged, sometimes hysterically, that Sanders is somehow attacking the president when he says, for instance, that Obamacare doesn’t go far enough. The Clintonistas touted the fact that Sanders blurbed a book by left-wing writer Bill Press critical of Obama as if it were a confession of treason.

But now comes the former president attacking the Obama record head-on. The Spokane speech wasn’t a fluke. Bill has also taken to explaining that the real reason this election is so crazy is that “80 percent of the American people haven’t gotten a pay raise since the crash.”

No doubt he wouldn’t put all the blame on Obama, but that’s some odd messaging for a campaign looking to run on “four more years.”

Team Clinton in Las Vegas (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

One obvious explanation is that the Clinton team has come to grips with the fact that the Sanders and Trump insurgencies are two faces of the same larger phenomenon. Huge swaths of the American electorate are fed up, ticked off, and wildly disappointed with the direction of their country.

In a society so polarized along ideological lines, it’s no surprise that partisans will have partisan explanations for why this is so. But the underlying conditions driving the discontent are in fact bipartisan. Anyone who listened closely to both the tea parties and the Occupy Wall Street crowd could hear the echoes of similar complaints. The incestuous relationship between big business and big government drives both the Left and the Right crazy.

As a conservative, I think the right-wingers have better remedies for the problem. In a nutshell, big corporations will always have the resources — financial, political, legal, etc. — to manipulate and navigate around regulations. Smaller firms simply can’t handle the compliance costs of draconian regulations.

The result: Only the really big companies can survive and thrive, which in turn makes them “too big to fail.” That’s why community banks are being destroyed by Obama’s policies: They can’t carry the costs the way the big banks can, and, lacking connections and influence, they’re small enough to fail.

In other words, if you think Big Business and Big Government are hugging each other too much, the last thing you should do is have government tighten the embrace.

But that’s a policy argument for another day. And besides, the underlying problems with the economy are much larger than, and in some cases wholly unrelated to, Wall Street excesses.

But as a political matter, Wall Street is a useful scapegoat. And the Clintons, both darlings of Wall Street who have enriched themselves by exploiting their connections to it, are badly positioned to withstand, never mind exploit, the populist tide. That’s why Hillary Clinton can’t put Bernie Sanders away. That’s why Bill is turning up the heat on the “awful legacy” of the last eight years. And that’s another reason Hillary will have a harder time in the fall than people think.

— Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. He can be reached by e-mail at goldbergcolumn@gmail.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2016 Tribune Content Agency
Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, will be released on April 24.

Most Popular


Joy Reid Denies Writing Homophobic Blog Posts

MSNBC personality Joy Reid's former blog, The Reid Report, published a series of anti-gay posts, which she claims were added to the site after it was shut down, by a hacker intent on destroying her reputation and nascent cable-news career. Reid, who discontinued the blog roughly a decade ago, apologized in ... Read More

The Lure of Outsiderism

In a Wall Street Journal piece this weekend recounting his brief and harrowing recent experience at The Atlantic, Kevin Williamson ably notes a common pattern in this moment in our national life. Discussing a panel he attended at the chic South by Southwest conference, he writes: Which brings us back to that ... Read More

Monday Links

A Supercut of Epic Movie Explosions. Can You Solve These 10 Medieval Riddles? The cost to make a Margherita pizza: $1.77. How much restaurants charge on average for a pizza: $12. The actual costs of restaurant foods. Vintage animation lessons -- how to make things cute. London's "Great ... Read More

On Trade, No One Is Waiting for Washington

President Donald Trump’s flips and flops on trade are now as ubiquitous as his 5:00 a.m. tweets. Many predicted that trade-expansion efforts would come to a standstill and world commerce would suffer amidst all the uncertainty. Instead, the precise opposite has happened. In the last few months, it’s become ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Trump’s Syria Quandary

President Trump raised eyebrows recently when he ended a tweet lauding the airstrikes he’d ordered against chemical-weapons facilities in Syria with the words “mission accomplished.” The phrase, of course, became infamous in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, when President Bush used it in a speech ... Read More

Confirm Pompeo

What on earth are the Democrats doing? President Trump has nominated CIA director Mike Pompeo, eminently qualified by any reasonable standard, to be America’s 70th secretary of state. And yet the Senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, have perverted the advice and consent clause of the Constitution into a ... Read More
PC Culture

The Dark Side of the Starbucks Stand-Down

By now the story is all over America. Earlier this month, two black men entered a Starbucks store in Philadelphia. They were apparently waiting for a friend before ordering — the kind of thing people do every day — and one of the men asked to use the restroom. A Starbucks employee refused, saying the restroom ... Read More