Have the Clintons turned "progressive"?
"In classic Clinton style, [the former president] was gracious toward [former NYC Mayor Michael] Bloomberg, who took over the city in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and had to grapple with the impact of the recession that hit the country in 2008. Clinton thanked Bloomberg for leaving New York stronger than he found it.
"But on this day, Clinton, as always, was thinking about tomorrow. He wanted no one listening to conclude that he was there to split the difference between the outgoing and incoming mayors, to offer praise in equal amounts.
"And so, after his generous words for Bloomberg, he said, 'I have to say this. I strongly endorse Bill de Blasio's core campaign commitment that we have to have a city of shared opportunity, shared prosperity, shared responsibilities.' "
-- Washington Post political reporter Dan Balz, in a commentary piece,
"Is New York’s de Blasio prompting a repositioning by the Clintons?"
"Is New York’s de Blasio prompting a repositioning by the Clintons?"
It's just a tad giddy-making to find the label "progressive" suddenly trendy, and we're already famliar with the first couple of caveats: that all manner of folk may find it expedient to adopt the label despite holding positions that might more fairly be called regressive. And the Right has moved so far out into deep space that there's a universe of more or less empty space to occupy to its left which is still well to the right of what used to be called the "center." (As Noah pointed out in last night's Nixon-themed installment of his year-in-review roundup, judged by his policies in office, "Nixon would be considered a socialist by the lunatics that inhabit the Republican Party today -- not just a liberal, a raving socialist. And "Obama and the Conservadems . . . would fit in fine in the Republican Party of the early 1970s.)
Still, the "progressive" rumble has been conspicuous enough to prod the Village commentariat into action, declare the Democratic Party's Left is now doing to the party what the Teabaggers have done to the Republicans. We should be so lucky! It's news to me that the Democratic Party has as "Left"?
This is why for the foreseeable future non-New Yorkers are likely to be hearing more about newly installed Mayor Bill de Blasio than they're used to hearing even about our mega-billionaire former emperor-mayor, whose billions bought him so much PR. (What was his name again?) I would just repeat the caution I voiced here recently ("Judging by his enemies, NYC Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is standing even taller today"):
It's a fact that, for better or worse, the country is going to watch the de Blasio administration as a test of the possibilities for progressive governance in the here and now. The day before Election Day last month, pondering "What will NYC's post-Mayor Mike era look like?," I quoted The New Yorker's John Cassidy's apt formulation: "[A] de Blasio mayoralty will be widely viewed as a test case for liberal reformers everywhere."Which brings us to one acknowledged curiosity on display in the early days -- no, on the first day -- of the de Blasio administration, with the inaugural prominence of former President Bill Clinton and former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now of course established presences in the New York power game. As the Washington Post's Dan Balz wrote, in a piece headlined "Is New York’s de Blasio prompting a repositioning by the Clintons?": "[I]t isn’t every day that you see a mayor sworn in by a former president of the United States with a prospective presidential candidate also on the stage."
I hope no one is underestimating the obstacles to success, not least overwhelming opposition from all the separate and assembled power centers in the city powerfully opposed to progressive solutions.
"[T]here was plenty of symbolism and more than the usual amount of politics attached to the formal inauguration of Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday," Balz writes. "Issues such as the prospects of liberalism in an ideologically divided country, the future shape of the Democratic Party and the political ambitions of Hillary (and Bill) Clinton all played out in front of New York's City Hall."
De Blasio, now one of the nation's most liberal elected officials, delivered an unabashedly progressive inaugural speech that closely tracked the themes of his "tale of two cities" campaign. It was the kind of speech not often heard in national politics since Bill Clinton redefined the Democratic Party as New Democrats.Balz writes that the new mayor "well knows" that --
The new mayor, who was the unexpected winner of his party's primary and then won a landslide victory in November, sought to disabuse those who thought he would scale back his liberal ambitions once he faced the challenges of governing. To the crowd that sat huddled against the cold and to those watching on cable TV, he said: "Let me be clear: When I said I would take dead aim at the tale of two cities, I meant it. And we will do it."
Outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg squeezed into a front row that included both Clintons and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). De Blasio, who had run explicitly on a platform of changing course from the Bloomberg years, briefly thanked the man who has run the city for a dozen years, first as a Republican and later as an independent.
But that was mostly perfunctory. For the rest of his address, he promised to push New York to the left, as quickly and aggressively as his political skills will allow him. "We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love," he said. "And so today, we commit to a new, progressive direction in New York."
It is that impulse that will make de Blasio, the first Democratic mayor of the city in two decades, perhaps the nation's most closely watched mayor in the coming months.
he has only limited power to undo the inequalities in a city where nearly half the population exists at 150 percent of the poverty level or less. His proposal to tax the rich to pay for early-childhood and after-school programs faces resistance. His day-to-day decisions may reflect pragmatism as much as progressive ambition in the face of political obstacles and management challenges that will test him constantly.Balz notes the web of connections linking the Clintons and New York political figures including de Blasio and Governor Cuomo and going back to Cuomo's father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo ("a hero to the party's liberal wing" -- though, I might point out, his son the governor assuredly is not) and farther back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose bible was used for the swearing-in.
No matter. As the New York Times wrote in its lead story in Wednesday's paper, de Blasio's election will turn New York into a "closely watched laboratory for populist theories of government that have never before been enacted on such a large scale."
De Blasio has become a beacon to those in the Democratic Party's progressive wing, who have often been disappointed by or disillusioned with President Obama and what he has done and not done in office. The progressives see few political leaders on the left -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is one exception -- willing to give voice to their agenda
"But Clinton's role was not limited to the purely ceremonial," Balz writes. "He also delivered his own remarks before the mayor spoke."
In classic Clinton style, he was gracious toward Bloomberg, who took over the city in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and had to grapple with the impact of the recession that hit the country in 2008. Clinton thanked Bloomberg for leaving New York stronger than he found it.Balz suggests that the former president is "clearly mindful . . . that one potential obstacle in the path of Hillary Clinton's possible presidential ambitions is a primary challenge from the left. His embrace of de Blasio's message was a deliberate step in the positioning of the Clintons as they look to a possible campaign."
But on this day, Clinton, as always, was thinking about tomorrow. He wanted no one listening to conclude that he was there to split the difference between the outgoing and incoming mayors, to offer praise in equal amounts.
And so, after his generous words for Bloomberg, he said, "I have to say this. I strongly endorse Bill de Blasio's core campaign commitment that we have to have a city of shared opportunity, shared prosperity, shared responsibilities."
Still, Clinton's words, though designed to hew closely to de Blasio's agenda, were his own and carried echoes of the "community, opportunity, responsibility" mantra of his own presidential campaigns.
What he meant in policy terms was not exactly clear. At some point, should she run, Hillary Clinton, who did not speak publicly at the ceremonies, will have to sort all this out. She will be asked to explain more precisely where she stands on issues of income inequality, economic growth, spending, taxes, entitlements and the trade-offs that will face the next president.