How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Clinton cannot be a cautious champion for change

As we all know, Hillary Clinton is running for president. When she introduced herself to the voters of Iowa, she declared: "Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion." Having been around for a quarter of a century in highly visible roles as first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, Clinton is known by almost every voter, so the notion of introducing herself is really an oxymoron.

What her handlers are trying to do is re-introduce her as someone who cares deeply about the needs of "everyday Americans" and as someone who can be counted on to bring about change. (An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 59 percent of respondents prefer a candidate who will bring greater change to current policies.) The goal is to project Clinton as a caring change agent.

Clinton's campaign has decided the best way to avoid the soap opera that is the Clintons is by conducting a "listening tour"-style campaign akin to the one she used in her first campaign for senator from New York. She traveled from small town to small town in Iowa pressing the flesh, listening to people talk about real stuff and working hard to give the impression that she is concerned about the problems Iowans face daily.

Her "listening style" campaign worked well before, because it gave voters the opportunity to see and hear her upfront and in person and learn that she was thoughtful, articulate and knowledgeable about a wide range of local issues. Whether this approach will work equally well in Iowa remains to be seen.

The campaign will also attempt to pre-emptively address the impression that she is an out-of-touch plutocrat who doesn't understand the needs of average Americans. She will try to come across as someone who is truly likeable (more than "likeable enough," then-candidate Obama's characterization of her during their 2008 primary) and deeply concerned about the problems of the middle class.

In 1992, Bill Clinton strategist James Carville came up with the campaign slogan "It's the economy stupid." Although the U.S. economy has come back from the brink, for far too many of our citizens, the American dream is still on hold as income inequality has widened the gap between rich and poor like never before. While the Obama administration can take credit for resuscitating the economy, our economic system is in need of fundamental reform that will once again make social mobility an integral party of the American dream.

But will Clinton — who is preternaturally cautious, has a predilection for parsing words and is generally risk averse — take on the big economic issues given saliency by Elizabeth Warren or will she emerge as the status-quo candidate who will shy away from taking positions that would make enemies of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, whose funds she needs to finance her campaign?

While it was a step in the right direction for Clinton to mention in her announcement video the needs of working parents — child care, paid sick leave, maternal and paternal leave policies, student debt, a higher minimum wage and tax policies that penalize second earners in a family — it remains to be seen whether she is prepared to be outspoken on income inequality, declining opportunities, deregulation, taxes on the wealthy and the growing chasm between CEO and worker salaries in spite of ever-increasing worker productivity.

Her announcement had a populist bite to it: "Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top." To be a real champion for those in the middle or the bottom of the deck, one must be prepared to radically "reshuffle the cards" to use her language.

The best thing that can be done to restore the American dream is to address income inequality. Optimism regarding the future fueled the post-war recovery. Americans who believe things will be better for them and their children will buy homes, cars and consumer goods. When wages go up, inequality goes down. To be a champion for everyday Americans, Clinton must come across as someone who will lead the fight to offer America a fairer future.

From the perspective of per capita personal income, New Jersey is a rich state. However, over the last decade, the income gap between the highest and lowest fifths of New Jersey's population has widened dramatically and made it almost impossible for large segments of our population to cover their basic needs in a very high-cost state. To be a champion in New Jersey, Clinton will need to make a case that she is best able to stem the tide of growing wage stagnation and escalating income inequality that, according to Legal Services of New Jersey, is "driving the cost of living still higher, putting essentials further beyond the reach of those in lower incomes."