How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

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

Opinion: Clinton will have to show she is sensitive to plight of the middle class

We have not yet passed the midway point in the second term of the Obama presidency, yet a constant topic is who will replace President Obama when his time in the Oval Office is up. Democrats and Republicans are prematurely obsessing over the 2016 presidential race.

The reason for the focus on the president’s replacement is the growing sense that nothing will get done legislatively during the remainder of President Obama’s second term. Fearing retaliation by Tea Party adherents, Republicans are unwilling to consider any sort of compromise on the budget deficit, immigration, gun control or entitlements. In a recent column in The Times, Eugene Robinson got it right when he wrote: “Republicans have decided not to collaborate with President Obama in fulfilling the most basic obligations of government.” If most prognosticators are right and the Republicans pick up seats in the House and Senate in the 2014 mid-term elections and smell victory in 2016, they could become even more intransigent.

Unfortunately, limited success during a second term is increasingly becoming the norm in presidential politics. Some have even termed it “the second-term curse.”

History seems to show that the second term can often be much tougher than the first. It is often plagued by major scandals and policy inertia. Ronald Reagan became bogged down with the Iran-Contra scandals in the 1980s and Bill Clinton was embroiled in attempts to impeach him because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the 1990s. Obama’s second term has, to some extent, followed the pattern in that it has been bogged down by the Benghazi and IRS fiascos.

Since there seems to be a consensus that little will be accomplished in Obama’s second term, the media have become obsessed with hyper-analyzing Hillary Clinton. While Hillary’s nomination as the Democratic candidate, absent a serious health issue, is highly likely, her election isn’t a foregone conclusion — especially if she continues to commit serious blunders, as when she indicated she and Bill were “dead broke” when they left the White House.

Roger Simon of Politico rightly pointed out: “‘[D]ead broke’ people don’t have $350,000 in cash to secure one mortgage and $855,000 in cash to secure another. About 50 million Americans live below the poverty line, and 47 million need food stamps; they know what dead broke looks like, and it doesn’t look like the Clintons.”

While Hillary’s comment may, as Bill Clinton indicated, be “factually true,” in the sense that they were several million dollars in debt when they left the White House, her comment was tone-deaf and suggested she lacked understanding of the real financial problems average Americans face. Her subsequent comment that Bill and she are “not rich-rich,” since they pay the ordinary income tax rate, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, made her seem even further out of touch, as it was widely reported that the Clintons have made $100 million since they left the White House.

It is one thing to indicate that she and her husband “struggled” financially during the early years of their marriage and another to suggest they have struggled recently. What she can and should do is make it clear that, going back to her days with the Children’s Defense Fund in the 1970s, she has been involved with issues of poverty and inequality in America.

One of the primary reasons President Obama defeated Mitt Romney was Romney’s outrageous comments caught in the Mother Jones video regarding the 47 percent of Americans who believe they are victims and the government has a responsibility to care for them. Romney came across as being out of touch with middle-class Americans who had been shoved into the ranks of the unemployed by the Great Recession. The middle class came out in droves and Obama won in a landslide.

Many believe that the central issue in the 2016 campaign will be the growing plight of the middle class, whose quality of life has been decimated by mounting income inequality. In a recent poll taken in Kentucky, not a bastion of progressivism, 80 percent said they were more likely to vote for “a candidate who wants to close loopholes to make sure millionaires do not pay a lower tax rate than the middle class.”

To be elected president, Hillary Clinton will have to weave a narrative that projects her as someone who can be counted upon to stand up to the Wall Street banks and big corporations that all too often have profited at the expense of the middle class. To do this, she will need to avoid coming across as a plutocrat — the kind of persona Democrats successfully hung on Mitt Romney in 2012. She will need to take a page out of Elizabeth Warren’s new memoir and argue that “today the game is rigged … to work for those who have money and power.”

If income inequality remains a key issue in 2016, Hillary could pay a price for falling back on the Clintons’ tendency to triangulate – to move to the right to appeal to corporate interests while attempting to keep her liberal base. If progressives see this happening, this could be her Achilles’ heel if they decide not to turn out in the general election.