Hillary Clinton, Conservative Populist

I’m clearly not the only one who categorizes Hillary Clinton as a conservative populist as I’ve done in several posts, such as here. Jonathan Chait discusses the problems with conservative populists such as Hillary Clinton:

If economists or other social scientists dispute the conservative populist’s claims, that is only because they, too, are elitists. Bush would dismiss objections to the upper class tilt of his tax cuts by picking a middle class family (in this case, the Muellers) and saying, “Oh, some of the sophisticates will say that $2,700 doesn’t matter to the Muellers. ‘It doesn’t sound like a lot to me.’ It’s a lot to them. That’s what counts.”

And so, when Tim Russert said that economists believe the gas tax holiday won’t lower prices at the pump, Clinton campaign chairman Terry MacAuliffe replied, “Maybe for Barack Obama and for many of your economists, Tim, who you may talk to, you know what, maybe an extra hundred bucks for them isn’t a big deal. But I can tell you this, it is a big deal for most Americans.”

Social science analysis is the mortal enemy of conservative populism. The liberal populist sees politics as a series of quantifiable trade-offs between competing interests. The conservative populist offers an appeal that can’t be quantified: Who shares your values? Who is more manly? (James Carville: “If she gave him one of her cojones, they’d both have two.”)

If a liberal populist cites experts or numbers to back his position, that only proves to the conservative populist that he is out of touch. It’s the intellectual equivalent of buying arugula from Whole Foods. A Clinton endorser addressed a rally last month, “You didn’t go to Harvard! You weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth!” (Never mind that Clinton graduated from Yale Law School and had a far more stable, middle class upbringing than Obama.) In the liberal populists’ world, the locus of evil is K Street. In the conservative populists’ world, the locus of evil is Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In Clinton’s defense, she obviously does not believe her own social conservative rhetoric. But neither do Republican social conservatives. She is not running for president so she can suspend the gas tax any more than George H. W. Bush sought the office on order to increase the rate of flag-saluting.

One conceit of the conservative populist style is that its practitioners are “real,” while its targets are “fake.” For years, Hillary Clinton put herself forward as the earnest liberal policy wonk she actually is, while conservatives lambasted her as a phony. Since she started campaigning as the enemy of all she once held dear, some conservatives have started to appreciate her, even lauding her authenticity. The Weekly Standard‘s Noemie Emery gushed that after March 4, Hillary “began to seem real.” Indeed, she is now real in exactly the same way the conservative populists imagine themselves to be.

The other aspect of conservative populism which Chait doesn’t discuss is the manner in which Hillary Clinton has begun imitating George Bush, adopting the policies and tactics of the far right. The manner in which Congressional votes are set up to be along party lines acts to obscure the real divisions within each party. Clinton is considered liberal due to her populist economic policies, but in many ways they are just the mirror image of Republican policies. In each case they use economic policy to pander to their base for support, ignoring both reality and the best interests of the country. Moving beyond economic policy to social issues, matters of Executive power, support for the Iraq war, and tactics used there far too little difference between Hillary Clinton and George Bush.

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