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Hillary Clinton's economy speech was notable for what she didn't do

J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton backed a series of broadly liberal policy goals in a speech in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Wednesday, emphasizing her plan to jack up tax rates on the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations.

"Let’s make sure that Wall Street corporations and the superrich pay their fair share of taxes," Clinton said. "We need to stand with those who are fighting for raising the minimum wage."

On the face of it, this was a pretty uneventful speech: Clinton didn’t break with her previous positions or announce any bold new initiatives. In an address billed as her vision for the economy, she articulated a vision of government broadly similar to that backed by President Barack Obama and within the current mainstream of the Democratic Party.

But while Clinton’s speech didn’t itself break new ground, it was more interesting — and significant — for what she did not do.

Many commentators have speculated that after locking up the nomination, Clinton would be tempted to bolt to the center to win over moderate Republicans put off by Donald Trump. Her speech today was as clear a sign as we’ve gotten that she’s not ready to do that — at least not yet.

Instead, it suggests she remains focused on trying to unite the Democratic Party ahead of her general election push.

Clinton promised to go after Wall Street, corporations, and the "superrich"

Last month, Politico reported that Clinton would be targeting former mega-donors of Republican politicians like Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney to bring over to her campaign. The news fueled speculation that Clinton would soften her rhetoric about businesses and corporate interests to win them over.

Short of that, Clinton may have felt that she could win over moderates not by directly appealing to them but simply by toning down the economic progressivism and simply hammering Trump as "temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified" for office.

That wasn’t the case today. Here are some of the moments of her campaign that showed she’s still working to unite the Democratic Party:

  • She attacked Wall Street for "undermining workers’ rights."
  • Clinton delivered standard partisan lines about the economy. "Twice now over the past 30 years, a Republican president has caused an economic mess and a Democratic president has come to clean it up," Clinton said.
  • She said corporations had advanced policies that came "at the expense of their workers and their long-term value."
  • She advanced a plan of making debt-free college available to all students.

You could imagine a speech in which Clinton tried backing positions — like implementing business tax reform and promising to drive down the debt — to win over moderate Republicans.

These positions would certainly put Clinton to the right of where she was over the course of the primary. Doing so would also run the risk of letting Donald Trump move to her left on trade policy, given his repeated defense of protectionism — a defense he reiterated again today.

But the positions wouldn’t even really be that far beyond the Democratic Party: Obama has criticized Wall Street, but he’s also at times emphasized deficit reduction and business-friendly tax policies.

Maybe we’ll get that message from Clinton later in the campaign. But, for now, she appears still concerned about solidifying her left flank.


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