Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders both have grand, overarching visions of what’s gone wrong with the US economy. Hillary Clinton doesn’t really have that. What she has instead are lots and lots and lots of plans.
In her big speech on the economy in Warren, Michigan, on Thursday, Clinton talked mostly about her policy ideas — at least 38 proposals in all, from changes to the tax code to providing debt-free college. It didn’t always make for a thrilling speech. But it showcased a contrast between the two candidates that Clinton is eager to encourage.
"A big difference between me and Donald Trump is I’m telling you what I will do; I’m laying out my plans," Clinton said. "And I will stand by them and want you to hold me accountable for delivering results."
The speech highlighted a characteristic of Clinton’s that has often been perceived as a weakness: She’s more of a policy wonk than a soaring speaker, more comfortable with describing technical regulatory changes than laying out a bold and inspiring worldview.
Now Clinton is trying to turn that into a strength. While Trump might be telling a single, compelling story about the economy and why it’s broken, his campaign has been largely devoid of details or even broad policy proposals. Clinton’s counterattack is a blizzard of white papers — an argument based not on passion but on competence and preparedness.
Clinton had plans on plans on plans
Donald Trump is running a campaign almost entirely untainted by even a hint of policy. The "positions" section of his website features just seven issues — six if you count "pay for the wall" and "immigration reform" as a single issue. Clinton, meanwhile, has 38 issue sections in total and more proposals on health care alone than Trump does for every policy area combined.
Where Trump sees one big problem with the economic and political system — it’s rigged against ordinary people — Clinton sees a thousand smaller ones. And she seems determined to solve them all with tax credits and public-private partnerships.
Her speech in Warren strung all those policies together: She wants to connect every household to broadband. Create a modern power grid. Start an "infrastructure bank" with $25 billion in public funding. Spend $10 billion on partnerships to help American manufacturing. Expand tax credits for disadvantaged areas. Simplify tax filing for small businesses. Make college debt-free. Let student debtors refinance their loans. Beef up skills training and apprenticeships.
The list went on: Enforce trade agreements more stringently. Create a tax credit to encourage companies to share profits with workers. Close tax loopholes. Limit the cost of child care. Expand the child tax credit.
By the end, she’d name-checked more than 30 different policy proposals. She put them up on a scoreboard next to Trump, who she said has "no credible plans on what working families are up against today." Then she proceeded to mention a few more plans she has, just for good measure.
Trump has a vision; Clinton has targeted policies for all
Despite the vast differences in their campaigns, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have both hammered away at a grand narrative about what had gone wrong with America. Sanders condemned the "millionaires and billionaires" who were distorting the economy for their benefit; Trump decries elites who don’t put "America first." Right or wrong, they told their voters a compelling story about what’s gone wrong with the US economy.
Clinton hasn’t really done this. Her economics speech hit on some of Sanders’s themes, but she didn’t offer one overarching theory of the American economy. Her message, instead, was that Trump can’t fix whatever problems do exist in America — and that even if his words ring true to you, he’s not going to be able to follow through with actions.
This didn’t make for an inspiring, elevating speech. What it did, though, was appear to offer something for almost everyone. If you’re a parent of a young child, she promised a bigger tax credit. If you’re worried about paying for college, she offered cheaper tuition. If you’re offended that she’s focused so much on college tuition, she promised to pay just as much attention to apprenticeships and skills training.
Some of Clinton’s ideas are genuinely bold, such as free college tuition for the middle class. But her speech, by giving equal weight to every plan, felt temperamentally moderate, an optimistic defense of an economy that, the implication goes, isn’t fundamentally broken. Instead, Clinton made the case that the country could work better for a whole lot of people — and that she has a specific, detailed plan to help all of them.
The result was a speech where the whole could happily be less than the sum of the parts — it didn’t matter if all the plans blurred together so long as individuals listeners came away with one thing that could help them. The takeaway wasn’t that Clinton is exciting or inspiring. It was that she sure does have a whole lot of plans.