MSNBC seemed pretty impressed with Hillary Clinton’s statement at her rally in Iowa on trade, declaring that Barack Obama should listen to Nancy Pelosi and not agree to a weak deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact. Anthony Terrell tells Jose Diaz-Balart that Hillary Clinton “went a little further than she has in the past,” with her previous position being that trade agreements have to “protect workers and create jobs,” a position so controversial that literally every politician will boldly state it as a nervous reflex. Now Hillary tells the crowd that Obama shouldn’t sign a “weak agreement,” yet another courageous position that almost everyone would endorse, too. But is TPP a weak agreement, and should Obama have the Trade Promotion Authority to conduct the negotiations?
As Terrell notes, a lot of people managed to notice that Hillary hadn’t actually taken a specific position on TPP, or any position at all on TPA. “That’s what leaders do,” Terrell quotes Rand Paul as saying. At her later press conference, Hillary overtly dodged the question again. Instead, she dismissed the question as “a process issue”:
We need a better deal, not ‘I’m against it no matter what’s in it,’ or as many did, ‘I’m for it no matter what’s in it.’
Well, Hillary has seemed pretty happy about the TPP deal in the past — and not just once or twice, but in forty-five public statements. Jake Tapper provides a list of them all, including as late as this statement in January 2013, just as she was leaving the State Department:
“First and foremost, this so-called pivot has been about creative diplomacy:Like signing a little-noted treaty of amity and cooperation with ASEAN that opened the door to permanent representation and ultimately elevated a forum for engaging on high-stakes issues like the South China Sea. We’ve encouraged India’s “Look East” policy as a way to weave another big democracy into the fabric of the Asia Pacific. We’ve used trade negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership to find common ground with a former adversary in Vietnam. And the list goes on.”
If this was a weak deal, shouldn’t the Secretary of State have done something to improve it by 2013? Hillary had promoted the TPP for the previous three years almost to the day as a way to broaden the US reach in the Pacific Rim and bring allies and former enemies into a stable relationship in the region. So what’s in it now that bothers Hillary enough to change her tune? Have there been any changes to the TPP framework since she last promoted it as Secretary of State? Does Hillary even care, or is this just another way to dodge having to take a stand on anything of import?
So much for the reboot to Hillary 23.0. In my column for The Week, I call Saturday’s Roosevelt Island event more rerun than reboot:
The Atlantic‘s Molly Ball found it “almost aggressively pedestrian,” in “a surprisingly small venue that did not fill up.” Ball argued that Clinton offered “a barrage of proposals,” but a read of the speech transcript shows that Clinton offered at best a laundry list of traditional liberal agenda items, none of which would distinguish her from almost any other Democratic presidential contender. It more closely resembled a State of the Union speech than a campaign call to arms, especially in the manner in which it was delivered. “Clinton read it slowly off the teleprompter,” Ball wrote to describe the “flat” delivery, “articulating every word, sometimes with odd emphasis, in a near-monotone.”
As if to underline the dustiness of her tired strategy and message, the former secretary of state decided to use a 50-year-old pop-culture reference to attack Republicans. “Now, there may be some new voices in the presidential Republican choir,” Clinton said in one of the few moments that showed any dynamism, “but they’re all singing the same old song — a song called ‘Yesterday.'” …
Even more telling, though, was the lack of any substance on issues that are priorities for American voters. She weighed in with no particularly interesting or surprising stands on America’s hottest debates. She made just one passing reference to trade that offered no insight whatsoever on TPA or the massive Pacific trade deal that House Democrats all but submarined last week. She made passing mention of foreign policy and national security by pledging — wait for it — to “do whatever it takes to keep Americans safe.” After four years at State, one would expect her to elaborate on exactly what whatever looks like, but Clinton offered nothing at all. The only reference to creating jobs in the entire speech was part of her pledge to fight climate change — a very low priority for American voters — and promised that “this will create millions of jobs and countless new businesses.” Barack Obama promised that, too. How did that work out?
This was not a relaunch, let alone a reboot. The event turned out to be just another Saturday afternoon rerun. And it’s a movie we’ve seen many times before: The Clintons lust for power, not to affect populist change on a national scale, but to accrue power for the Clintons.
And they’ll do and say anything to achieve it.