Today is the Martin Luther King holiday, and over the weekend Senator Hillary Clinton gave a long interview to David Leonhardt of the New York Times. One might have expected her (based upon the campaign to date) to use this forum for more discussion of inclusiveness, identity politics, and King's dreams, which to my disgust have become the almost exclusive focus of the campaign as she has once again become the front runner. That is not, however, what she wanted to talk about. Instead, showing herself at her policy-wonk best--and adding an impressive sense of history--she discussed the relationship between the U.S. government and U.S. economy over the last sixty years, in terms that would have been right at home in your average column by Paul Krugman or, if I do say so myself, right here at historyunfolding.com .
The government, Senator Clinton says, simply has to play more of a role in regulating the economy to restore both political and economic balance. She wants the top marginal tax rate to go back up to 39%, where it was in the pre-Bush days. (David Leonhardt, the Times reporter who interviewed her, mentions that the top rate was 70% in the 1970s, but for some reason he doesn't mention that it was over 90% in the 1950s. ) She talks about the role unions played in creating the postwar middle class, and the greater responsibility corporations showed towards communities in those days. And she talks about the need to reduce obscenely high executive compensation (the best way, of course, would be to go back to 90% tax rates, say on incomes over $3 million per year, which would have a healthy effect on professional sports, too.)
Nor is this all. Senator Clinton has interesting ideas for an anti-recession package--she wants to focus on subsidies for heating oil (as a New Englander whose bills have doubled, I can only say "amen,") and on the subprime crisis. And for that she has truly radical proposals, involving the freezing of interest rates. That reminds me of progresssive attempts to stop foreclosures of farms and houses during the New Deal, efforts that provoked howls of Republican protests of "anarchy" because such measures impaired the sacred obligation of contracts. I suspect we shall hear more such howls in the future.
It is one of the great collateral benefits of saying what one thinks that one can take credit for changing one's mind when new data appears. I haven't been very friendly to Senator Clinton here, although I have made it clear that I would certainly vote for her in November were she the candidate. If however she continues to focus on these themes, I shall do so with genuine enthusiasm. Not only is she showing that she has thought about these issues, but she is doing exactly what our contemporaries so seldom do--she has reached back into the past and acknowledged the ways in which our parents' world was genuinely superior to ours. (She deserves all the more credit because this is a particularly unusual thing for a Boomer feminist to do.) I might suggest that, if she secures the nomination in the near future, she might spend some time in Washington introducing the bills she plans to push if elected. That might even get the press and the public to pay some attention to what was happening in the Congress!
This is, of course, only a straw in the wind--but it is a very welcome one. I have rapidly been losing interest in the campaign, but this interview has reawakened it. Bravo, Senator Clinton.