Meet Hillary Clinton, Another Democratic "Populist"

Economics reporter-columnist David Leonhardt's front-page interview Monday with Hillary Clinton, "For Clinton, Government as Economic Prod," used the same evasive language that he used in a December 23 profile of John Edwards and Mitt Romney in which he referred to the liberal Edwards as a "populist."

From Leonhardt's Monday piece:

"In one of her most extensive interviews about how she would approach the economy, Mrs. Clinton laid out a view of economic policy that differed in some ways from that of her husband, Bill Clinton. Mr. Clinton campaigned on his centrist views, and as president, he championed deficit reduction and trade agreements.

"Reflecting what her aides said were very different conditions today, Mrs. Clinton put her emphasis on issues like inequality and the role of institutions like government, rather than market forces, in addressing them.

"She said that economic excesses - including executive-pay packages she characterized as often 'offensive' and 'wrong' and a tax code that had become 'so far out of whack' in favoring the wealthy - were holding down middle-class living standards."

"Using blunt and at times populist language in the interview, Mrs. Clinton, Democrat of New York, tried to steer a course between the often business-friendly themes embraced by her husband and the straight populism that John Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina, has used in his presidential campaign this year. Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton's main rival for the Democratic nomination, has also begun using more of her kitchen-table language in recent days.

"Although the two Clintons share similar views on a wide range of economic issues, she has long been more skeptical about the benefits of freer trade and other aspects of a free-market economy. While he peppered his 1992 campaign speeches with both populism and calls for personal responsibility, including welfare reform, she talks less about irresponsibility among individuals and more about irresponsibility in corporate America and the government."

Edwards' "Two Americas" theme, with its attacks on corporations and call for universal health care, could more accurately be called old-fashioned leftism, not "populism."

"If she were to win the Democratic nomination and the general election, she would most likely take office at a similar economic moment as her husband, with the economy struggling to emerge from a downturn. In 1993 - with Mrs. Clinton playing a role that Bob Woodward later described as 'de facto chief of staff' - Mr. Clinton pushed through an economic plan without a single Republican vote.

"Many analysts say that plan played a role in the Democrats' loss of Congress the next year, but it is also widely credited with helping lay the groundwork for the 1990s boom. Mrs. Clinton suggested that she would be willing to take a similar approach in 2009."

And many other analysts date the boom to the GOP takeover of Congress in 1995.