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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Juggernauts are fragile in the manner of a Lehman Brothers or a General Motors — complex and convoluted, and as we have seen, not too big to fail.

Now mind you, I am not saying that’s what’s going to happen to Hillary Clinton or, for that matter, Jeb Bush. But a New York Times report that Clinton is consulting with more than 200 people about her economic plan is discomfiting, because it recalls problems that helped sink her in 2008 and even earlier.

If you are a Democrat and want to keep on the sunny side, look at it this way: That’s less than half the 500-plus experts who were on the task force advising Clinton on health care in 1993, when she was in charge of her husband’s reform push. And overdoing it is in character for Clinton. She’s always been the A student, conscientious to a fault. It’s just like her to solicit input from as many experts as possible.

Yet there are only so many ways to attack income inequality and stalled mobility, and it’s a given that America’s upper crust won’t embrace all of them. So it’s discouraging to read that Clinton is concerned about maintaining friendly relations with “the wealthy.” They are the backbone of any politician’s donor base, granted. But where is Clinton’s backbone? What does she believe? What does she want to do? And will she have the guts to make the argument?

Maybe I’ve been listening to too many Scott Walker speeches on YouTube — and maybe Clinton ought to watch a couple herself. You don’t have to agree with the guy (on anything!) to recognize why his appeal extends way beyond the Wisconsin governor’s mansion. He is who he is and if you’re offended, tough.

Happily for Walker, his true beliefs will bring him more money rather than less if, as expected, he runs for president. That’s not necessarily the case for Clinton. And yes, Walker did “punt” a question on evolution on a visit this week to London. But his general approach is instructional. He projects a well-defined identity. His job is to sell himself to a winning coalition — not figure out what version of himself will sell best.

I know what you’re thinking, liberal readers — that Clinton needs to watch Elizabeth Warren speeches, not Scott Walker speeches. She and Warren do share the same concerns and at least some of the same solutions. But Warren is a narrowcaster on a specific issues set. Walker is testing a presidential narrative, which makes him a better model.

It seems crazy to say this about someone who has been so visible for so many years, but Clinton still needs to reveal herself, to define herself and, in national politics, to prove herself. Her longevity is in fact a chief reason for this identity dilemma. Clinton has been a First Lady, a senator, a presidential candidate and a Secretary of State. She’s been painted as a bleeding heart liberal, a friend of Wall Street and a defense hawk. She’s been a perceived as a victim, a villain and — horrors — a feminist, when that was a new thing for a First Lady. She’s won praise as a pioneer and a leader, and been scorned as a phony. She’s proven uneven as a candidate, and her chaotic 2008 campaign raised questions about her skills as a manager.

Now a feud has erupted among principals at the two major Clinton-in-waiting organizations –Priorities USA Action (raising money for ads) and American Bridge (conducting opposition research and defending Clinton’s record). Both are independent of Clinton and her non-campaign, or pre-campaign, so she’s not to blame and cannot intervene. But it’s an unfortunate reminder of the infighting that hobbled her White House bid against President Obama seven years ago and of the need to enforce focus and discipline in her own campaign when it launches.

Clinton’s decisions on economic policy are more fundamental to her anticipated bid, but they do not need to be complicated by fear of causing offense. There may be redistribution, and consequently there may be blood. There’s simply too much imbalance to ignore such remedies, and corporate America isn’t offering much in the way of voluntary fixes. Clinton should take her own advice to Tessa Jowell, a British politician considering a 2016 race for mayor of London. When Jowell wondered if she and Clinton would run, according to the London Evening Standard, Clinton had a succinct response: “No guts, no glory.”

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo: WisPolitics via Flickr