Does the US Want (or Need) Hillary for President?

Clinton Opens Bid for Oval Office

NEW YORK — Shortly after she confirmed her bid to secure her party’s nomination for president of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton signaled that advocacy for women’s rights would form the centerpiece of her campaign.

“The full participation of women and girls in society is the unfinished business of the 21st century,” said Clinton, 67, in a keynote address at the 2015 Women in the World Summit in April.

The former secretary of state, who also served as a U.S. senator from New York from 2001 to 2009, presented herself as a crusader for equality between the sexes, in the developing world and in the United States.

“Equal pay for equal work,” “paid family leave” and “a path to citizenship” for women who are undocumented immigrants were among her priorities identified in the speech.

But Clinton also brought up job security for “gay and transgendered women” and took a swipe at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, the craft-store chain that challenged the Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate.

These talking points are expected to be part of a broader crusade for stronger economic rights for women and solutions for middle-class Americans who are losing ground.

Her first campaign video introduced the candidate as an advocate for middle-class Americans but downplayed hot-button issues.

“[E]veryday Americans need a champion. I want to be that champion,” she said in the video.

Though Clinton has yet to present any concrete economic proposals, she is expected to call for investments in bridges and highways, an increase in the minimum wage and reduced taxes for the middle class. Clinton has also endorsed President Obama’s executive action that would help an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants avoid deportation and remain legally in the U.S., and she has vowed to promote legislation that would help many secure a path to citizenship.


Will It Appeal to Voters?

Will her message and accompanying policy proposals help Clinton win her place in history as the first woman to be elected president of the United States?

For now, she has clearly benefitted from the fact that the second declared competitor in the Democratic primary — Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described socialist — is unlikely to pose a threat.

Yet Sanders’ candidacy also highlights the drift of the party’s base since Bill Clinton was president. Commentators say that Hillary will be under pressure to take a stand on economic and social issues that will mobilize activists but could turn off Independents and moderate Democrats.

Stephen Schneck, the director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, describes the party’s ideological shift as “social-justice populism,” and he thinks it will appeal to some swing voters, like “union-hall Catholics.”

But Schneck isn’t sure how Clinton will handle what could be a tough balancing act.

“Her message has generally been ‘Vote for me; I have proven myself with the levers of power,’ but that profile is in tension with the anti-elitism of social-justice populists,” he told the Register.

Clinton’s expected leftward tilt on issues related to “income inequality” will be matched by her now-strong support for “marriage equality” and related issues, after many years of ambiguous comments.

“Some of these social-justice populists, for example, despite their support for same-sex marriage, view the issue as more of an elite issue,” Schneck said. “At the same time, many more mainstream Democrats still feel much more obliged to prove their commitment to the LGBT community. So it may be that the more mainstream Democrats will be the more outspoken in their support of LGBT issues in the campaign.”

In addition, voters will have another candidate to consider: Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore, planned to announce his presidential intentions on May 30 in Baltimore, after press time.


Ethical Questions

Meanwhile, Clinton faces persistent questions about her alleged ethical lapses while serving as secretary of state in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013.

She has been criticized for her exclusive use of a private email account and for permitting a steady flow of donations from foreign governments into the Clinton Foundation, even as she influenced policies that helped or harmed their interests. Further, the Clinton Foundation’s willingness to accept large donations from Saudi Arabia and other Middle-Eastern countries, where human-rights groups say women face pervasive sexual discrimination, could weaken Clinton’s credibility as a trusted advocate for women.

“Even her most strident critics could not have predicted that Mrs. Clinton would prove vulnerable on the subject,” The New York Times reported.

GOP leaders have attacked her competence as secretary of state in an administration that sought to “pivot” U.S. foreign policy to Asia but failed to effectively counter Islamic extremism in the Middle East, to address the plight of religious minorities under attack from militants and to contain Russia and Iran. Some time over the next month she may appear at a congressional hearing that will address her controversial response to the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.


Women’s Issues Record

Thus far, the one element of Clinton’s legacy that has not drawn much scrutiny is the claim that her advocacy on behalf of women at home and abroad made a positive difference to their lives.

But that record could also come under fire if her pro-life critics are able to broaden the line of inquiry to include her work in China and even the validity of a foreign-policy agenda that makes “reproductive rights” a non-negotiable part of women’s development.

Recently, in a series of public forums focused on women’s rights, Clinton has referenced her 1995 speech at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

There, she electrified the crowd with her blunt criticism of policies and practices that brutalized women in the developing world, from forced abortion to female infanticide and sexual trafficking.

Clinton and her allies have framed that 1995 address as a courageous attack on China’s one-child policy, and Hard Choices, her memoir about her years at the helm of the State Department, presents her as a tireless crusader for human rights in that country.

But Steven Mosher, the president of the Population Research Institute and a leading authority on China’s population-control effort, raised a number of questions about her record.

Mosher agreed that Clinton’s strong language at the 1995 Beijing meeting had an impact. “The Chinese stopped broadcasting her speech when she started talking about the issue more generally,” Mosher told the Register.

However, he took issue with Clinton’s subsequent response to China’s population-control regime during her tenure as secretary of state.

“The money to the U.N. Population Fund kept flowing,” he said. “If she was concerned about forced abortion and sterilization, she would have done what [Secretary of State] Colin Powell did. He sent his team to China and found that the U.N. was involved in forced abortion, and they cut off the funding.”

Mosher’s critique of Clinton’s record underscores the pro-life community’s broader problem with an approach to women’s development that places much of the focus on access to contraception and abortion and gives lower priority to economic development.

Hillary Clinton is “focused on the genital/reproductive” issues, Pia de Solenni, a theologian and ethicist who is the associate dean at the Augustine Institute’s Orange County campus, told the Register, calling that a “Band-Aid” approach in promoting change in poor countries.


Rights vs. Liberty

It’s not yet clear whether Clinton’s record in China will get an airing during the campaign season.

But her longtime support for abortion rights and more recent criticism of the Hobby Lobby decision will worry Catholics and fire up the base on both sides of the partisan divide. That stance reflects the Democratic Party’s steady embrace of abortion rights as a litmus test for any national candidate, but the newly aggressive efforts to challenge conscience protections — at least when they are in conflict with the HHS mandate or same-sex “marriage” — could prove more controversial for a candidate who often references her Methodist faith and wants to earn the trust of moderate voters.

At the Women in the World Forum in New York City in April, Clinton told a cheering audience, “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, who is also exploring a presidential bid, viewed that comment as a direct attack on religious liberty, and his rapid response suggested that Clinton could face more GOP pushback on this issue than Obama encountered.

The campaign trail will give Clinton many more chances to pitch her ideas and offer “everyday Americans” time to decide if Hillary Clinton is the kind of “champion” they want and need.

For some, it will be a chance to send a woman to the White House. But recent surveys also point to a more complex equation at work: Voters see Clinton — the candidate with the best name-recognition at this point — as a “strong” leader who isn’t “trustworthy,” according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in April.

It will be up to Hillary to defuse that skepticism. But American voters may also be adapting to a political landscape that says as much about their values as it does about the kind of people willing to do what it takes to become president of the United States in 2016.