On Friday, Hillary Clinton spoke at the New America Foundation’s “Big Ideas” conference (disclosure: I’m a New America senior fellow). Her basic theme was familiar—the American dream of upward mobility is in peril—though she did offer a couple of intriguing twists. She personified the problem by discussing an imaginary single mother struggling to work, study, and care for her children. That’s a sign of how far public discourse has moved since the 1990s, when demonizing unwed mothers was all the rage. In another mildly edgy move, Clinton noted that “Canadian middle-class incomes are now higher than in the United States. They are working fewer hours for more pay than Americans are, enjoying a stronger safety net, living longer on average, and facing less income inequality.” How long until Republicans accuse her of considering the United States inferior to our northern neighbor?
But the most important takeaway from Hillary’s speech was that she’s aching to run against Jeb Bush. Clinton is not a great inspirational speaker. She’s at her best arguing a case. And the most effective part of her speech Friday was her case for why Clinton-administration policies—an expanded earned-income tax credit, a higher minimum wage, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program—helped poor and middle-class Americans get ahead, while the Bush administration policies that followed—tax breaks for the rich, unfunded wars—made their struggles harder.