Hillary Clinton: Did her big campaign speech fly?

In a much-anticipated speech in New York Saturday, Hillary Rodham Clinton gave the most substantial presentation of her 2016 presidential campaign, likening her goals and political philosophy to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Brendan McDermid/REUTERS
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivers her "official launch speech" at a campaign kick off rally in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City, Saturday June 13, 2015.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has been a prominent – and controversial – political figure for more than 20 years. Longer than that if you count her time as first lady of Arkansas.

But under sunny skies on New York’s Roosevelt Island Saturday, with the rebuilt World Trade Center as backdrop and thousands of cheering supporters surrounding her, the former first lady of the United States, US Senator, and secretary of state, reintroduced herself.

In essence it was HRC in the image of FDR (minus the privileged upbringing), a fighter for the little guy and the middle class, an experienced actor on the international scene who would stand up to the likes of Islamic State terrorists and Vladimir Putin, while taking an improving economy even farther, moving the US toward a non-carbon energy policy, and making preschool and childcare available to every child in America. 

Also among her big stump speech check list of things to be accomplished during another Clinton presidency: offering “hard-working, law-abiding immigrant families” a path to citizenship, paid family leave to care for a new baby or a sick relative, ending “the outrage” of women earning less than men, and banning discrimination against LGBT Americans and their families “so they can live, learn, marry, and work just like everybody else.”

It was an inclusive, almost communal view of America, one in which she was comfortable reminding people of her still-controversial phrase “it takes a village…” Hence the references to Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the rhetorical scene-setter.

“You know, President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms are a testament to our nation’s unmatched aspirations and a reminder of our unfinished work at home and abroad,” she said. “His legacy lifted up a nation and inspired presidents who followed.”

“President Roosevelt called on every American to do his or her part, and every American answered. He said there’s no mystery about what it takes to build a strong and prosperous America: ‘Equality of opportunity… Jobs for those who can work… Security for those who need it… The ending of special privilege for the few… The preservation of civil liberties for all… a wider and constantly rising standard of living.’ That still sounds good to me,” Clinton said. “It’s America’s basic bargain. If you do your part you ought to be able to get ahead. And when everybody does their part, America gets ahead too.”

She didn’t hesitate to name two more recent presidents inspired by Roosevelt: “One is the man I served as Secretary of State, Barack Obama, and another is my husband, Bill Clinton.”

She may be a very wealthy woman now, but Clinton reminded Americans that she was born into a middle-class family, and that her mother (who had to work as a maid as a young teenager) had been helped along the way out of abandonment and poverty.

Clinton has a squadron of Republicans lined up to challenge her, all of whom she beats in mock polls. And with Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, she has some competition within her own party – although for now she’s way ahead of them in polling, organization, and fund-raising.

“She is still the most prohibitive favorite for an open seat nomination I can recall,” David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s former message guru, told Politico before Clinton’s speech. “For all the navel-gazing, her numbers among Democrats remain quite high. But what is missing is a larger context for her candidacy that explains the positions she is taking in a coherent, and not just tactical, way. This is an important element of generating enthusiasm.”

Did she accomplish that goal?

You can be sure pundits of all persuasions, as well as potential Republican rivals, will weigh in. They already are.

"This was mostly a typical Democratic speech – much better than the direction Republicans offer America, but not the bold economic vision that most Americans want and need,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in an emailed statement. “Clinton's allusions to reining in Wall Street, ending corporate tax havens, and addressing inequality open the door to a corporate accountability agenda – but Americans need to see specifics.”
 Republicans jumped on Clinton's decision to cite her ties to Obama and were trying to raise money off the speech almost as soon as it ended, the AP reported. In an email appeal asking for donations, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry wrote, "We want to look toward a brighter future, not backward at the failed policies of the Obama-Clinton years."

From New York, Clinton heads to Iowa, then travels to three other early primary states – New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.