In a speech in Washington on Friday, Hillary Clinton repeatedly criticized economic and social conditions under President Obama, barely mentioning the accomplishments of the man who appointed her secretary of State. Clinton's address, at the New America Foundation, was a broad indictment of the country's current leadership, with exactly one -- one -- note of praise for the Democratic president Clinton has called her partner and friend.
Clinton, never known for self-effacement, began by noting her lifelong desire to make the world a better place and the "driving force" toward public service instilled in her by her mother. From there, Clinton went on to describe the United States today as a very troubled place.
In remarks focused almost exclusively on domestic economic concerns, Clinton began by noting what she called "the basic bargain of America." "No matter who you are or where you come from," she said, echoing her husband's campaigns from the 1990s, "if you work hard and play by the rules, you'll have an opportunity to build a good life."
But: "For too many families in America today, that isn't the way it works. Instead of getting ahead, they're finding it harder and harder than ever to get their footing in our changing economy. The dream of upward mobility that made this country a model for the world feels further and further out of reach."
Millions of Americans are "frustrated, even angry" about today's economy, Clinton said. Falling into poverty is a constant threat, and upward mobility is almost impossible. "Forget about getting rich," Clinton told the audience, "I'm talking about getting into the middle class and staying there."
While productivity is up, Clinton noted, "wages have stagnated." "Americans are working harder, contributing more than ever … and yet many are still barely getting by."
Amid the "daily struggles of millions and millions of Americans," women face particular difficulties, Clinton continued. A woman struggling to achieve "doesn't just face ceilings on her aspirations; sometimes it feels as if the floor has collapsed beneath her."
"What can we do about it?" Clinton asked. "Of course, a lot depends on our leadership, here in Washington and around the country." One might assume that Clinton would take that opportunity to praise the current president. But no. Instead, Clinton focused on another Democratic administration. "The 1990s taught us," she said, harkening back to the days Bill Clinton was in the White House, "that even in the face of difficult long-term economic trends, its possible through smart policies and sound investments to enjoy broad-based growth and shared prosperity." At that point, Clinton took a few moments to recount her husband's economic record.
After an obligatory critique of George W. Bush's time in the White House, Clinton made her only reference to Obama. "It took years of painstaking work and strong leadership from President Obama to get our economy growing again," she said.
And then it was back to criticizing. To get the country out of its current hole, Clinton said, "We'll need some big ideas, like evidence-based decision making — an old idea that I hope can be restored." The Democratic Party line would, of course, hold that Obama has restored "evidence-based decision making," but Clinton spoke as if that never happened.
From there, still more problems. Too many children are not getting a healthy start in life. Millions of young people are both out of school and out of work. Minorities face even worse odds. The economy is still not generating enough demand to create jobs.
When Clinton mentioned that too many Americans are without health care, she added, "although, thankfully, we're beginning to resolve that." It was the faintest possible praise of Obamacare, with no mention of its namesake.
Obama is an unpopular president. Any Democratic candidate for president, especially one who served under Obama, will have to strike a tone that both calls for change and pays tribute to his achievements. Friday's speech shows that Clinton is more inclined to call for change.