Hillary Clinton puts her right foot forward on minimum wage, climate change in New Hampshire

Hillary Clinton has been making a series of left turns relative to her 2008 campaign ever since she announced her 2016 bid. However, many of those appeals to the party base have come in prepared statements and scripted events.

In a series of unscripted answers to questions from journalists and event attendees in New Hampshire yesterday, Hillary Clinton struck a decidedly more centrist tone on two issues at the core of the liberal agenda: increasing the minimum wage and regulating fossil fuel extraction on public grounds.

In response to a question from Buzzfeed if she would support raising the national minimum wage to $15, Clinton had this to say:

I support the local efforts that are going on that are making it possible for people working in certain localities to actually earn 15…

…I think part of the reason that the Congress and very strong Democratic supporters of increasing the minimum wage are trying to debate and determine what’s the national floor is because there are different economic environments. And what you can do in L.A. or in New York may not work in other places.

Notably, Clinton declined to commit both to taking federal action to raise the minimum wage and to advocate for a $15 minimum wage nationally.

Hillary Clinton with Tim Geithner, via Creative Commons

Hillary Clinton with Tim Geithner, via Creative Commons

Clinton is right to say that “there are different economic environments,” but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t all benefit from an increased minimum wage. In fact, one of the reasons why we set a federal minimum wage is because they in theory work better when they are adopted across the board; if one city or state adopts a higher minimum wage than another, employers will, in theory, set up shop where the lower minimum wage is in effect.

Theory aside, that isn’t how recent increases in local minimum wages have played out. Preliminary evidence from Seattle’s minimum wage increase show that employers are, if anything, expanding in the city. Not only has the number of monthly restaurant permits held steady since the increase was passed, and the overall number of restaurants has increased. Restaurants are used as a proxy for the effects of minimum wage both because data is readily available and because they often rely on minimum (and sub-minimum) wage workers.

But Hillary Clinton wasn’t done putting her right foot down on centrist economic theories that are empirically dubious. Later in the day, she told a town hall in New Hampshire that she opposed banning fossil fuel extraction on federal lands “until we get alternatives in place,” which prompted her to be confronted by another questioner who asked her if her refusal to commit to banning fossil fuel extraction on federal lands was due to her acceptance of campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. Her muddled, rambling answer led to heckling, with protesters chanting “Act on climate!”:

The exchange exposed one of Clinton’s biggest weaknesses on the trail: unscripted conversations with actual liberal voters.

Hillary’s assertion that she can’t oppose banning fossil fuel extraction on federal lands for pragmatic, economic reasons is pure bunk. The same people who would be put out of work if she banned fossil fuel extraction on federal lands could and would be put to work elsewhere. This would be especially true if she made a serious investment in expanding our green energy sector, which is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the global economy. To say you’re against making changes until alternatives are in place, while having obviously not thought seriously about what those alternatives might be, is troubling to say the least.

Of course, for political reasons, Hillary feels no great pressure to take a progressive position on climate. As Slate’s Josh VoorHees commented:

…the unfortunate reality for climate activists is that Hillary doesn’t need to be overly concerned about them in the primary since she doesn’t have to worry about them in the general election. Their legitimate fears about what a climate science-denying Republican president would do will be a much greater motivating force on Election Day than their doubts about Clinton ever could be.

That said, such a clear calculation from Clinton reinforces the strongest narrative against her candidacy: that she is a distillation of everything Americans hate about politics; one part focus group and one part donor sellout. She is more than willing to say that the upcoming election is a pivotal moment in American history; climate is one of the most pivotal issues for America in the next century. If there is any issue on which liberals should demand Hillary Clinton be to the left of President Obama, it’s climate; instead, she’s basically tracked at or slightly to the right of the President’s positions.

Yesterday provided a number of reasons why Hillary Clinton had previously avoided taking too many questions from reporters and unscreened event attendees. She has clearly either not thought seriously, or completely dismissed, a number of issues that her base cares deeply about.

And she wonders why Bernie Sanders is attracting such a devoted following.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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