Back to the future, Clinton urges party

Senator offers Democrats program recalling husband's appeal to middle class

July 25, 2006|By JEFF ZELENY

DENVER -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, has gone to great lengths to create a distinctive political footprint, but she declared yesterday that ideas championed by the Clinton White House offer the best chance for Democrats to win back their majority.

"To paraphrase the historic 1992 campaign," Clinton said with a wry smile, "It's the American Dream, stupid."

In a speech to the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist group that propelled her husband to the presidency on his own riff of "It's the economy, stupid," she unveiled a 20-page "American Dream Initiative." The familiar set of policies, which Clinton said should become a signature brand for Democrats, is aimed at improving the lives of the middle class.

"This agenda is all about restoring the American Dream, but there is nothing dreamlike about it," Clinton said. "Democrats stand ready to lead again. Now all we have to do is win elections."

While her own political ambitions officially went unspoken here at a conference of moderate Democrats, there was little doubt that her marquee speaking position, as well as a red-bound policy booklet handed out to participants, was designed to provide a framework for a prospective presidential bid.

It was, in many respects, a reprise of ideas that gained favor more than a decade ago, including offering more government aid to attend college, purchase homes and save for retirement. Clinton and others said the road to winning the White House and control of Congress rests upon expanding the party's appeal to independent voters who feel they haven't fared as well during President Bush's two terms .

"Ideas take awhile to enter the political bloodstream," said Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic group. "It's important to start now so that we have a healthy ideas debate in the 2008 campaign. We missed that chance in the 2004 campaign, which was largely a debate over whether Bush was a miserable failure or worse."

Clinton, who is running for re-election to the Senate and is presumed by those in her party as a leading contender for the presidential nomination, said she and others worked to develop the agenda over the past year. The ideas are based on four foundations of the middle class: college, home ownership, secure retirement and health care.

Highlights of the "American Dream Initiative" include:

Creating Baby Bonds, which would give a $500 savings bond to every American child at birth and again at age 10.

Creating American Dream Accounts, requiring all companies with more than five employees to offer a retirement plan.

Establishing a $3,000 refundable college tuition tax credit.

The cost of the initiative would be about $400 billion to $450 billion over 10 years. Reed said this would be offset by the $550 billion in savings, which would be found through cutting government consultants, curbing government waste and ending "wasteful, outdated" corporate subsidies.

The conversation, dominated by pocketbook matters, purposefully excluded controversial social issues like gay marriage and abortion. Foreign policy differences that have divided the Democratic Party - most notably the Iraq war - also went without significant mention.

Jeff Zeleny writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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