At the end of the day, however, a race should boil down to who can govern. Who has the right ideas and policies for the time? And who can actually get them done?
Monday, during Hillary Clinton's economic address
, we got to see her at her best, talking about the topics that matter most, in a way that demonstrates how she'd get things done (and why others are likely to fail).
In 30 minutes, Hillary covered infrastructure investment, daycare, college affordability, family leave, equal pay, minimum wage increases, immigration reform, collective bargaining and policing Wall Street. She declared that the "defining economic challenge of our time is clear: We must raise incomes for hard-working Americans so they can afford a middle class life..." She called for "income growth that lifts up families and lifts up our country." Hillary's advisors were right to point out the number of economists, policy experts and labor leaders advising her, but the end result was pure Hillary, in all her wonk glory.
As a longtime campaign operative, I enjoy the politics of speeches. I tend to focus on how the timing, location, staging and substance of a speech can define a candidate and shape a race.
But this speech was about more than politics.
First, I was struck by how much "faster, fairer, more sustainable growth" has come to depend on the "women's issues" Hillary's championed for decades. Twenty-five years ago, when I first worked with Hillary, family leave, equal pay, child care and respite care were seen as second-tier issues. Most (male) candidates favored photo ops in front of factory gates, not daycare centers. Hillary saw things differently.
Today, with women heading so many American households (and outnumbering men in our colleges), helping them balance career and family has become a first-tier priority and one that leads to economic growth.
Our next President needs to understand the needs of working women, the importance of family leave, equal pay and the nuts and bolts of teaching 21st century job skills. No one knows more about these problems -- and potential solutions -- than Hillary.
Second, I was struck by how different she sounded from most of the other candidates.
It's primary season, a time to rally your base by picking fights and playing the blame game. Christie slaps Paul on terrorism. Cruz slaps the Supreme Court and mainstream media. Trump slaps Jeb Bush on immigration. You get the idea. The problem with these primary tactics is that they do more than hurt you in the general election: They undermine your ability to govern.
To lead this country, you can't write off 47% of it, like Romney did. You can't insult anyone who wasn't born here, like Trump has. And you can't blame all of our problems on the top 1%, as some Democrats would like to do.
I don't know whether Monday's speech will satisfy my party's far left. Hillary didn't sound like she was trying to fire up her base. Choosing not to mention Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is so far her leading opponent in the Democratic primary, Hillary sounded like someone trying to talk to everyone. That's great government, but it's tough politics.
Hillary's tone and her proposals reminded me that she's one of the few candidates on the stage who really gets this stuff. She's been working on these sets of topics for 40 years. She knows how to get things done.
We'll soon find out if that's enough. Will primary voters respond to Monday's wonkathon, or will she have to act out, like her Republican opponents?
So, do you want to have a beer with Hillary? Having worked for her for more than 17 years, I've had a beer (or two) with her and I can tell you it is a hell of a lot of fun. But, at the end of the day, I would much rather have Hillary, the happy wonk warrior who she is, working tirelessly for changes that would grow our economy, empower our workforce and help every American reach their full potential.