Commentary: Buzz on Hillary Speech Misses Point

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Political pundits had something new to buzz about this week after Hillary Clinton’s speech at the New York State Democratic Convention in Buffalo. But WNYC’s Brian Lehrer says they seem to be missing half the story.

Brian: Most of the media commentary on Senator Clinton’s convention speech was about how she appeared to be running less for re-election than for President in 2008. Fair enough. But the narrow focus misses something else that speech may wind up doing – providing a kind of national kickoff to the Democrats’ drive to take back control of Congress here in 2006.

You see, party strategists have been stressing that Democrats around the country should run as if they were running against President Bush – to nationalize the local Congressional races as much as possible because the president is so unpopular right now. So attacks like this by New York’s Junior Senator were not only to get herself into the White House tomorrow, but to get more Democrats into the Capitol today.

TAPE: stand up for science and evidence, stand up for what we know to be true

BRIAN: Democratic Party insiders have also been stressing a few key issues as national campaign talking points for this year, and they were all in senator Clinton’s speech: energy independence, rebalancing the federal budget, more access to health care and to college… and as we heard in the clip, a new commitment to policymaking based on science – code for things like stem cell research and taking global warming seriously. These are all Republican party weaknesses that people care about.

Downplayed in the speech were the more murky question of how Democrats would act differently in Iraq. Missing altogether were risky positions like reversing the Bush tax cuts and stopping warrantless wiretapping.

The next step for the Democrats is to get specific: with something like Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America that helped HIS party take back Congress 12 years ago. Clinton’s speech was for the most part short on those kinds of solutions. But she did highlight two specific proposals: making oil companies invest in renewable energy, and a politically pointed link to the minimum wage:

TAPE: I have just introduced a bill to tie minimum wage increases to congressional pay increases. It’s the right thing to do, they deserve it and they haven’t had one in way too long.

BRIAN: So Senator Hillary Clinton, her re-election highly likely, was no doubt using the New York State convention stage to SET the stage for a presidential run. But her first national campaign is to lead the way to taking back Congress. That campaign is now underway.