Former Adviser Says Clinton's Economic Vision Differs From Obama's, and Her Husband's

The Democratic frontrunner's announcement has only reignited the speculation over whether she will be able to distinguish herself from the last two Democratic presidents.

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with former U.S. President Bill Clinton during the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Obama said the U.S. will make a priority of supporting human rights groups in countries with repressive governments and vowed to challenge restrictions on civil society across the globe.

Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A day after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy in a video, a TV interview laid out one of the key questions her expected economic policy platform will face.

During a Monday morning interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” host Joe Kernen asked Ann Lewis, a former adviser to both Clintons, whether Clinton’s campaign would use the same “almost anti-private sector pro-redistribution” populist rhetoric of the Obama years or “tack more towards private sector solutions” like her husband. 

Lewis’s answer to both questions was essentially the same: Clinton’s campaign isn’t defined by Bill or Obama. “Look, this is a campaign that is about Hillary and Hillary’s economic policies,” Lewis said before references all the middle class families in Clinton’s announcement video. “This about growing the middle class and making sure that there are economic opportunities and that those small businesses get the support they need.”

Lewis added that Clinton knows the difference between President Clinton’s policies and the new challenges we face today. “So you cannot just go back and repeat the past,” Lewis said.

But Clinton’s announcement has only reignited the speculation over whether she will be able to distinguish herself from the last two Democratic presidents. On Sunday, a Politico columnist argued that “a new iteration of ‘It’s still the economy, stupid’ could be a sound foundation for a successful campaign,” referring to the slogan from President Clinton’s campaign against President Bush. The same day Quartz’s Tim Fernholz argued that her economic policy will resemble Obama’s, which will be a problem for her. “Obama fatigue is a real thing, and many Americans will want to know how their next president will differ from the last one,” he wrote.

Some have argued that she will focus on exploring populist themes somewhere between her husband’s and the anti-Wall Street rhetoric of Senator Elizabeth Warren. Evidence of that has been her usage of Warren-esque language—in her announcement video she says the “deck is stacked” in favor of the rich—and her occasional references to how the economy improved during the first Clinton administration. During a May 2014 speech at the New America Foundation, she argued that income inequality can be fought with “smart policies” and “sound investment,” just as we learned in the Clinton years:

The 1990s taught us that even in the face of difficult long-term economic trends, it’s possible through smart policies and sound investments to enjoy broad-based growth and shared prosperity.  [...]  Raising the minimum wage, doubling the Earned Income Tax Credit – that helped millions of lower-income families climb out of poverty for the first time.  The Children’s Health Insurance Program changed millions of young lives.  And on and on, all with a balanced budget that resulted in surpluses as far as the eye could see.

At this point, what’s clear is that we’re going to hear a lot about how a strong middle class leads to a strong America. The policies that will get us there are still TBA.