Viewpoint -- Steelworkers Convention Hosts Presidential Candidates -- Part Four: Hillary Clinton

One reporter's somewhat cynical take on the recent Democratic campaign stop at the USW leadership convention and candidate forum in Cleveland.

The United Steelworkers (USW) recently extended invitations to the full field of presidential candidates to come speak to the USW faithful at its July convention. Four Democrats showed up -- Biden, Edwards, Kucinich and Clinton -- and said mostly what you would expect, considering the context. If I sound cynical, it's because the whole Bush/Clinton/Bush/Clinton thing makes me feel queasy.

Hillary Is Green With Energy

It was interesting to hear how USW President Leo Gerard introduced New York Senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. "She's willing to talk to us on the issues, whether they be healthcare OR trade..."

As narrow as that view may seem, at least you know where a (literally) big union guy like Leo Gerard stands, and those two issues are likely to loom as large as Leo this election season.

About the big USW boss, Hillary says "He pushes pretty hard to move the political system -- and I've been on the receiving end of some of those pushes." After seeing the two of them standing next to one another, I'm going to assume that she's speaking metaphorically -- otherwise, I'm surprised she's still in one piece.

(Although I'd bet my money on Hillary in a streetfight with Kucinich.)

Just as Biden benefited from being first up, Hillary benefited from getting the last word. She was able to provide more details on certain issues (such as energy policy) and , while also avoiding the bad taste of rehashed ideology that accompanied the crowd of speakers from the first day of the convention.

She spoke on the need for national unity in a time of crisis, saying "One of my favorite Republicans -- and I don't have a long list -- was Teddy Roosevelt, who said that "the welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us.'"

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Joe Biden

John Edwards

Dennis Kucinich

OK, that's a nice sentiment and all, but using a quote with the word "welfare" in it, twice, in front of a bunch of hard-working union people?

If she was so desperate to trot out a Republican to prove her bi-partisanism in this context, couldn't she have found something Lincoln said about the Union? Now there was a uniter/not-divider.

I guess Civil War references are probably politically inappropriate these days.

The New York Senator made sure to congratulate the steelworkers on their hard work over the years, saying "there's hardly a square foot of America that you don't have your fingerprints on." I don't know if Hillary doesn't get out of the stately environs of D.C. and New York much, but that's becoming less and less of a compliment (especially in crumbling Cleveland, the poorest city in the country).

Consider for a second that China, Japan and India are spending about 10% of their GDP on building up their national infrastructure.

Well, we're also spending billions of tax dollars on infrastructure. Unfortunately it's in Iraq, not Ohio. Or Michigan. Or Pennsylvania, or any of the other states hardest hit by manufacturing job loss.

Clinton On Manufacturing Green Collars

The Senator noted that people feel disillusioned because, in the last six and a half years, the U.S. economy has lost more than 3 million manufacturing jobs (here in Ohio we lost one in every five in the same time period).

"A lot of people around our country think that it's not going to come back, that American manufacturing is over," Clinton said. "I don't think we can be a great nation without manufacturing. If we don't keep making things, we're not going to sustain our standard of living and quality of life."

The Senator called for Americans to be realistic, but still optimistic, about the potential of re-aligning the manufacturing sector to fit the new global reality.

"The world is different. We're not going to make the same things we made 100 years ago or even 30 years ago, but America can be on the cutting edge of high-tech products -- if we have policies that support it."

Clinton said she has started a "manufacturing caucus" in the Senate, a non-profit that "connects capital investors from New York City with the upstate economy" and has been a strong supporter of the manufacturing extension program "which has helped factories across America adopt new technologies to be competitive."

The New York Senator also proposed translating the continued success of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency into the alternative energy sector. "I think we need a similar agency for manufacturing, that puts the best minds from government, business, college, universities and the unions to try to figure out how to sustain and build our manufacturing base."

"We need a new job source," she said, noting that "In the 1990s we had telecom. Now we have to regenerate our economy again, and this (green energy sector) is the best way to do it."

Clinton acknowledged that there are practical reasons for alternative energy that go above and beyond a bunch of neat, new technology -- reasons that she summed up quite simply: "We can't keep sending billions of dollars overseas to regimes that turn around and use it against us."

With this urgency in mind, the Senator called for funding a fast-track to new green collar jobs that will come out of a different energy future. "I propose creating a clean energy fund with 50 billion dollars to invest in clean alternative energy technologies and get them to market quickly."

As someone who lives on Lake Erie, I'm proud to see the 26-ton steel wind turbine spinning in the breeze off the lake. I'd be even more proud if the thing was built here in America (it's from Denmark).

Clinton told the crowd that there is a "green gap" in the growing worldwide alternative energy sector is widening by the day. "Germany is using solar to supply about 40% of its residential electricity, because the government saw it as an opportunity, and began to invest in it and change the laws and regulations. And the last time I looked, Germany was not a tropical climate."

Clinton On "Recapturing" Formerly Free Trade

"Done right, trade has been and can be good for America. Done wrong, and it can hurt workers, degrade the environment, and weaken our economy."

So says the junior Senator from New York and better half of "Billary" -- a team responsible for signing into law some of the "free-est" of Free Trade agreements back in the 90s.

Perhaps reflecting the spirit of "new protectionism" that is being felt across the country, Hillary recently voted against renewing the President's fast-track authority, saying that she doesn't trust President Bush to negotiate trade deals that are fair to Americans, much less people in other countries.

Furthermore, she voted against the recent Korean Free Trade Agreement because she says that Seoul places "informal barriers" to the import of U.S. products. "Last year, South Korea sold 700,000 cars in America. In Korea, we sold 6,000." I know such sharply contrasting numbers are a politician's best friend, but somehow I don't think sales figures for American cars are a good way to prove any point (except that Detroit has to get its act together).

Seoul is just a symptom of a larger problem, according to Clinton -- the U.S. is quickly becoming a debtor nation, and fast losing our ability to do anything about it.

"Every day we have to go into the global capital markets and borrow billions of dollars," she noted. "What we have done is give power over our economy to governments in Beijing, Riyadh and other places around the world."

Clinton criticized the present administration's economic and foreign policy failures for negatively impacting on the kind of global leverage that U.S. manufacturers need, especially during this time of rapid earth-flattening.

"Every day I get asked 'Why can't we get tough on China? They manipulate their currency, they don't respect our intellectual property, they don't enforce the rule of law, and I ask 'How do you get tough on your banker?'"

The whole global trade imbalance is one of those issues on which Hillary is a soft target, seeing as she played a major role in the previous Clinton administration. After all, her husband signed NAFTA (which didn't get mentioned once) and procured most-favored-nation status for China, and as Hillary most famously stated back then, "We are the President."

Will "Billary" once again become President? Will America bargain shop and go for the "2 for 1" deal again? Or we may very well say, to quote President Bush, "Fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again."


Brad Kenney is an equal-opportunity cynic and an associate editor at IndustryWeek, based out of Cleveland. The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author. Feel free to register your agreement or displeasure at our Reader Talk-Back forum.
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