Economic rights are human rights, and human rights are economic rights: Hillary demolishes bogus silos that limit the inequality debate

Clinton's campaign launch went hard on populism -- and brought reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights into the frame

Published June 15, 2015 5:17PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)
(Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)

Hillary Clinton launched her presidential campaign this weekend with a rally on an island sandwiched between Queens and Manhattan. Clinton’s team didn’t choose Roosevelt Island because it was centrally located or even minimally convenient -- the place only has one major road, a single subway stop, one bus line bringing people in and out and a tram that affords a nice view but also makes traveling there a total pain in the ass. Instead, they picked it because it’s a symbolically rich spot for Clinton's first major campaign event. The island was renamed in 1971 for Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his legacy loomed large in Clinton’s speech.

From her remarks:

President Roosevelt called on every American to do his or her part, and every American answered. He said there’s no mystery about what it takes to build a strong and prosperous America: “Equality of opportunity... Jobs for those who can work... Security for those who need it... The ending of special privilege for the few... The preservation of civil liberties for all... a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

That still sounds good to me.

It’s America’s basic bargain. If you do your part you ought to be able to get ahead. And when everybody does their part, America gets ahead too.

Whereas previous iterations of Clinton have emphasized her hawkishness or play-to-the-middle political instincts, her Saturday speech was straightforwardly populist in tone. Clinton will no doubt return to some of her beefed up war talk in the coming months, but income inequality was the centerpiece this weekend.

And you didn’t get the sense that Clinton was changing tacks when she moved from talking about from paid leave (and a possible hint about universal preschool and childcare) to mass incarceration, LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedom. These, too, were issues of income inequality -- part of the "inclusive" economics Clinton talked about.

Clinton’s speech managed to frame out issues that are often trapped in separate silos -- access to abortion is a “social” issue while a minimum wage bump is “economic” -- as part of a singular, cohesive economic justice agenda.

Here’s Clinton tying things together under the mantle of an “inclusive economy” -- while throwing some shade at the GOP presidential bench:

They want to take away health insurance from more than 16 million Americans without offering any credible alternative.

They shame and blame women, rather than respect our right to make our own reproductive health decisions.

They want to put immigrants, who work hard and pay taxes, at risk of deportation.

And they turn their backs on gay people who love each other.

Fundamentally, they reject what it takes to build an inclusive economy. It takes an inclusive society. What I once called “a village” that has a place for everyone.

This isn’t some smart rhetorical trick -- or not just some smart rhetorical trick. Weaving these issues together is a straightforward articulation of the realities millions of Americans face every day. Grappling with the complications and layers of people's lived experiences with poverty is a good place to start if you want to talk about poverty.

A few examples, maybe.

Trans people face widespread employment discrimination, whether it’s harassment on the job or being flat-out rejected when applying for a gig in the first place. Lack of access to jobs exacerbates the vulnerabilities to poverty, homelessness and violence that plague the trans community. Being denied the right to use the bathroom, which is heating up again as conservatives use digs on trans people’s humanity as tossed-off applause lines -- infringes on your ability to exist in public. These are gross violations of trans people’s essential human rights, basic economic stability among them.

The "shame and blame" Clinton referenced take a psychological toll on women seeking reproductive health care, but denying women basic access to birth control and abortion care also undermines their access to education, stable careers and an escape from poverty.

In Texas right now, with an estimate that there will be less than a dozen clinics left standing in the second most populous state in the country, getting an abortion can come with some steep financial barriers -- money spent on the procedure itself, multiple days of lost wages, travel and lodging expenses related to mandatory waiting periods. The number of logistical and medical hoops standing between Texans and basic healthcare is staggering.

Come out on the other side of this with your financial house still relatively in order and there’s no guarantee that your job will be waiting for you -- those are the breaks if you couldn’t get coverage for the days you took off to exercise a constitutionally-protected right. (Ijeoma Oluo put this pretty succinctly on Twitter: “Y'all understand that the anti-abortion movement is class warfare right?”)

In the post-Todd Akin landscape of anti-choice conservatives getting, at most, 5 percent savvier about how they package their misogynistic policy positions, there has emerged a deflect-and-move-on strategy to avoid stepping in it too hard. For those interested in sidestepping their views on reproductive health, the line usually goes something like: “Women care about more than birth control and abortion, they care about what’s in their wallets!”

Clinton’s speech is a strong a rebuttal to that deflection, and it's coming out of the mouth of the Democratic frontrunner. Yes, women care about more than abortion. Yes, women care about what’s in their wallets. And yes, those concerns are, without question, often one in the same. The same "both/and" framing could be applied to what Clinton packaged in her speech as "family issues" -- the minimum wage, mass incarceration, addiction treatment, mental healthcare and childcare.

There are months left to vet what Clinton's platform means in practice, and making inequality central to her campaign is all the more reason for Clinton to confront the legacy of the welfare overhaul enacted under her husband with her backing. But as a vision statement with some concrete policy points, the campaign launch managed to grapple with what inequality looks like, mistakes she's made in the past and the changing economic times that will define her platform moving forward. How she contends with her record remains an open question, but Clinton seems to have caught up to the intersections that define how millions of Americans struggle to make a living.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

MORE FROM Katie McDonough