In her first major policy speech since announcing her candidacy for President, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed a crowd at The New School university in New York City this morning, outlining an economic agenda to grow middle-class wages and build a sustainable economy for the 21st century. The speech carried a decisively populist tone (no doubt a necessity given the groundswell of progressive support for Bernie Sanders), in which Clinton stated that after months of being on the road and talking with everyday Americans, the economic well-being of the middle class would be the top priority of her administration and described income growth as “the defining economic issue of our time.”
Borrowing from Ronald Reagan, Clinton agreed that the best program to lift people out of poverty is a job, but that people living in this country need jobs with good, living wages. They need access to higher education to remain competitive in the global marketplace without becoming overburdened and encumbered by massive amounts of college loan debt. People need to be able to trust in the basic American belief that hard work and good choices should translate into economic success and security.
This was the basic principle that led to the United States creating the largest, most successful middle class the world had ever known, a middle class that has since been repeatedly undermined at every turn by the trickle-down economic myth. Clinton stated that every time Republicans get a chance to implement some version of trickle-down policies, the debt and deficit explode, wealth concentrates at the top, and it damn sure doesn’t trickle down.
Yet with Americans working harder than ever for a decreasingly smaller slice of the economic pie, a certain GOP Presidential hopeful with a sadly familiar name seems to think that the problem is that Americans are just not working hard enough. Last week, during an interview with New Hampshire’s The Union Leader, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush stated that “people need to work longer hours”.
Now, this was a policy speech for Mrs. Clinton, so there wasn’t a whole lot of witty zingers or rhetorical fanfare. But if you were to pick out a highlight reel moment from her speech, the giant home run swing she took at that softball lobbed her way by Governor Bush would be your winner:
You may have heard Governor Bush say last week that Americans just need to work longer hours. Well, he must not have met many American workers.
Let him tell that to the nurse who stands on her feet all day, or the teacher who is in that classroom, or the trucker who drives all night. Let him tell that the fast-food workers marching in the streets for better pay.
They don’t need a lecture. They need a raise.
From a rhetorical standpoint, Clinton’s speech hit the target on three very important marks:
1) She addressed the progressive wing of the party by discussing issues like income inequality, the need for affordable healthcare, childcare, and elderly care, as well as taking on the “too big to fail” Wall Street banks.
2) She did not attempt to distance herself from President Obama and instead embraced him. Hillary can no more distinguish herself from the Obama administration as Jeb can distinguish himself from his last name, so there’s no point in trying. Instead, she talked about President Obama having diverted this country from a second Great Depression and making healthcare accessible for an additional 16 million Americans. At times, her verbiage even matched much of what we’ve heard from President Obama on the campaign stump over the years, with regards to hard work and opportunity translating into personal economic success.
3) She went on the offensive against Republicans and the failure of trickle-down. It’s no secret that the trend of wage growth becoming increasingly disproportionate to increases in worker productivity and the cost of living began with the so-called Reagan Revolution and the rise of supply side economics. Since we’ll probably hear Reagan’s name thrown around like a gazillion times by all the GOP hopefuls, why not make it a political albatross for them to wear around their necks?
From a substantive standpoint, Clinton’s economic outline hinges upon three major criteria for economic growth: strength, fairness, and long-term sustainability.
To grow a strong economy, the former Secretary said that it’s time for new ideas, that this isn’t 1993 nor is it 2009, and that with 60 percent of new jobs originating from small business, she would be a champion for small business owners and seek to provide tax relief with better access to credit. Clinton also mentioned comprehensive immigration reform as a pathway to economic growth, adding that bringing millions into the formal economy would increase GDP by an estimated 700 billion dollars over the next decade. Public-private partnerships for investment into our nation’s crumbling infrastructure was another plank of Clinton’s platform for a strong economy, including world-class airports, sea ports, and railways.
In bringing greater female participation and pay equity to the American economy, Clinton argues that we are not just addressing a “fairness” issue, nor are we just addressing a “women’s” issue, that increasing female participation in the workforce at a wage equal to that of their male counterparts is vital to developing the strength of our economy.
In terms of long-term growth, Clinton struck a critical tone with regards to some of the risky-business still taking place on Wall Street and the possible threat it poses to long-term economic stability. Without going insofar as to say she supports re-implementing Glass-Steagall (which her husband signed out of law), Hillary was quite adamant that we need greater regulation and oversight than what is currently afforded via the Dodd-Frank legislation. Instead of the oft-heard “too big to fail is too big to exist”, touted by those who support breaking up the big banks altogether, Clinton offered a nuanced remark of “too big to fail is still too big a problem”– a deft move by a savvy politician that addresses a major concern from the progressive wing of the Democratic electorate, while at the same time carving out a political position that is more comprehensive than Dodd-Frank but stops short of re-implementing Glass-Steagall.
Clinton also suggested that offering tax incentives to companies that offer profit-sharing could both increase middle class wealth and worker productivity– a win/win for ownership and labor alike and a policy she plans to address in greater detail in the very near future.
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