Economy & Business

Hillary’s Trip to 1948

Clinton talks economic policy in New York City, July 13, 2015. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

‘Progressive” is a funny word, one that often means the opposite of what it appears to mean. Hillary Rodham Clinton is a wanton and shameless trafficker in Nineties nostalgia, but the odd fact is that she intends to be sworn in as president in 2017 with the Democratic platform from 1948: weaponizing the tax code for use against disfavored businesses while offering rich new subsidies for compliant corporations, raising the minimum wage, aggrandizing the micromanagerial powers of the Department of Labor, expanding our already insolvent entitlements, adding mightily to our zero-return “investments” in government-school bureaucracies and dodgy energy programs, etc.

At least the Democrats of 1948 were also campaigning to repeal Taft-Hartley.

Mrs. Clinton’s accomplishments are restricted almost entirely to a series of prestigious job titles. We’d say that she’s padding her résumé, but at this point in her over-ripe career Mrs. Clinton is only padding her obituary, which is a morbid thing to do. She was an undistinguished senator holding office in a freshly adopted Democratic bastion as a craven tribute to her husband, and then she was a feckless and destructive secretary of state whose wake of incompetence spread, and spreads still, from Moscow to Tripoli. Now she seeks to attain the presidency on a series of intellectually dishonest and lightly considered economic nostrums.

For this iteration of Mrs. C., the “C” stands for “complacency.” Even the upstart rumblings of Senator Bernie Sanders on her left cannot rouse her to serious thought or fresh rhetorical ploys.

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In her economic-policy speech on Monday — more of an economic-mood speech, really, being very much on the fluffy side — Mrs. Clinton dug deep into the turn-of-the-century catalog of political clichés. She dishonestly attributed to Republicans a belief in “trickle-down” economics not held by any economic thinker of any consequence; she indulged in discredited wishful thinking about the role of unionization; she leaned upon lies about the mythical pay gap between the sexes; she called for big-ticket infrastructure spending as though the nation hadn’t recently tried that with Barack Obama’s failed stimulus program and its nonexistent bounty of “shovel-ready jobs”; she railed against “loopholes,” with “loopholes” here acting as a synonym for “the federal tax code.”

Follow her lead, she said, and it will be 1997 forever: “Under President Clinton — I like the sound of that! — America saw the longest peacetime expansion in our history.” The Nineties were famous for their one-hit wonders, and as a retro-revival act Mrs. Clinton isn’t Boyz II Men, she’s Chumbawamba, forever reveling in one glorious moment, in her case the dot-com bubble that temporarily relieved 1990s Washington of the burden of making what somebody once called “hard choices.”

The staleness of Mrs. Clinton’s ideas is remarkable.

Consider her views on the tax code, and the so-called loopholes that allow some high-income Americans to pay lower rates on investment income than middle-income taxpayers pay on their salaries. This isn’t the result of a “loophole,” but a result of the fact that Congresses and presidents of both parties have long held that a combination of factors (double taxation of corporate profits, the desirability of investment) argue for taxing some investment income at lower rates than wages or salary. Mrs. Clinton was around for this, though her memory seems to be spotty on such inconvenient issues: In 1993, President Clinton sought and secured a tax increase on wage and salary income, with the top rate going from 31 percent to 39.6 percent; a few years later, he signed into law a bill reducing the top rate on investment income from 28 percent to 20 percent; which is to say, under Clinton we went from taxing investment income at a few points less than wages to taxing it at half the rate of wages. Mrs. Clinton says that she intends to close such “loopholes.” She also said in her last presidential campaign that she would fight raising the capital-gains rate above 20 percent, and that she is skeptical of raising it at all; she then supported the Affordable Care Act, which added a surcharge raising the top rate above 20 percent. She gives the distinct impression of having only the weakest grasp of the policy in question.

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But then she often is confused about her own mind. For example, she lambastes Jeb Bush for suggesting that one way to increase Americans’ incomes is for Americans to work more and at the same time complains that women’s work-force participation in the United States has declined relative to other countries — which is to say, she complains that Bush wants some Americans to work more and complains that some Americans don’t work more. As with her position on taxes, she does not seem quite to know what she’s talking about — and, worse, doesn’t seem to know that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

This isn’t just a case of Clinton vs. Clinton — it’s Clinton vs. Clinton vs. Clinton.

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We’d just as soon they sort this out among themselves before inflicting themselves once again on the republic. Newt Gingrich, who isn’t running for president this year, is available to help them sort out their thinking, which he did with great success last time around.

#related#The staleness of Mrs. Clinton’s ideas is remarkable. The United States is, thanks in some part to the president Mrs. Clinton served, suffering from economic stagnation. Wage growth has not been strong. Mrs. Clinton’s answer to weak wage growth is . . . to pass a law mandating stronger wage growth, as though the economy were the junior-prom decorating committee, with its executives and institutions simply awaiting their orders from the president. This view is without justification, but it has been a long time since Mrs. Clinton had a serious interest in ideas. She briefly considers innovations in the Internet-powered “gig economy,” only to shrink immediately back into fear about “what a good job will look like in the future.” Instead of seriously considering the future or even the present, she’s reaching back to the Truman show: “Our party record of the past is assurance of its policies and performance in the future,” as the Democrats’ 1948 platform said. Put that promise on a mutual fund and you’ll go to jail.

Maybe Mrs. Clinton, having been precocious, remembers the 1948 Democratic platform with some sentimentality. But then economic stagnation is not the only sort of stagnation afflicting these United States, an unhappy condition of which Mrs. Clinton is perfectly emblematic.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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