Hillary Clinton says businesses don’t create jobs. Uh-oh.

Hillary Clinton said this at a recent campaign event: 'Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.' Conservatives pounced. Liberals are pleading for context.

Stephan Savoia/AP
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a campaign event for Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, Friday, Oct. 24, 2014.

[Updated 2:40 p.m.] Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent comment about trickle-down economics has launched a war of spin – and an effort Monday by Mrs. Clinton to correct herself.

First, here’s what the likely 2016 presidential candidate said at a campaign event last Friday for Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate:

“Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs,” former Secretary of State Clinton said in Boston. “You know that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried, that has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly. One of the things my husband says when people say, ‘What did you bring to Washington?’ He says, ‘I brought arithmetic.’ ”

That first sentence is similar to a gaffe President Obama made in his 2012 reelection campaign, when he said: “If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” His GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, pounded him mercilessly over that one (though Mr. Romney still lost).

“It’s Hillary Clinton’s ‘You Didn’t Build That Moment’ – and it’s a safe bet that the quote will come back to haunt her,” writes Benjamin Austin at FreePatriot.org.

On Monday, Clinton responded to the kerfuffle in comments at a campaign appearance for Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in upstate New York. 

Nan Hayworth, Congressman Maloney’s rival, represents “a discredited economic theory that will hurt middle-class families,” Clinton said, according to a report in Politico. “I shorthanded this point the other day, so let me be absolutely clear on what [I’ve been saying for decades]. Our economy grows when businesses and entrepreneurs create good-paying jobs here in America and workers and families are empowered to build from the bottom up.… Not when we hand out tax breaks for corporations that outsource jobs or stash their profits overseas.”

Regardless of how one interprets Clinton’s original comment, there’s little doubt the former first lady’s opponents will use it against her in the presidential campaign, if she runs.

It’s not Clinton’s first gaffe of the unofficial 2016 race. This past June, when she released her latest book, “Hard Choices,” she said she and her husband, the ex-president, came out of the White House in 2001 “dead broke.” For a couple that could command multimillion-dollar book deals and six-figure speaking gigs, the comment seemed strangely off. PolitiFact.com rated it “mostly false.”

As before, liberal watchdog groups are jumping in to defend her, calling for a look at the context.

“The full transcript of her remarks shows she was making the established observation that minimum wage increases can boost a sluggish economy by generating demand, and that tax breaks for the rich don't necessarily move companies to create jobs,” writes the group Media Matters.

Conservative and liberal economists have long been at war over the effectiveness of trickle-down (or supply-side) economics – the idea that cutting taxes and regulations frees up capital and allows businesses to grow – including hiring more workers.

The 2016 race is upon us. Everything Clinton says in public will be parsed within an inch of its life -- and already is. Politicians often plead, “Out of context,” when caught saying something off-key. But in the sound-bite reality of political life, Clinton may find it easier just to make sure everything she says, sentence by sentence, sounds good on its own.

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