Hillary Clinton wants you to know that her vision for the US economy is different from Jeb Bush’s, Marco Rubio’s, and Scott Walker’s. Oh, and Bernie Sanders’s, too.
That’s a bottom line from Democratic front-runner Clinton’s big Monday speech about American workers, opportunity, and US business. Aides billed it as a kickoff address meant to set the former secretary of State apart from all her rivals in the race for 2016.
Her theme? As the shadow of the Great Recession continues to recede, the United States needs a “growth and fairness” approach to get the economy moving again full-speed.
“We can’t create enough jobs and new businesses without more growth, and we can’t build strong families and support our consumer economy without more fairness. We need both, because while America is standing again, we’re not yet running the way we should,” she said in New York.
Mrs. Clinton took on the major Republican contenders by name. She hit Mr. Bush for his comment from last week that Americans need to “work more hours," saying that he must not have met many American workers.
“Let him tell that to the nurse who stands on her feet all day or the trucker who drives all night. Let him tell that to the fast-food workers marching in the streets for better pay. They don’t need a lecture – they need a raise,” said Clinton.
(Bush has said that what he really meant was that part-time workers need the opportunity to work more hours if they want.)
She criticized Senator Rubio’s tax plan as a “budget-busting giveaway to the super-wealthy." As for Governor Walker, she took aim at his attempts to curtail the power of public-sector unions.
“Evidence shows that the decline of unions may be responsible for a third of the increase of inequality among men. So if we want to get serious about raising incomes, we have to get serious about supporting workers,” Clinton said.
In contrast, Clinton did not mention Senator Sanders’s name. But she drew some lines that seemed intended to compare-and-contrast her economic plan with the beliefs of the rival who’s running to her left.
For instance, she talked about the need to confront Wall Street, as Sanders does, but she did not use his harsh language or endorse some of his more extreme proposals, such as breaking up big banks. Similarly, she backed an increase in the minimum wage, but without attaching a dollar figure, leaving herself some margin for maneuver.
Perhaps most important, she brought gender into her discussion of family needs. That’s not Sanders’s way of framing inequality. As Amber Phillips of "The Fix" political blog at The Washington Post notes, white liberal men are Sanders’s core supporters.
Clinton used a substantial portion of her speech to talk about the burdens women carry in the US economy as they try to balance family and work lives. Fair pay, flexible scheduling, paid family leave, earned sick days, and child care “are essential to our competitiveness and growth," she said.
The growing participation of women in the labor force in the US has stalled, said Clinton. That’s a lot of unused potential for the economy and US families, she said.
“Women who want to work should be able to do so without worrying every day about how they’re going to take care of their children or what will happen if a family member gets sick,” Clinton said.
Does Clinton want to force women to join the workforce? Of course not, writes Ramesh Ponnuru of the right-leaning National Review in a post critical of Clinton’s speech.
But Bush, with his “work more hours” line, wasn’t pushing Americans to work harder, either. He was just talking about opening up opportunity for those who want it, according to Mr. Ponnuru.
“If it’s fair game to distort his words, it’s fair game for the Republicans to say: Hey, Secretary Clinton, the stay-at-home moms of America don’t need a lecture from you,” he writes.