When thinking about the implications of Hillary Clinton’s big economic speech on Monday, there’s one line that keeps popping into our head. We think it’s a handy way to explain how she’s going to position herself on economic issues as she plunges headlong into Campaign 2016.
It came right at the top of the address, when she was still warming to her theme. She’d just said that the measure of US success should be rising incomes for families, not just for CEOs. Then she added this: The measure of economic success also shouldn’t be “just some arbitrary growth targets untethered to people’s lives and livelihoods."
“Arbitrary growth targets”? Yeah, that’s not exactly high-flown language or an obvious intellectual reference. But our reaction was immediate: That’s a not-so-subtle dig at Jeb Bush.
Mr. Bush’s big economic talking point is that, under his presidency, the US gross domestic product should grow 4 percent each year. Now that’s a really ambitious target, and he’s taken some guff for adding that Americans might need to work more hours to reach that. (He meant part-time workers should be able to get full-time jobs if they want.) But it’s a clear, big-think position. It can stick in your mind, like Herman Cain’s famous 9-9-9 economic plan from 2012. It could be an effective symbol for the Bush campaign.
Mrs. Clinton in her speech said in essence that the 4 percent thing may sound good, but it’s not connected to people’s lives. She wants to be the defender of the middle class, and portray Bush as the defender of abstract numbers.
There’s a flip side to the phrase, too. It could also be a way to connect with Bernie Sanders’s voters.
Senator Sanders is the self-declared socialist running to Clinton’s left. He’s not a huge fan of economic growth for growth’s sake. Most of it just goes to the top 1 percent, in his view. That makes him a political and economic outlier, points out Jim Tankersley at The Washington Post "Wonkblog."
“Sanders’s position inverts decades of orthodoxy among liberal and conservative candidates alike, by prizing redistribution above all else,” Mr. Tankersley writes.
Clinton doesn’t support that position. She is for growth: She mentioned the word 29 times in her speech.
But she’s for “fair growth." She’s against “arbitrary growth." In that sense, she’s at least nodding in Sanders’s direction.
So there you have Clinton’s approach: try to tar Bush as a friend of corporate interests, uninterested in families’ problems; and don’t lose Sanders's voters, if possible.