Look, I get it, I really do. Any Democratic candidate in 2016 has to attack on income inequality in order to carry the passionate base of progressives needed to secure the nomination. For Hillary Clinton, the issue becomes even more acute, given her connections to Wall Street — and to foreign governments connected to massive commercial interests who have donated to the family foundation, too.
If that’s the central issue for Democrats in 2016, though, Democrats may be on the cusp of a 2012-GOP-style faceplant:
Hillary Clinton, under pressure from the left wing of her Democratic Party to aggressively campaign against income inequality, voiced concern about the hefty paychecks of some corporate executives in an email to supporters.
Striking a populist note, Clinton, who announced on Sunday she was running for president in 2016, said American families were still facing financial hardship at a time “when the average CEO makes about 300 times what the average worker makes.”
In a tightly scripted campaign launch in which there were few surprises, the comments were unexpected, at least by progressives, who saw them as an early sign she may shift away from the centrist economic policies pursued by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
That isn’t a bad issue on which to campaign. Plenty of people have concerns over that disparity, and they’re not all Democrats, either. Republicans would be wise to stake out positions on this, especially on their attacks on crony capitalism. One reason for this development is market consolidation, where acquisitions create fewer and fewer executive jobs and reduce competition throughout the market otherwise. The regulatory and tax policies of progressives make this worse by raising compliance costs through the roof for smaller companies, leaving them with little choice but to either raise prices and lose customers or sell out to larger companies who can absorb compliance costs more efficiently. We’ve seen this happen through Dodd-Frank in the banking and lending industries already.
However, Hillary is the wrong banner carrier for the message by any measure. First, she takes in six times the annual average household income per hour for her speeches, at $300,000 a pop. It would only take her 50 speeches to get to the same 300x metric she decries here. Furthermore, Hillary signed a deal in 2013 for a $14 million book advance for the memoir she released last year, which sold unimpressively for such a marquee advance. On top of that, she’d already received an $8 million advance for her first memoir, “Living History.” That totals $22 million in advance of any work at all, or roughly 440 times what average American households gross in a year. In the years since the Clintons left the White House, they’ve earned well over $100 million. And unlike CEOs at that level, they don’t employ many people, and don’t produce anything except income for their own benefit.
This provides an odd parallel to Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign. The issue that most fired up the base was opposition to ObamaCare, and Romney had overseen the launch of its predecessor in Massachusetts. The conundrum left the base uninspired, and despite coming close to Obama in a lower-turnout election, Romney could not get enough of the vote out to the polls to bridge the gap. Having Hillary front the issue of CEO pay as irrational and unfair would be almost delicious for its hypocrisy.
This isn’t the only parallel to Romney and the GOP, either. Democrats seem poised to fall into the same trap that the GOP has sprung on itself in most of the presidential election cycles since Gerald Ford — the “next in line” syndrome, as I write in my column for The Week:
The re-emergence of Hillary Clinton as the front-runner — and perhaps the only credible Democratic candidate in the race — demonstrates the exhaustion of the party after the Obama era. Democrats have gotten blown out in statewide elections ever since 2010, a reaction at least in part to the progressive overreach of Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid in 2009 and 2010, and a refusal to triangulate afterward. Democrats have few credible candidates on their bench, and even the few they do have find themselves swamped by Clinton’s connections to donors and activists. Sound familiar?
The back-to-the-past problem Republicans encountered in past campaigns will face Democrats this time around, too. In fact, these issues were best articulated 23 years ago by James Carville, who noted that the elder Bush belonged to the past while voters want to look ahead to the future. “The idea is, he reeks of yesterday,” Carville said of Bush in a moment captured in the documentary War Room. “He has the stench of yesterday. He is so yesterday, if I think of yesterday, if I think of an old calendar, I think of George Bush’s face on it.”
After almost a quarter-century of Clintons on the national scene, Carville’s remarks succinctly sum up Hillary Clinton’s problem. In 1992, the Clinton campaign song was “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” In 2016, it might as well be “Yesterday.”
Or perhaps this: