The Hillary Op-Ed Challenge: How many platitudes can you fit in one paragraph?

In the 1950s, college students used to try squeezing as many of their friends as possible into telephone booths. In the 1960s, the fad shifted to Volkswagens. Perhaps hearkening back to her youth, Hillary Clinton wrote an op-ed in the Des Moines Register that attempts to squeeze as many platitudes it can into the Iowa newspaper’s column inches. One paragraph in particular wins the prize. See if you can find a non-cliché in this excerpt:

The answer is: We can do a lot — if we do it together. We can build an economy for tomorrow, not yesterday, where being middle class means something again. We can strengthen families and communities, because when families get ahead, our country gets ahead, too. We can fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment. And we can protect our country from the threats that we see around the world and ones that are still over the horizon.

In fact, this paragraph got so overstuffed that the platitudes from it spilled over into the next:

These are the four big fights I’m taking on for you, but I can’t do it alone. We’ve got to tackle this together. We need to build on the success, the hard work and the innovation I found in Iowa. As school principal Jason McLaughlin put it, Iowans are “pragmatic, proud people.” That’s certainly what I saw first-hand this month. And it’s that spirit that’s going to help move our country forward.

Most people long for an opportunity to write a newspaper column to say something. Hillary Clinton used her opportunity to say almost nothing. She recites a few platitudes, rehashes a couple of progressive mantras, and offers literally no policy prescriptions or specific actions she would take if elected. It’s a curious mash-up of whining and brown-nosing of Iowa voters, and that’s it.

Even the progressive mantras echoed by Hillary in this piece are laughable. Take, for instance, the above mention of “unaccountable money” as one of her agenda items. She wrote this as the Clinton Foundation has been rocked by allegations of influence peddling and corruption involving Hillary Clinton herself during her tenure as Secretary of State. The State Department approved the sale of a uranium company that ended up in Russian hands at the same time that one of its principals poured millions into the Foundation, and also paid Bill Clinton $500,000 for a one-hour speech.

Speaking of unaccountable money, only 15% of the money raised by the Clinton Foundation during Hillary’s tenure at State went to actual charitable activities:

Between 2009 and 2012, the Clinton Foundation raised over $500 million dollars according to a review of IRS documents by The Federalist (2012,2011, 2010, 2009, 2008). A measly 15 percent of that, or $75 million, went towards programmatic grants. More than $25 million went to fund travel expenses. Nearly $110 million went toward employee salaries and benefits. And a whopping $290 million during that period — nearly 60 percent of all money raised — was classified merely as “other expenses.” Official IRS forms do not list cigar or dry-cleaning expenses as a specific line item. The Clinton Foundation may well be saving lives, but it seems odd that the costs of so many life-saving activities would be classified by the organization itself as just random, miscellaneous expenses.

Another bit of sloganeering from Hillary comes as an attack on CEOs and Big Business. Once again, Hillary gripes but offers nothing in policy, and once again she’s hardly the credible voice in the room:

Americans have come back from tough economic times. But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Something is wrong when CEOs earn 300 times more than a typical American worker and hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than a truck driver or a nurse. Americans are working harder and getting more productive, but they aren’t seeing the reward in their paychecks. So it’s time to reshuffle the deck and deal a better hand to the middle class.

What’s her solution to this? Pay caps for CEOs? Massive tax disincentives? Hillary doesn’t say, in part because there are few public-policy solutions to private compensation packages that will work, let alone pass muster with non-progressive voters, but in larger part because it will alienate her allies that she’s courted with the Clinton Foundation for the last decade or more. Besides, who’d believe her anyway? She spent four years at State cozying up to oligarchs around the world, but suddenly she’ll get tough with American businessmen? Puh-leeeze.

On top of this, the entire argument is ignorant demagoguery in the first place. The average CEO pay in the US was $178,400 in 2013, as AEI’s Mark Perry discovered a year ago:

We can get a more accurate and complete picture of CEO compensation in the US by looking at wage data released recently by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its annual report on Occupational Employment and Wages for 2013. The BLS report provides “employment and wage estimates by area and by industry for wage and salary workers in 22 major occupational groups, 94 minor occupational groups, 458 broad occupations, and 821 detailed occupations,” including the occupational category “chief executives.” In 2013, the BLS reports that the average pay for America’s 248,760 chief executives was only $178,400. The CEOs of the 200-350 S&P500 firms reported recently represent only one out of about every 1,000 firms in the country (or 1/10 of 1%) that have a CEO at the head. The larger sample of almost a quarter-million CEOs reported by the BLS gives us a much better understanding of “average CEO compensation.”

For the larger sample of CEOs reported by the BLS, their average pay of $178,400 last year was an increase of only 0.88% from the average CEO pay of $176,840 in 2012. In contrast, the BLS reports that the average pay of all workers increased by 1.42% last year to $46,440 from $45,790 in 2012. That’s right, the average worker last year saw an increase in their pay that was more than 60% greater than the increase in pay for the average US CEO. And the “CEO-to-worker pay ratio” for the average CEO compared to the average worker is only about 5X, nowhere close to the pay ratio of 331X reported by the AFL-CIO using the 350 highest-paid CEOs in the country.

The 300X factor claimed by Hillary and other progressive activists comes from studies conducted by the Associated Press and the AFL-CIO, which only looked at CEO compensation at the top 300 firms in the US. It’s akin to alleging that professional athletes across the spectrum earn 300 times the average American worker by using only the salaries of those playing in Major League Baseball’s All-Star-Game. It’s a deliberate sample distortion.

Most amusingly, the actual average annual compensation of CEOs in the US comes to far less than Hillary Clinton gets an hour for a speech.

So it’s no wonder that Hillary’s newspaper column is more overstuffed with platitudes than a VW Bug full of college students. She has nothing to say, and has no credibility on which to base it.