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Clinton and Inequality

Hillary Clinton campaigned this week under the banner "Rebuilding the Road to the Middle Class," an effort to draw a distinction with the Republican Party and President Bush, who, to hear Hillary tell it, care only about Rebuilding the Road to the Upper Class, and who believe the road should be heavily lined with moats, barbed wire, pit bulls and Blackwater guards to keep out the rabble.

Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992 by talking endlessly about the ailing economy. The Democrats over the decades have mastered the rhetoric of economic woe. But the dramatic fact of recent decades has been the resilience of the American economy. It's a wealth-creation machine. The Bull Market has passed the 5-year-mark. Unemployment is below 5 percent. This good news mixes with the bad: skyrocketing health care and college tuition, trillions of dollars in unfunded long-term entitlement spending, a hideous trade deficit, and a declining dollar.
Also there's my own own harrowing white-knuckle death-spiral toward professional obsolescence and socioeconomic oblivion, but I have to remember that this "Trail" blog isn't about me. (I already have a blog for that!)

Here's the broader point: Any Democrat hoping to take the White House will have to make an adjustment to that 1992 economic message. The internal campaign slogan could be: "It's the Inequality, Stupid."

Hillary Clinton is trying to make that issue her own. She's been tooling around in a bus named the Middle Class Express. She has spoken against "massive" inherited wealth and said she'd use the Estate Tax to bring in $400 billion in revenue over 10 years (I'd like to see the footnotes on that).

"We have the greatest income inequality that we've had since the Great Depression," she said Wednesday at the overcrowded little opera house in Derry. "If we stay the way we're going, we're going to have a huge jump in inequality."

At Plymouth State University on Thursday she hit a similar note: "I like an America where people all the way up and down the income scale are going to have a chance to live up to their dreams."

But is Sen. Clinton an entirely plausible advocate for egalitarianism. I vaguely remember the 1990s: Wasn't that a time of conspicuous consumption and instant billionaires? Didn't President Clinton push through NAFTA, which even Hillary admits helped Wall Street more than ordinary Americans?

We need some data here. Using the incredible power of Google and the wireless connection in this hotel room I'm going to go peek at some actual numbers, in honor of Sen. Clinton's statement in Derry that she intends to "get back to evidence-based decision making."

Let's look at "Historical Income Inequality Tables" from the U.S. Census Bureau.
There's something called the Gini index of income inequality. Named after the lady who invented it, no doubt. It shows a steady upticking in inequality since 1974, and the Clinton White House years were no exception. The index stood at 0.433 in 1992, jumped to 0.454 in 1993 during Bill Clinton's first year in office (perhaps the fault of his predecessor, but who knows), and sat at 0.462 in 2000. What does it measure, exactly? Here's one abbreviated definition I just found online: "The Gini index measures the area between the Lorenz curve and a hypothetical line of absolute equality."

So that's now perfectly clear.

Another measure, easier for me to grasp: The ratio of the 90th percentile to the 10th percentile of income. It may surprise you to learn that in the Nixon/Ford years, inequality lessened slightly, bottoming out at 8.53 in 1975. That ratio increased almost every year during the Carter and Reagan eras, dipping slightly at the end of Reagan's second term, then climbing steadily again during the elder Bush's presidency. During the Clinton years the ratio fluctuated, but appears to have more or less leveled off, sitting at 10.68 as of the year 2000. The Bush tax cuts seem to have bumped the ratio rather quickly to 11.22 by 2003. It stood at 11.17 in 2005, the last year listed.

It's in the measure of real income that the current Bush era looks bleakest: According to the census data, every income group except the richest 5 percent of Americans saw an erosion of income in real dollars from 2000 to 2005. The numbers support Sen. Clinton's claim on the stump that the average American household lost a thousand dollars in income in the last six years.

During the Clinton years, however, every income group showed real income growth.
But the rich got much richer. It was a good time, the 1990s, to already have a million dollars.

The bottom line (based on, admittedly, a limited amount of hotel-room research) is that Hillary Clinton can plausibly claim that the 1990s were more egalitarian than the Bush years -- but the numbers are not exactly overwhelming. Inequality didn't actually lessen during the Clinton era as far as I can tell, it just didn't get worse.
Bill Clinton is also a champion free-trader and thus and advocate of the globalization that has zapped a lot of working-class people

"A nation that does not manufacture is a nation that cannot remain strong," said the spouse of the president whose NAFTA trade deal helped implode factories across America.

She said "Small businesses are the engine of economic growth in our country." Question for someone much smarter than me: Do small business owners typically vote Democratic? Or do they tend to object to Democratic policies on regulation, liability, the minimum wage and taxes?

And how will small business owners, not to mention the Democratic base, feel about Sen. Clinton's service in the late 1980s on the board of directors of Wal-Mart?

But here's one final data point that's indisputable: Both George H. W. Bush and President Clinton raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and George W. Bush cut them.

--Joel Achenbach

By Post Editor  |  October 12, 2007; 8:49 AM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , Joel's Two Cents  
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Neoliberal Democrats were bad, but neo conservative Republicans have been horrible. I think Edwards would be better than H.Clinton if you believe his populist rhetoric, but is it rhetoric or belief? Even the majority of Republicans are skeptical of claims of free trade since the realists see consequences of last 14 years to american workforce; are you better off today than you were before NAFTA? If H.Clinton gets the nomination like the mainstream media want, will she pick a free trade skeptic? i can only hope so.

Posted by: djw3505 | October 14, 2007 4:55 AM | Report abuse

A few commenters are saying Hillary shouldn't have to run on Bill's record. But, Hillary is borrowing his resume as her own and claiming only the good done in his presidency as hers. if she can do that then she needs to also take along the bad as well. She claimed part of it. We only expect her to claim it all or not at all.
And this leads me to why I do not support her. She is forever twisting and ducking and triangulating and is never straight or honest or gives an answer to anything. she may think it clever and for sure, it is with the media pundits who are not all that bright to begin with. But, the average voter sees it and doesn't trust her.
You are always left with the feeling of something shady and dishonest and fake about her.
I do agree with others that for my money, I'd rather see Edwards being taken more seriously and given the kind of respect that the media gives Hillary who doesn't deserve it while Edwards does.
But, for me, I support Barack Obama, who I feel is the best shot for the middle class and working people.

Posted by: vwcat | October 13, 2007 11:20 PM | Report abuse

The problem with saying that either Clinton, or any Democrat, is no different than the Republicans, that is, they, too, are in the pockets of lobbyists, Big business, and so on, is that although there is a grain of truth to it, it is a criticism that distracts from the much more important bigger picture.

Yes, they are to some extent influenced by these groups - some of their support is necessary to be elected.

But the big issue is: To what *degree* do they represent Big Oil, Big War, Big Money, etc? compared to the Republicans. The Republicans are *completely* corrupted by these interests. In comparison, the Democratic candidates are angels. Of course it would be great if we had a Franklin Roosevelt, a genuine champion of the poor and the lower middle class, but we don't, and the person closest to FDR is running third among the Dems. What we do have is Democrats who are enormously more like FDR than *any* Republican candidate.

Anyone can find things they don't like about the three top Democrats, but whatever they find, these flaws are trivilized by the sheer EVIL of the policies of the Bush administration, policies that will be largely reversed by any of the Democrats, and merely tweaked if a Republican is elected.

Personally, I prefer Edwards. Senator Obama will make a great president in 8 or 12 or 16 years, when he has the experience to match his ambition.

Senator Clinton is smarter than any other candidate, smarter than her husband, and her instincts are to do the right thing. She is no neocon. She is staking out the center because if she gets the nomination, the same people who swift-boated John Kerry into being less of a stand-up patriot than the guy who pulled strings to support the Vietnam War from 10,000 miles away, and then skipped even the National Guard, will spare no expense to paint her a weak military, anti-marriage, anti-Americvan atheist, give the lazy-poor-a-free ride, amnesty-for-illegal aliens, femi-Nazi, socialist/communist.

The only way the Republicans will win will be if they are allowed to steal the election with fraud, as they have the last two, or if the Dems refuse to embrace their nominee because she or he ain't perfect.

Every Democrat who has a chance at the nomination is close to perfect compared to Bush-Chaney and the nightmare of the last 6 1/2 years. When people rip into Hillary Clinton, they need to keep this in mind. If they continue to rip and rip, they're Republicans, people who will do *anything* to keep POWER.

Posted by: jhocking1 | October 12, 2007 9:16 PM | Report abuse

Neocons and closet Republicans who are at least not quite as gotterdammerung in their ways, and not as anti-environmental. Granted. Sort of a "soft fascism" as opposed to hard.

Posted by: Jumper1 | October 12, 2007 7:04 PM | Report abuse

As a former small business owner, I can testify that Republicans just live in a stupid dream world. There is no way for an honest man to pay someone a paltry small minimum wage salary and get anything done at all. It is possible for "business" to succeed if one shovels out products akin to farm residue.

It worries me tremendously that the Bill Clinton presidency pushed NAFTA, that Manpower became the largest employer in the US and donated heavily to his campaigns, that Hillary worked for Walmart, that unions and collective bargaining were weakened, and he and she never stood up and said "We'll be da&*&ed if American manufacturing will go under just so health and safety and environmental protections can be nullified by shipping it all to other countries and shafting our own workers in so doing."

They both are closet Republicans and neocons.

Posted by: Jumper1 | October 12, 2007 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Others have posted re. this on the Achenblog, here's one that I'm reposting with permission from LostInThought:

"It would bite my butt something fierce if my thoughts and ideas weren't discussed and dissected on their merits, but merely held up as contrary to those of my spouse. Or worse, used as some kind of proof that I wasn't being consistent with past behavior...his past behavior.


Peterdc and kbertocci concur, I see.

Hmmm. If we're going to talk about Hillary as being part of the Clinton administration of the 90's (for better or worse, one might say?), we might as well bring Al Gore into the discussion as representative of Ms. Clinton's policies on environmentalism or international relations...

Also, there's a lot more to say about NAFTA, butt there isn't time at the moment...


Posted by: wcutt | October 12, 2007 2:58 PM | Report abuse

It is clear that Hillary is deeper in the pockets of lobbyists, big corporation, and special interest groups than any other Democratic candidate, even possible any candidate of either party. She wants nothing from the middle class except as much money as they are willing to fork out to her, and their votes.

CoraCollins--I too am "voting to get rid of the Bush administration's path and get us back on the trail so that we are no longer living in one of the Two Americas." Well put.

I have hated the divisiveness that President Bush-Cheney has inflicted on us, even before he was first appointed president. And who is THE most divisive of any of the Democratic candidates?

I have hated President Bush-Cheney's policies being run more for the benefit of the lobbyists, big corporations, and special interest groups who own him than for what is best for America--including that vague "middle class." And who is THE Democratic candidate most in the pockets of lobbyists, big corporations, and special interest groups? [oops--I already answered that one].

I won't bore you further with a list of my "hates" against President Bush-Cheney. Though I find many of these hate qualities in most politicians, I find ALL of them in Hillary.

There are millions of us non-partisan/independents who will support ANY Democratic candidate, EXCEPT Hillary. If she gets the Democratic nomination, millions will vote Republican [even if they have to gag and hold their nose in the voting booth], or vote third party, or not vote at all.

Posted by: radicalpatriot | October 12, 2007 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Hillary believes we are all stupid...she is
a adherent of the cancerous Dem. Leadership Conference; her husband's creation. They are bush-lite and love the corporations, bow to their demands so they can be included in the upper one percent of the extremely elite. Don't be fooled by all the garbage the pundits fling at all of us as if we are so stupid we believe what they expound. These very self-centered
media commentators have already designated the nominee and continually cheer lead each and every day.

Posted by: murrock | October 12, 2007 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Part of the problem is defining "middle class". In some ways it's everybody and in some ways it's nobody. I have a wife with a government job, so health care is not a pressing issue to me. As the parent of a high school senior, college costs are. We all have different needs.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 12, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse is it me or has John Edwards been the candidate to talk about poverty and the growing gap between the haves and have nots? Its kinda been his mantra for the past 4 years and yet Hillary is getting coverage for talking about it? Btw, "The Middle Class Express" is the worst name ever for a political bus trip...who the heck are her creative people??

Posted by: japhet.els | October 12, 2007 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Peterdc that Hillary shouldn't be required (or allowed) to run on Bill's record.

I'm somewhat disappointed in the Democratic party for beating this "middle class" drum. The middle class is doing all right. It's the working poor who need attention, and the policies that will improve their lives are the ones that will most strengthen the nation as a whole. That includes taxing the rich, naturally, but also involves putting our resources into daycare and education, job training and crime prevention programs--and yes, health insurance, but also wellness programs, which are much more cost effective than medical care can be. I think I can remember a time when the Democratic party spoke up for workers and poor people. It was a long time ago, though.

Posted by: kbertocci | October 12, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse

'Health care and college tuition' was mentioned in the article. It were two burning issues when I consider voting for a presidential candidate. The first is the safety net for my family when I tried to migrant INTO middle class; the second is the assurance that my children may become middle class if they have access to HIGHER education. Joel's analysis is well written and it takes me lot of time to get the connections to the issues.

Posted by: daiwanlan123 | October 12, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Joel, didn't Billary lower the taxes for the rich by signing the Capital Gains Tax cut in 1997 which expired in 2001 to which President Bush renewed tax cuts?

Posted by: GrayGhost2 | October 12, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Sen. Clinton's "get back to evidence-based decision making" brings up the fashion for "evidence-based medicine" that seems to be sweeping the medical world. Evidence is needed in massive quantities, thanks to the statistical version of the old military adage that "quantity has a quality of its own." I feel uncomfortable likening a politician to an internist trying to manage patients' high blood pressure, restless legs, rising blood sugar, fluctuating cholesterol levels, and whatnot.

Politicians can to some extent base policy on evidence from the physical and social sciences. There's plenty of evidence to suggest ways to improve health care in the US, or to address climate change. But an awful lot of what a president does is seat-of-the-pants, which seems to mean that even a president whose view of reality seems to be shaped by Readers Digest (Ronald Reagan) can function well enough to have people demanding his face be put on the ten dollar bill.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | October 12, 2007 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I dunno, RD. There has to be more compensation than just entertainment. I agree that the tax laws are out of whack. Let's see what the Democrats would do to correct that. Arbusto's tax cuts expire, don't they? Not soon enough...

Posted by: tutyoung | October 12, 2007 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Like many of my observations, the following is blissfully untainted with verifiable facts. I shamelessly assert that this inequity is not because rich folks are stealing assets from the poor. I suspect that the rich are simply getting a much larger share of new wealth than are the less affluent. Yes, this clearly suggests the system is out of whack and needs to be corrected, but I don't see it inciting as much class outrage as one might think. Especially since the rich compensate the rest of us, somewhat, by being so endlessly entertaining.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | October 12, 2007 11:37 AM | Report abuse

C'mon, yello, gimme a break. You're snarking Hillary because she's a "rich lawyer"? Does that somehow differentiate her from the other 19 rich lawyers in both parties who are also running? I suppose you prefer, poor, lower middle class Fred Thompson, who for the past 20 or 30 years has been doing manual labor in a machine shop in Decatur, Illinois? Or that other son of the working class (and possibly even a Wobbly), Mit Romney? Impoverished former street-corner pretzel vendor Rudy Giuliani? Are they also hypocrites? (Well, actually, now that I mention it...)

Joel, one problem with this column item of yours is that it mentions economics -- which not for nothing has long been nicknamed "the dismal science." Be that as it may, if Bush's Supreme Court somehow overturns Judge Breyer's decision in the fire-the-illegal-aliens case, then we'll suddenly have 8.7 million unemployed Hispanics on our hands, plus 8.7 million new job openings. I sure don't foresee much economic disruption from all that, do you? (That 8.7 million includes approximately 24 percent of ALL farm laborers. Maybe all the unsuccessful Presidential candidates can get jobs picking grapes and tomatoes, and running soup kitchens for the newly unemployed 8.7 million soon-to-be-deported people lolling about in concentration camps until the INS can get around to shipping them all back over the border.)

Posted by: billreataswanson | October 12, 2007 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Sen. Clinton needs to bandy about better credentials that serving on the Wal-Mart board in this part of Dixie. The Wal-Mart/working class voters walk the red aisles 'round heah.

Posted by: jtreveiler | October 12, 2007 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Rebuilding the middle class is fine by me, but I'd like to have more of a solid definition of what a candidate is defining as "middle class."

There are a lot of "working poor" Americans that never seem to be noticed by most of the current candidates for president, never mind the chronically unemployed that are not counted in the unemployment figures published by the government after a certain lapse of time.

I'm a registered Democrat and I've already chosen the Democrat that I'm hoping I will be able to vote for in the primary in my state next spring, and am actively supporting said candidate with modest donations and volunteer activities.

But I still watch all the debates, Democratic and Republican, so that I stay informed on their positions.

I'm voting to get rid of the Bush administration's path and get us back on the trail so that we are no longer living in one of the "Two Americas.' So now you know who my preferred candidate is.

Posted by: CoraCollins | October 12, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

My eyes snapped shut at the mere mention of US Census Data. You buried the lede:

"A nation that does not manufacture is a nation that cannot remain strong," said the spouse of the president whose NAFTA trade deal helped implode factories across America.

Focus on the hypocrisy of a rich lawyer trying to kowtow to the little guy. My guess is that most small business owners are all rabidly Republican since they hate mandatory pay and benefit packages and fully expect to become members of the upper-middle class if only the gummint weren't holding them back.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 12, 2007 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Hmmmmm... "evidence-based decision making" in the halls of politics?

*looking out the window for evidence of porcine aviation*


Posted by: Scottynuke | October 12, 2007 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I think it is so easy to tag Hillary with everthing good and bad that Bill Clinton did.

But the public seems much more perceptive than columnists. In a recent poll about 2/3rds of voters said they both like the idea of Bill Clinton being back in the White House as a spouse and advisor but that they recognized that Hillary Clinton may very well take the nation in a different direction than President Clinton did.

Hillary made this very clear to the ever pompous Tim Russert in the NH debate when she said- Well, Bill Clinton isn't standing here now, I am. Russert who loves to be prepared with "gotcha" questions was never called on having a Bill Clinton statement prepared to catch Hillary with and he should have been. One day someone will remind Russert that he was a local Democratic flak back in his days in Buffalo and Albany and not some oracle. But I digress.

Hillary as most people by now know is her own woman and the American people will elect her on that basis and we will all be better off when she is our President.

Posted by: peterdc | October 12, 2007 10:17 AM | Report abuse

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