Hillary Clinton Is Focusing on the Middle Class—And That’s a Good Thing

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Matt Yglesias takes a look at an economic blueprint from the Center for American Progress and suggests it’s a useful proxy for Hillary Clinton’s upcoming presidential campaign:

In some ways, it defies stereotypes of the Clintons as standard-bearers for neoliberal centrism by endorsing fiscal stimulus and a strong pro-labor union agenda while downplaying the strong education-reform streak of the Obama administration. But it’s also notable for the Obama-era liberal ambitions it pushes aside. In the main recommendations for the United States, there’s no cap-and-trade or carbon tax in here, no public option for health care, and no effort to break up or shrink the largest banks. Nor is there an ambitious agenda to tackle poverty.

Instead, you get a multi-pronged push to boost middle-class incomes. After an extended period in which Democratic Party politics has been dominated by health care for the poor, environmental regulation, and internecine fights about Wall Street, Hillarynomics looks like back-to-basics middle-class populism. It should in many ways further infuriate Clinton’s left-wing intellectual critics — and then further infuriate them by turning out to be an agenda that makes the party’s voting base perfectly happy.

….The report is especially striking for its endorsement of labor market regulations not normally associated with the Summers wing of Democratic thinking….On the non-wage front, inclusive growth calls for paid (gender-neutral) parental leave, expanded Family and Medical Leave Act eligibility, and universal paid sick days and paid vacation days — all loosely under the banner of increasing women’s labor force participation. Clinton has, in the past, field-tested feminist frames as a means of selling big government.

None of this should come as a surprise. The Great Recession spawned a great deal of government help to the poor from the Obama administration but not a lot for the middle class, and politically the biggest problem Democrats now face is offering concrete programs for the middle class to compete with yet another round of tax cut proposals from the Republican field.

But the truth is that this helps the poor too, in the long run. Middle-class workers with stagnant incomes have become less and less willing to support more spending on the poor. That’s just human nature. But if Hillary can successfully get the economy into a higher gear and funnel some of that money to the middle class, eventually things will ease up and it will become easier to win support for higher benefits to the poor.

I don’t know if Hillary’s proposals will go far enough, but they’re the right thing to do. For the time being at least, Washington needs to focus on the middle class for a while.

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