Middle class Americans, your ears will be burning again in 2016.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as she prepares an almost-certain run for the presidency, has signaled that the focus of her campaign will be on women's issues and "the middle class."
Women's issues, of course, can be a double-edged sword, and much depends on the presentation. They have had mixed results at the ballot box lately. The middle class, on the other hand, is a time-tested and perennial catch-phrase that carries great appeal. It is aimed at a large, swingy group of middle-income earners — a segment of the electorate that Democrats lost in the 2012 presidential election as well as the last three congressional elections.
Judging from its eight appearances in President Obama's recent State of the Union address, the phrase “middle class” is performing as well in focus-groups as it ever has. Most people think they belong to it, and most who belong to it feel their concerns are largely ignored by a government that caters mostly to the very wealthy and provides for the very poor. In order to assuage these concerns, politicians are likely to blather quite a bit about the “middle class” between now and November 2016.
But when elite Democratic politicians discuss the “middle class,” they're not usually talking about a group of people they intend to help with new policies. Rather, they're affixing a proven and popular label on the same old policies, which mostly do nothing for the tens of millions of Americans who are too rich to take government benefits but not so wealthy that money isn't a constant concern.
Take as an example Obama's new enthusiasm for what he calls “middle class economics.” As proposed in his State of the Union, it would have actually raised the average middle-class earner's taxes by seven dollars a year, according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation. As the Washington Post's Max Ehrenfreund put it bluntly, “There's no point in calling this tax plan 'middle-class economics,' since its main effect is to help the poor.”
There's nothing wrong with advocating policies that purport to help the poor, but when Democrats sell a policy as “middle class,” it is usually just an exercise in false advertising. Clinton's husband promised a middle-class tax cut in 1992. Of course, he never delivered on that, but almost immediately upon taking office, he did raise some taxes on the middle class and on Social Security recipients.
Although Clinton gave a $300,000 speech on Tuesday about what ails the middle class, there are grounds for questioning her expertise. Notwithstanding her amusing claim to have been “dead broke” after leaving the White House, she has not been part of the middle class in more than two decades. Clinton's immense family wealth derives mostly from being overpaid to give speeches — something made possible ultimately by her husband's political success.
Should she run, Clinton's presidential campaign will likely take a record amount of money from Wall Street. And according to reporting by The Washington Examiner's Luke Rosiak, companies eager for government favors have been pouring money into her family's foundation. The corporate donors have in fact spent a combined $350 million on lobbying just in the first three quarters of 2014.
That should all be food for middle-class thought.