- - Thursday, July 16, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Hillary Clinton’s schizophrenic policy positions were on full display at her Monday speech in New York where she laid out her economic platform.

Striking a bipartisan theme, she said, “The defining economic challenge of our time is clear: We must raise incomes for hard-working Americans … .” But then she proceeded to double-down on President Obama’s failed liberal agenda of increased regulations, taxes and mandates responsible for seven years of stagnating incomes and the worst post-recession recovery in history.

This contradiction is just the latest example of Clinton’s ongoing identity crisis. Is she a pragmatic centrist in the model of Bill “the era of big government is over” Clinton who understood the negative consequences of aggressive government intervention? Or is she a populist in the model of Elizabeth Warren, who has rarely seen a government regulation she doesn’t like?

Her recent pronouncements suggest she’s trying to be both. But as her stagnating poll numbers indicate, when you talk out of both sides of your mouth, you don’t make an intelligible sound.

She rightly diagnosed the current jobs wasteland among black youth, pointing out this demographic’s 25 percent unemployment rate, and striking a centrist approach saying, “The best anti-poverty program is a job, but that’s hard to say if there are not enough jobs for people that are trying to lift themselves out of poverty.”

Yet in the next breath she went full Warren and threw her support behind a slew of workplace mandates, including higher minimum wages, paid sick and family leave, and mandatory overtime and scheduling requirements. In her denial of Newtonian physics that for every action there is a reaction, she ignores that these mandates impose costs that incentivize employers to reduce job opportunities. And it is the unskilled labor market victims who she will hurt despite correctly identifying them as those most in need.

The contradictions continued. Sounding like her husband nearly a quarter-century ago, Mrs. Clinton wants to be “the small-business president” and highlighted that American small businesses create 60 percent of jobs nationwide. She drew on the example of an aspiring bowling operator as the type of small-business owner she wants to champion as president. Despite her rhetoric, these are exactly the type of razor-thin profit-margin businesses that would be most threatened by her populist proposals.

Her small business bona fides are also called into question by her support for greater unionization of business operations. Leaving aside the fact that states with the highest wage growth in recent years have been the ones with the least union control, nearly all small-business owners would experience nausea at her suggestion. Their reply to calls for greater unionization is “no” and “heck no,” because labor work rules and demands have historically killed productivity and growth.

Her economic speech showed courage in addressing the untapped potential of those who have dropped out of the workforce — a long overlooked topic among liberals, who tend to take the top-line unemployment rate at face value. The female labor force participation rate, she noted, has fallen from seventh to 19th among advanced countries.

Her call for “breaking down barriers so more Americans participate more fully in the workforce” has bipartisan appeal. But only minutes later, she proceeded to twist and demagogue Jeb Bush’s similar point about those involuntarily working part-time as a “lecture” to Americans that they “just need to work longer hours.”

These oscillations between centrist and populist identities leave voters and potential supporters scratching their heads. It’s almost as though she is getting Elizabeth Warren to approve her speeches at lunch and her husband to edit them at dinner. In reality, it’s evidence of the divide in the Democratic Party.

‘You know, passing legislation isn’t the only way to drive progress,” she said Monday. No doubt. The question for American employees looking to finally escape a brutal labor market is, does Hillary really know it?

Rick Berman is president of Berman and Co., a Washington public affairs firm.

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