Why Clinton's economic speech was a breakthrough for Democrats
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When it comes to how people see the political parties, Democrats own fairness and Republicans own growth. But in her economic address in Michigan last week, Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE articulated the key narrative Democrats need to embrace: the policies that promote fairness are major drivers of economic growth.

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Clinton's economic speech was framed by the core message of Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersWorld leaders reach agreement on trade deal without United States: report Sanders on Brazile revelations: DNC needs ‘far more transparency’ Sen. Warren sold out the DNC MORE's (Vt.) Democratic primary campaign. In her words: "My mission in the White House will be to make our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top."

That message resonates across the political spectrum because it acknowledges both the economic squeeze on the country's working families and the widespread understanding that the wealthy use their influence to be sure that they get even richer.

She then laid out a program based on "the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II," and a "progressive, more patriotic tax code that puts American jobs first." In a welcome departure from Clinton's too-often-dry list of policy proposals, she introduced each of her policies in clear, values language.

But her big breakthrough came when she got to the section of her speech in which she answered the fairness question — "who will go to bat for working families" — with a fairness-equals-growth message.

She began by declaring, "the more we do to help working families, the more our entire economy will benefit." And she followed by framing each of her fairness policies in growth. "For example, guaranteeing equal pay won't just increase paychecks for women — it will boost family budgets and get incomes rising across the board."

She continued, "Paid family leave won't only make life easier for Moms and Dads — it will also keep skilled, talented Americans in the workforce and grow our economy. ... Raising the federal minimum wage won't just put more money in the pockets of low-income families — it also means they will spend more at the businesses in their neighborhoods."

She extended the story to Social Security: "And protecting and expanding Social Security doesn't just help older Americans retire with dignity — it helps to ease burdens on families and communities."

And to immigration: "We already have millions of people working in the economy and paying $12 billion a year to Social Security even though they are undocumented. So by moving toward reform, we will unleash a lot of new income and growth."

She made the same argument for unions: "And finally, strengthening unions doesn't just serve members — it leads to better pay and benefits, and working conditions for all employees."

Her punch line contrasted the Republican "on your own" economic story with hers:

"Now these are all causes I've worked on for decades and I believe they point to a fundamental truth about our economy. It can seem like a zero sum, when you are competing for a job, a promotion, or a contract if someone wins and someone loses, but that is not the full picture. If you step back, you'll see we're all in this together. If we can grow together, we can all rise together. Because, you know what I like to say, we are stronger together."

Reading this section of her speech, it may not be obvious what a powerful departure this is from standard Democratic talk on the economy. Democrats typically talk about fairness: "raise the minimum wage so jobs pay more than poverty"; "it's only right that women get paid the same as men for the same work." But they rarely explain why these same policies drive economic growth.

By not making the growth argument, the public is left open to Republican accusations that while well-intentioned, these policies kill jobs, and that Republican prescriptions for cutting taxes and regulations — central to Trump's own economic address earlier in the week — are needed to promote growth.

As I wrote two years ago, "A Dem Who Can Explain That Fairness Is Prosperity Will Sweep in 2016." And while Clinton embracing that story is clearly not the reason she's beating Trump in the polls, it is crucial that she continue to make this case and show other Democrats how to.

If anything, she should go farther. She could easily have wrapped her entire economic agenda — creating good jobs, taxing the wealthy and corporations to invest in education — in the same story. In doing so, she would be presenting a coherent Democratic version of how to achieve her mission of "an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top."

Trump's economic populism underscores Republicans' dilemma, torn between the need to appeal to working families and their ideological opposition to government programs to create jobs, strengthen labor standards and make the tax system more progressive.

When Democrats fully embrace Clinton"s message that "the more we do to help working families, the more our entire economy will benefit," they will bury Republican chances of winning the economic argument.

Kirsch is the director of Our Story — The Hub for American Narratives and a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow him @_RichardKirsch.


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