Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Evan Halper and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton used an economic policy speech Monday to make an early contrast with her potential Republican opponents, promising to “rely on evidence more than ideology” in an effort to restore financial security for Americans left behind in the recent economic recovery.

Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, said that boosting middle-class wages was the “defining economic issue of our time” and proposed to overhaul the tax code, promote corporate profit-sharing and advance paid family leave to build what she called a “growth and fairness economy.”

“I want to see our economy work for the struggling, the striving and the successful,” Clinton said in her address at the New School in New York. “We’re not going to find all the answers we need today in the playbooks of the past, we can’t go back to the old policies that failed us before, nor can we just replay the successes.”

Corporate profit-sharing was an example of the “new ideas” Clinton said she’d promote as president, saying it would give workers a stake in the success of their employer as a way to “boost productivity and put money directly in employees’ pockets.”

The emphasis on profit-sharing comes amid concerns by Clinton and the many economists advising her that too much of the American economy has become focused on fast earnings for those in top income brackets, to the detriment of rank-and-file workers.

Clinton’s speech represented the first look at what aides say will be a detailed agenda, to be rolled out in the coming weeks, that seeks to push capital toward more durable growth, creating incentives for investments in infrastructure and research, for example, while closing what her advisers say are tax loopholes that promote excessive risk-taking in the markets.

She also promoted familiar Democratic priorities such as pay equity for women, paid family leave and affordable child care, something she said was not a “luxury” but a “growth strategy.”

Her proposals take aim at a problem vexing economists: how to pull America out of a prolonged period of stagnant middle-class wages, even at a time when productivity is on the rise.

Income disparity has become a central issue in the race for the White House, and Republican candidates have ideas that differ from Clinton’s. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is building his economic agenda around a plan to boost growth of the country’s gross domestic product to a sustained 4 percent a year.

Calling inequality a “drag” on the entire economy, Clinton targeted Bush directly for saying last week that Americans needed to “work longer hours” — a portion of the former Florida governor’s discussion of economic solutions that his campaign said critics have taken out of context. Clinton said Bush “must not have met very many American workers,” and challenged him to repeat the claim to nurses, teachers and others who she said “do not need a lecture. They need a raise.”

Discussing tax reform, Clinton called a plan from Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida that would slash taxes on top incomes a “budget-busting giveaway to the super wealthy,” the kind of plan that was typical of the “bad economics” Republicans would propose.

And she attacked the newest GOP contender, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, for “stomping on workers’ rights” by seeking to undermine the strength of public employee unions.

“I will fight back against these mean-spirited, misguided attacks,” she vowed, saying the decline of unions was responsible for a third of the increase in income inequality. “If we want to get serious about raising incomes, we have to get serious about supporting union workers.”

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.