One of these two people knows how to fix the economy. The other one is Donald Trump.
Donald Trump made headlines at tonight’s presidential debate by refusing to say whether he would accept the results of the election on November 8th. And that should absolutely be the top media takeaway from the debate; it’s unprecedented in modern history for a presidential candidate to deny the legitimacy of an election. This puts the peaceful transfer of leadership that has been at the heart of our democracy at risk.
But it’s important to remember that there were two people onstage tonight. And while Donald Trump was busy unnecessarily imperiling the future of the United States for the sake of his own tremendous (and tremendously fragile) ego, we must also remember that Hillary Clinton was turning in her single best debate performance. Clinton was poised, prepared, and downright presidential up there.
Clinton didn’t just maintain her integrity in the response to the most erratic presidential candidate in generations—she articulated her case more clearly than she ever has. Specifically, she knocked it out the park when she talked about economics. More than she ever has, Clinton made a clear and concise case for why middle out economics is the only way forward for a prosperous America.
“I think when the middle class thrives, America thrives,” Clinton said early in the debate. “And so my plan is based on growing the economy, giving middle class families many more opportunities.” Clinton called for a jobs program that would reinforce America’s infrastructure and our investment in clean energy. She said she wanted America to compete with “high wage countries,” which is especially important considering Trump kept calling for us to compete with China and India and other low-wage nations.
Clinton correctly argued that we don’t want the kind of growth that comes with simply creating more jobs; we want more better-paying, higher-quality jobs. (If you’d like to learn more about middle out economics, Civic Ventures founder Nick Hanauer’s TED Talk remains one of the best crash courses available. If you want a deeper dive, Democracy Journal’s “Middle Out Moment” issue is a terrific resource.)
This next piece of Clinton’s argument is vitally important, so I’m going to quote it in full. (All of these quotes, by the way, come from Vox’s rush transcript of the debate, which is a tremendous public service.)
I want to raise the minimum wage because people who live in poverty, who work full-time should not still be in poverty. I want to make sure that women get equal pay for the work we do. I feel strongly we have to have an education system that starts with preschool and goes through college. That’s why I want more technical education in high schools and community colleges, real apprenticeships to prepare people for the real jobs of the future. I want to make college debt free and for families making less than $125,000, you will not get a division bill from a public college or university if the plan that I worked on with Bernie Sanders is enacted.
This, right here, is the exact recipe to create lasting, quality growth in America. Raising the minimum wage and closing the gender pay gap is the first step, and it’s pivotal because it engages every worker in the economy. For too long, low-wage Americans have been basically frozen out of the economy because they’ve had no spending power at all, beyond meeting the most basic food, shelter, and transportation expenses required to survive.
Raising the wage enables them to participate in the economy as consumers, which increases demand and therefore creates more jobs. Once that happens, the encouragement of affordable education and apprenticeship programs allows workers to easily pick up the skills required to participate in a fast-moving 21st century economy. The days when Americans would go to work in the same factory for 40 years and then retire have passed. That’s not a bad thing, assuming every American has the opportunity to learn and adapt to the market throughout their lives.
Clinton acknowledges that the top one percent and corporations will have to pay more in taxes if we want to fight rampant inequality, but those taxes will help spur the growth that we haven’t seen under four decades of trickle down economics. Indeed, she acknowledges that Trump’s plan is “trickle down economics on steroids,” which would “give the biggest tax breaks ever to the wealthy and to corporations, adding $20 trillion to our debt.”
Later in the debate, Clinton was asked if she defended President Obama’s economic growth. She praised him for leading us out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. “We’re standing,” she explained, “but we’re not yet running.”
“We’re beginning to see some increase in incomes, and we certainly have had a long string of increasing jobs. We’ve got to do more to get the whole economy moving, and that’s what I believe I will be able to do.” In the end, she concluded, America needs to “invest from the middle out and the ground up, not the top down.”
It’s heartening to finally hear a presidential candidate get the economy exactly right. Clinton wasn’t proposing making rich people pay more in taxes because it’s fair, and she wasn’t arguing that we need to punish business to support workers. Instead, she clearly and directly made the case that we all do better when we all do better, that in order to make an economy work, everyone—from the top one percent to small business owners to young adults making minimum wage at their first full-time jobs—has to participate. If debates are the final test of a candidate’s fitness for the presidency, Trump absolutely failed on every single level. But more importantly, tonight Clinton passed with flying colors.