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What Bill Clinton Won’t Say

The most interesting part of the Obama campaign TV ad consisting solely of Bill Clinton speaking to the camera is what Clinton didn’t say. In the thirty-second spot, Clinton makes three comments: one about the Republican plan, one about Obama’s plan, and a third about his own administration. Taking the success of his own years in office as a given, Clinton then appears to offer co-ownership of his successful policies to Obama–at least that’s the intent of the ad.

First, what Clinton says about the Republicans:

This is a clear choice. The Republican plan is to cut more taxes on upper income people and go back to deregulation. That’s what got us in trouble in the first place.

Leave aside for now the fact that it most certainly was not what “got us in trouble in the first place.” Clinton tells us the wrong way of doing things: slashing taxes on business owners and cutting red tape. Next, what Obama offers us instead, according to Clinton:

President Obama has a plan to rebuild America from the ground up, investing in innovation, education, and job training. It only works if there is a strong middle class.

Here is the first omission. Clinton tells us the GOP’s plan, and then tells us that the Obama administration has a plan, though he seems unable to say what it is besides government spending. So which one gets the Clinton seal of approval? Obama’s:

That’s what happened when I was President. We need to keep going with his plan.

That’s a bit passive: “that’s what happened” versus “that’s what I did.” Why wouldn’t Clinton want, once and for all, to claim Obama’s plan is exactly what he did? Because it’s not, and because Clinton has always reveled in his reputation as a centrist, Third Way Democrat who signed welfare reform and–guess what?–cut taxes. As Jim Pethokoukis noted earlier this month, the really strong economic growth during Clinton’s administration took place during his second term, and coincided with:

– a big tax cut, lowering the top capital gains tax rate to 20% from 28%;

– a big surge in private investment, particularly in the software and business equipment category which contributed a full point to GDP during those years. Did the Clinton tax hikes cause that or was it a combo of the Internet Bubble, Year 2000 preparations, the cap gains cut, and the beginning of a computer networking and communications revolution?

As Pethokoukis admits, we cannot definitively credit the tax cuts with all the economic growth. But the mere fact that the growth was driven by massive private sector investment at the same time as Clinton cut taxes on investment tells us that Obama’s plan is manifestly not Clinton’s plan for economic growth.



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