Throughout the campaign, Hillary Clinton has been struggling to shake her reputation as a dishonest, Washington insider, who can’t connect personally or politically with the average American voter. Yesterday, however, Clinton came out swinging– with the attitude that she is ready to win this election – and, much to my chagrin, she scored some points.
Perhaps it was the result of just having met a new grandson, but Tuesday’s Clinton seemed excited to be on stage. Unlike her typical affectless speeches, she was all smiles and laughs. In a roughly 45 minute speech she eviscerated Donald Trump, but with a smile. This week voters met the “new and improved” Clinton.
The problem is that while Clinton may have undergone an outward rebranding, what’s inside remains the same. And despite her tone of optimism – “Building the Growth and Fairness Economy” – her economic policies would continue to concentrate power in the hands of Washington bureaucrats while undermining economic growth for Americans.
In particular Clinton focused her attention on that ever-important Democratic voting bloc: women. Immediately she noted that the United States can’t keep up with our foreign competition because we don’t have “family-friendly policies like paid leave.” She added that, “Fair pay and fair scheduling, paid family leave and earned sick days, childcare are essential to our competitiveness and our growth. And we can do this in a way that doesn’t impose unfair burdens on businesses, especially small businesses. As president, I’ll fight to put families first, just like I have my entire career.”
As a working mom, with an aging father, and the head of a women’s organization, these issues resonate with me – and I’m sure with many other women. It’s true we can and need to do more to make work pay for women and their families and ensure that more workers have the flexibility they need to balance work and life responsibilities, while not hindering their economic opportunity. IWF writes about all of these issues in our recent report Working for Women: A Modern Agenda for Women.
But Clinton’s policies would do just the opposite. This wasn’t the first time we’ve heard Clinton or other progressives talk about Europe’s enviable benefit packages. It’s true, in countries like Germany, women receive pretty cushy maternity and paid leave packages; but these generous leave packages come with serious unintended consequences. As my colleague Carrie Lukas has written, in contrast to the United States, European women are far more likely to work part-time and in less well-remunerated jobs. They’re less likely to hold leadership positions. And not surprisingly, all these expensive benefits make women more expensive to employ, something employers balance out through lower wages and salaries.
That’s why a truly fresh idea would be to introduce a combination of Personal Care Accounts and small business tax credits, as IWF recommends, so that we can encourage both individual savings as well as help businesses afford to offer paid time off.
Similarly Clinton once again made a push for universal childcare. But instead of putting Washington in the driver’s seat, a truly modern idea would be to consolidate and reform existing tax credits for children, providing much-needed tax relief for parents. This would allow families to make decisions about the best kind of childcare arrangements, eliminate the bias against stay-at-home parents, and simplify the tax code. What’s more we ought to eliminate needless regulations on day care centers. Everyone wants children to be in a safe and caring environment, but excessive staffing regulations simply results in the misallocation of funds without improving quality.
And while Clinton may be trying to put on a fresh, positive face, she continues to rely on the pessimistic and outdated narrative that women are grossly underpaid in the workplace. We can strengthen the Equal Pay Act to protect workers and build a better understanding among businesses of their requirements under the law; but we ought to also recognize that the best way to help women earn more is to encourage them to consider their choices and the tradeoffs all of us have to make in our educational, professional, and personal lives.
It’s easy to think that changing the packaging is enough to help you boost your sales. But if you’re still selling the same old, stale bag of goods, it’s not going to be enough to win more market share. A genuine brand overhaul requires changing the substance of your product. And if Clinton really wants to rebrand herself as the fresh mind for women she’s going to need to seriously rethink her policies, not just her style.
Sabrina L. Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum.