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This one chart shows why the fear and loathing of the Clintons that some factions of the political class feel does not translate to normal human beings

This 1 chart shows why the fear and loathing of the Clintons felt by some factions of the political class does not translate to normal human beings

The Clinton administration was the only administration since Nixon where take-home pay increased over a sustained period. The only one.

But NAFTA! But Glass-Steagall! But dot com bubble! But great moderation! But Bob Rubin! But wag the dog! But et cetera!

All true, all irrelevant.[1] Concrete material benefits -- and people's long memory for politicians who deliver them -- are what matter.

Every time I put up a post like this, a gaggle of Clinton h8terz chimes in with a bad case of the "Buts!" I'm not defending the Clintons, or Bob Rubin. I'm saying that if the left wants to win, and keep winning, and wants to be remembered with affection like Clinton -- or FDR -- and not for being sanctimonious bait-and-switch assholes, what they need to do is deliver concrete material benefits to working people. (Obama's 2009 inaugural speech, we might remember, was an explicit call for sacrifice, which meant no concrete material benefits for anybody, except, as we found out later, the banksters.)

I am betting, by the way, that Democrats are going to end up doing the exact opposite. If Rubin has given the OK to focus on climate change, that's what they're going to do. But you know how they're going to do it. They'll start having a national conversation about how to "right size" people's carbon-intensive lifestyles.

Which is fine when it means that you can congratulate yourself on having bought a solar-powered radio to listen to NPR and Garrison Keillor.[2] It's not so fine when you're working a shit job at Walmart, because Walmat jobs are the jobs, and the price of gas doubles, and now you're carpooling in what used to be your one time of solitude. Yes, the word you keep hearing is "conviviality" -- I personally even believe in conviviality as an important value -- but somehow crowding more warm bodies in the ol' beater just doesn't feel like the nice smiling people on the teebee said it would feel.

NOTE [1] We'll forget "But **** ***"!

NOTE [2] The only population even remotely receptive to this message are the people who have already done it. They, I would hazard, have long since given up on the Democrats.

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BruceMcF's picture
Submitted by BruceMcF on

Yes, the 2008 campaign on "Hope and Change" and the 2009 inaugural call for shared sacrifice was one of the great bait and switch schemes in human history.

There is absolutely zero reason for ordinary working families to be making a net sacrifice in the first ten to twenty years of a transition to a sustainable, renewable economy, given the massive wave of real investment required in the means of going about our lives in a sustainable way.

There is, however, ample reason to tell people about the need for sacrifice if economy growth is slowing down due to wealth preservation policies and you are working out how to keep income growing for the top 0.1% in the context of a sluggish economy.

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

Remeber the Clinton boomlet in 2010? There was brief talk of Obama not running again and Clinton running instead. It was buyers regret. It was recognition that Obama wasn't making things better and the hope that Clinton would. That was what that boomlet was about. And all the talk since then of her running is based on the memory of the good times of the 1990's. Anyone who wants to challenge Clinton has to recognize why people like her.

Submitted by lambert on

And do we see that from Warren, or her supporters? No. And her supporters are also the same crowd that gave us Obama in 2008 and again in 2012. With a track record like that...

Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

who simply can't support any of the corporatist Democrats.

That's mostly what I see, lately--Dems, and former Dems, who are totally disillusioned with neoliberal ideology. And it has either little, or nothing, to do with Clinton versus Obama.

Which is to say, I would be just as opposed to a Schweitzer, Booker, Patrick, or O'Malley Administration. IOW, it's not personal--it's ideological.

(I didn't include Warren, because she apparently said again last week--it's out of the question, she's not running.)


Submitted by lambert on

I don't know how many times I have to say this. I keep trying, and somehow it never gets through.

The post is about how and why the Clintons retain support.

THESE ARE LESSONS THE LEFT COULD LEARN. Unless we want to keep studying failure instead of success, that is.

Sometimes, I despair that the left is incapable of learning anything, ever. Whether the reason they have no political power is that they don't really want to exercise it.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

Surely your argument is not with "the left", but with those "centrists" who have deemed it more important to have a candidate who can "win" the contest than one who could conceivably "win" something for actual voters.

All we need at this point is a soundtrack by Howard Cosell and I would scarce see any difference between Nascar and intra-party Democratic politics these days. The cars go round and round, occasionally there is an accident which perks things up.......and a lot of gas gets burned. The left, as I understand it, knows this but we are only seventeen percent of the voting population.

What are you gonna do?

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Why have the memories of LBJ and the Great Society been such weak rallying points during nearly every contested political campaign since the late 70s?

McDee's picture
Submitted by McDee on

I think that LBJ and everything he did is tainted beyond redemption by the War in Viet Nam. Imagine the Great Society programs in an environment free from the bloody, divisive and draining war. Great things may have happened. Instead when we think of LBJ what we think of is the war and it's a painful memory for everyone. Painful for those who served and supported it and those who didn't serve and opposed it. Tragic.

Submitted by weldon on

I'm not very good with charts so feel free to school me if I'm getting this wrong. I don't remember the Clinton years as a golden age for the post-Nixon working man. I do remember Clinton as a very skilled politician.

I'm looking at another chart from the same site as yours, showing the mean household income by quintile from 1967 - 2012. The income of households in the bottom two quintiles were almost flat during the Clinton years (and the rest of the years). The next two did okay, and the top quintile, particularly the top 5%, did spectacularly well.

Your weekly pay chart seems to show that Clinton-era weekly earnings bottomed out in 1996 and then took off between 1996 and 2000 for maybe a 10 percent increase, although it's hard to tell exactly. So you actually have weekly pay hitting its lowest point ever on the chart after four years of Clinton, and then a relatively sharp increase during the next four years.

But, looking at the mean household income, the increase barely shows up for the bottom 40%, is pretty good but not spectacular for the next 40%, and happy days are here again for the well-off, wealthy and super-wealthy. Most of the latter aren't doing hourly work, but skilled hourly employees could take home serious money in the 90s.

The chart I'm looking at is measuring something different than yours does, but wouldn't one expect increased earnings to show up in household income?

I also looked at annual hours worked for 1992 - 2000. They rose by almost 100 hours through 1999 and then took a little dive in that final year, which corresponds with the flattening of weekly earnings on your chart. That would seem to indicate that at least some of the increase came from working more hours rather than from higher wages.

Again, this is far from my area of expertise and if I'm out to lunch, let me know. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the importance of delivering concrete benefits, but I remember a lot of working people being pretty upset with Clinton, and a lot of your NPR types being quite happy with him.

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Submitted by lambert on

.... look for the Insert button to the right, put your cursor in the comment where you want the image to appear, and click the button. Voila. (I just edited your post to do that.)

* * *

I'm not enough of a chart jockey to tease out the differences between the two. I notice that yours has a much longer time-frame than mine, so any bumps are going to be smoothed out. Certainly I understand and accept the general story that your chart shows; I'm not saying that Clinton flattened the Gini curve (if that's the right wording). I am saying that during the Clinton era there was a very concrete material benefit that people noticed and remembered.

What I liked about my chart was that it translated very directly into the paycheck. "More take-home pay!" (i.e., more nice things).

I don't know why household income would be all that different, except that it includes more income sources like transfer payments or freelance work or system D, and/or maybe different survey methodologies.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

The biggest difference is the makeup of the household. Simplistic example: two people, each earning $10,000 live single -- the median household income of the two is $10,000. Two people, each earning $10,000 live together -- the median household income is $20,000.

The difference in the charts suggests that lower income households in the Clinton years had fewer wage earners. This is not necessarily experienced as a bad thing.

BruceMcF's picture
Submitted by BruceMcF on

That is a very useful chart, but every chart is good for what its good for ... and what that is good for is showing when income in one income group is growing out of proportion to another, because our eyes are good at seeing lines growing by constant amounts.

But what that chart obscures is the percentage change of income. Because all the lines are on the same axis, a smaller percentage change in the top line is a lot easier to see than a bigger percentage change in the bottom line.

If you index the lines, so everybody starts at "100", the top 20% will still do better across the board than everyone else and the bottom 20% will still do badly across the whole period ... because the 90s was not the 50s and 60s, after all ... but the 2nd, 3rd and 4th 20% slices will all show up as doing better under Clinton than either before or since.

And for the kind of impact on people's perceptions that lambert is talking about, that is the critical point. When people feel like they are doing better than before, they are a lot less inclined to worry about whether some other group is doing even better still.

Submitted by lambert on

What you said:

When people feel like they are doing better than before, they are a lot less inclined to worry about whether some other group is doing even better still.

Or that the uber-rich are robbing them blind, which is true. People, I think, can look immediately above, and immediately below. Not all the way to the top or all the way to the bottom. It's why people who make $250K don't really think they are rich....

goldberry's picture
Submitted by goldberry on

Hey, nobody's perfect but the Clinton detractors seem to want to blame everything, including the Black Death in the 14th century on the Clintons. Sooner or later, you begin to see a very unhealthy pattern to the constant criticism.
What was really funny was when recently Atrios was forced to say something nice about Terry McAuliffe. It turns out that McAuliffe as governor of VA was vowing to get around his own legislature to give poor Virginians medicaid. But, but, but, Terry McAuliffe is a rich white guy who used money in politics to get the Clintons and others elected! Wahhhhh! How could he turn out to actually, you know, have a heart and ethics and shit???
I dunno. The world is a complicated place. Sometimes even rich FOB can turn out to have a decent spot in their hearts while hooey changey schmoozers turn out to be collaborators with the enemy. Go figure.
Someday, history is not going to look fondly on the Obama administration or the covert propaganda agents who litter the comments section of the blogosphere who harp on the Clintons to make Obama look good. One of these days, the truth will out and nothing will make Obama look good anymore.

BruceMcF's picture
Submitted by BruceMcF on

... someone who is focused on the issues loves the Clintons and hates Obama, or hates the Clintons and loves Obama, since there is very little difference there. At that point it seems more like someone has just picked a team to cheer for and is just one of the type that feels the need to boo rival teams.

goldberry's picture
Submitted by goldberry on

Ah, yes, the "very little difference" meme raises its ugly head again. It seemed to make a lot of difference to the financial backers in 2008. They seem to have found the two to be just different enough to throw all their weight behind one and not the other in spite of the delegate count and the fact that Clinton was winning primaries up until the very last day.
Oh, wait, I hear the "Obama ran a brilliant campaign!" meme coming along. Yeah, the guy who lost NY, NJ, CA, PA, OH, TX, FL, MI, MA, etc, etc, in short, just about all of the big Democratic states so that he could capture the nomination with Idaho and Kansas caucuses is a brilliant campaigner.
Please, spare me. Obama is to the right of just about every Democratic president of the 20th century and some Republican presidents as well.
There's a reason why I didn't vote for him. I was paying attention.

BruceMcF's picture
Submitted by BruceMcF on

" It seemed to make a lot of difference to the financial backers in 2008. They seem to have found the two to be just different enough to throw all their weight behind one and not the other in spite of the delegate count and the fact that Clinton was winning primaries up until the very last day."

The fact that both were safely neoliberal "Democrats" and neither posed any threat to any of the big money interests does not imply an equal division of money ... it simply freed the big money interests to take other factors into account when directing their money.

I have no particular insight into what the big money people in the Whig wing of the Corporate party were thinking when they lay their chips on the Obama line, but if any of them thought that progressive forces would find it particular hard to organize a resistance to a neoliberal administration led by the first black President, that would have been a farsighted decision.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

I have to agree. I seem to remember that no one was happy with Clinton policy during his Administration, far too corporatist at the time. The only reason he was supported by any one I know was because the Republicans were so rabid; a circling of the wagons, so to speak. This should be self evident from the Nader vote and subsequent decades long Democratic Party demonization of him to avert a repeat performance on his part. While there was little faith in Mr, Hope and Change, there was at least the possibility that he meant to do something a little different from his predecessors...and I suppose he did; everyone who voted for him for his second term is now an accessory to war crimes, post constitutional government and the virtual destruction of the middle classes.

Oh well.

I doubt that there will be any possibility of a change to the status quo under yet another Clinton. Once the dust settles, it is clear that they work for the same people so it would be foolhardy to expect any difference in their product. I have to wonder at those who think otherwise, though, and why they should have to be so snotty about it is completely beyond my ken. They got what they wanted and have no one to blame but themselves, after all.

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

There are some major differences. Hilliary really IS pro-gender equality and pro-choice. Obama does not like women and is anti-abortion, although he tries to hide it. Obama is also cheespairing in the most insidious ways, such as cancelleing a scheduled increase in pay for the federal civil service, and cancelling a scheduled increase in pay for the military, or Hagel's closing of many PX stores, or Hagel's new ruling that vets who get bad grades will have to pay back their education benefits. Obama is always gutting things in ways that are hard to see. Hilliary is not at all like that. With Hillary, what you see is what you get. I won't be voting for her. I will be voting for whoever the Green Party nominates. But I have no difficulty understandy why people who dislike Obama support Hilliary. Obama is 2 faced and Hillary Clinton is not.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

Social vs. economic policy. That is the political gimmick that keeps the Democratic Party corporatists viable. Unfortunately social policy is powerless when those whom they benefit are purposively economically disempowered.

Whether it be women or minorities, always the worst hit economically, if you cannot afford to eat everything else becomes secondary and, ultimately, rights unused are rights effectively lost. This is why I always thought the Lily Ledbetter Act such a joke; just because one has more time does not mean that one can afford to fight a corporation for wage discrimination in court any more effectively. You just have more time (legally) to fume about the injustice of it all. The underlying issue remains; most women still cannot afford to take advantage of their legally mandated opportunities. It only makes it worse that, occasionally, someone like the former editor of the NYT COULD afford to do something about it; serving only to make the two tier legal system we presently enjoy (something that Hillary clearly supports) that much more stark a lesson in real politik.

She didn't do anything for women as a board member at Wal-Mart, for example, and the results are infamous. O's schtick was minorities, HRC's is women. None are better off for having known them. I love your cheeseparing examples, but I sincerely believe that is only a factor of her not having been in a position to make them herself. She may make nicer noises on some issues, occasionally, but ultimately the differences are effectively minimal to non-existent.

Submitted by lambert on

From ground level, Obama and Clinton look a lot more different than they do from the 30,000 foot level. In 2008, I evolved the formula that "the differences between the two are marginal but not insignificant" to cope with that fact. (And I admit to "liking" Hillary because she coped with the unbelievable amount of hate thrown at her, and disliking Obama because he and his were throwing that hate.)

And I do understand that Hillary is more pro-gender equality and more pro-choice, and those are good things. However, I question whether her views will make any real difference to policy outcomes, and I don't support identity politics in any form. We live in a world that's going made to have the market run everything. Identity politics isn't the answer to that, unfortunately.

Submitted by lambert on

It's absurd to love a public figure (even FDR) and hate is bad for the soul. I try to avoid it.

None of these people are worthy of either love or hate, and both cloud the mind and get in the way of what we need to do.

Rainbow Girl's picture
Submitted by Rainbow Girl on

Interesting to note on the graph that the increases during the Clinton years (@ 630-660) and the Bush Sr. years (@ 660-990) seem about equal - roughly Plus-30.

So strictly from the perspective of concrete material benefits (increasing wages) the Bush Sr. term seems to have delivered as well as Clinton's.

Of course these incresases were illusory, among others, because they occurred on the continuum of the scissor--effect (stagnating and decreasing wages vs. inflation and vs. wealth accumulated in the top 1%) that began in the 1970s.

BruceMcF's picture
Submitted by BruceMcF on

If its W Bush, instead of HW Bush ... its pretty much total stagnation. People do not credit an administration for being 5% better than six years before when they started, if in the next two years the bottom falls out from under it.

Note that there is a "false increase" in the second half of the recession (the grey bar at the end of W Bush and start of Obama administration), which is because more people below the average lost their job than people above the average ... the recession was heavily tilted to put not-HS and HS-only into unemployment, and when there is no position, their wage drops out of that average.

Submitted by lambert on

I remember there was one point when the number of employed went up by 500... And I got one of them! Hilarious, in retrospect.

BruceMcF's picture
Submitted by BruceMcF on

... both of them muted on the topline numbers because of the pumping up of bubbles to boost GDP after the recession, but as a result of a pumping-up-bubble led recovery rather than investment & income led recovery, both of them with extended downturns in real median income after the end of the recession as such and sluggish recovery in incomes when incomes began to recover.

The George HW Bush "recovery" and accompanying stagnation of incomes is part of the background that made the income growth under Clinton seem more impressive.

chezmadame's picture
Submitted by chezmadame on

My husband had an interesting experience when Hillary was running for senate here in New York. He was a union delegate for the FDNY and was a vocal supporter of Clinton when the union was deciding which candidate to endorse. He was pretty much shouted down at the meeting, and the gist of the opposition to Clinton was that many delegates simply didn’t like her. The union wound up not endorsing any candidate that year. I think that many will remember that Hillary was roundly booed by the cops and firefighters at the 9/11 benefit concert shortly after her first tem began. They just didn’t like her.

Hillary kept her head down and worked. She helped pass legislation that gave federalized national guardsmen sent to fight foreign wars health and death benefits commensurate to those of the regular army. She helped bring internet connectivity to isolated rural communities in the mountains of upstate New York. She pushed for formal, government-funded medical monitoring of 9/11 first responders who were sick enough to need care and medication, but not sick enough to qualify for the programs that were already in place, my husband included.

I'm not saying that this mitigates the elements of her record that are counter to liberal or populist principles. And yes, I am aware that the question of federalized benefits would be moot if more representatives had voted against the war resolution. What I am saying is that Clinton earned the endorsements that she got the second time around by delivering concrete material benefits to her constituents.

Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

that conservatives and Libertarians love this!

Some time I'll try to find the radio clip of a George Mason U (think tank fellow) opine about this.

In this audio, he states that George Sr used an expansion of the EITC (bargained it, IOW) to avoid raising the minimum wage.

This is an ultra-conservative idea that needs to be nixed, IMO.

Substituted with a national "living wage," that is.

The EITC was created to allow the wealthy (capital) to avoid having to pay living or decent wages.

Oh, and because "the poor" had to earn it--unless they worked, they were not eligible for the benefit, of course.

So, in essence, it was a backdoor way to reduce welfare (before the reform in the 1990s), but unfortunately is still being used to avoid raising the minimum wage.

I'd say that it has worked, flawlessly.

Why call on wealthy small business entrepreneurs, or corporations to fork over the money necessary to sustain a decent standard of living, if you can tax and pool the money of the common man to support other low income people [including the millions of relatively low income people pay taxes because they don't qualify for this credit, since many childless adults don't/haven't].

Long story short, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) according to Wikipedia:

The earned income tax credit has been part of political debates in the United States regarding whether raising the minimum wage or increasing EITC is a better idea.[5][6][7]

Dumb *ss that I am, I'd always thought that it was supposed to be a "liberal" idea, until I heard this toxic right-wing libertarian dude's spiel.

I'm serious--this George Mason U dude argued it flat out on this basis--why should business have to pay more (higher minimum wage), when you can spread out the cost of doing business among poor and middle income Americans, as well.

It other words, "we gotta be fair." (In the mind of a conservative Libertarian.)

Whew! Some bit of propaganda, I guess.

(Sorta pushed--sorry this is run-on and garbled!)