Hillary Clinton supporters are beaming after her performance at the first Democratic debate this week, but I wouldn't break out the Champagne glasses just yet. Clinton was in command of the stage throughout the two hours — poised, articulate and smiling just often enough to make her look warm but not phony. Clinton has always been a good debater; she won all of the debates in 2008, but it didn't get her the nomination. This time around — with second-string competition, not a rising star to block her way — she looks like a shoo-in to become the Democratic nominee. But her path to the presidency is another matter.
Most elections are won or lost on economic issues — and the Democrats are trying to turn this one into a referendum on income inequality. Clinton said all the right things, from the Democrats' perspective, bemoaning stagnant middle-class wages, staggering college debt and an America where the next generation may not succeed in doing better than the previous one.
What Clinton and the others failed to mention is that Democrats have been in control of the White House for almost 16 of the past 24 years — including eight years under another Clinton. Granted, the economy under Bill Clinton hummed along nicely, but the wealth gap the Dems like to talk about ballooned right at the same time. Of course, few people were focused on inequality then because everyone seemed to be doing better in an economy in which jobs were plentiful. The old adage that a rising tide lifts all boats was perfectly acceptable to the Clintons at the time, even if the yachts were rising much more steeply than the rowboats.
But Hillary Clinton has another problem when it comes to income inequality: her own status. Moderator Anderson Cooper asked her during the debate: "In all candor, you and your husband are part of the 1 percent. How can you credibly represent the views of the middle class?"
Her answer was one of the weakest of the evening: "Well, you know, both Bill and I have been very blessed. Neither of us came from wealthy families, and we've worked really hard our entire lives. And I want to make sure every single person in this country has the same opportunities that he and I have had, to make the most of their God-given potential and to have the chances that they should have in America for a good education, good job training and then good jobs."
Hard work, as most Americans understand it, had little to do with the Clintons joining the 1 percent club. Multimillion-dollar book deals, more than $100 million in speaker fees for speeches given to Wall Street, business and foreign audiences, and good old-fashioned influence peddling under the guise of their family foundation have amassed the Clintons a large fortune.
Even Donald Trump can point to things he's built as the source of his wealth. The Clintons can only point to themselves. They've sold their power and influence to make millions.
Americans have a history of admiring those who make money, in large part because most of us hope we will have a crack at striking it rich someday, too. But the Democrats have recently decided that the wealthy are to be reviled, good for nothing but taxing to pay for benefits that will be redistributed to others not so lucky. Envy has become the mantra of the party. The Democrats used their class warfare rhetoric effectively against Mitt Romney in 2012, but it is hard to hear it resonating out of Hillary Clinton's mouth.
None of the Democrats has articulated an economic policy that would create jobs. When they actually get specific, their only plan is to tax the rich more, raise the minimum wage and expand worker benefits — for example, enacting paid parental leave. The latter two proposals are guaranteed to destroy jobs, not create more.
Clinton is no better at this than Bernie Sanders. At least he has the advantage of being forthright about his economic philosophy. He's a socialist. Hillary Clinton just wants to "save capitalism from itself," as she put it in the debate. But what the middle class needs — indeed, what America needs — is to save the country from another four years of failed Democratic economic policy.
Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal." To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.