How much faith should we put in the economic proposals of a presidential candidate who has previously made outrageous and unrealistic pledges to create jobs and then failed to deliver? That was essentially the question that NBC’s Tim Russert posed last Tuesday, when he asked Senator Hillary Clinton if her promise to generate 5 million new jobs as president wasn’t “a little exuberant,” given that she had made a similar pledge during her first New York senatorial run—to create 200,000 jobs in upstate New York. That promise, Russert pointed out, came to nothing; in fact, upstate New York had actually lost jobs since 2000.
Clinton responded with her stock answer: that when she made her upstate pledge, she thought that Al Gore would be the next president, and that the two would work together to revive the region. The blame for not meeting her goal of 200,000 new jobs, she said, belongs with President Bush, who’s been unresponsive to the needs of upstate New York. Never mind that the national economy has grown by some 6 million jobs under Bush. It’s apparently the president’s fault that few of those new jobs have come to New York State.
Clinton has been giving this ridiculous answer to the question about the missing 200,000 jobs ever since her Senate reelection bid in 2006, and the media, for the most part, haven’t challenged her. That’s par for the course: they gave her a pass when she first made the pledge in 2000, though it was clear even then that she had no hope of delivering on it. Still, now that Clinton is a presidential candidate, you would expect that the media would press her to say something more sophisticated than “It’s Bush’s fault.” After all, when she complained, while campaigning for the Senate in 2000, that upstate employment had grown by an annual average of just 0.6 percent since 1992, she didn’t point out that we had a Democratic president during most of that period (I think his name was Clinton) and a powerful Democratic congressional delegation from New York in Washington.
Instead, under Clinton’s formulation, the hard times upstate during the 1990s were the fault of the state’s Republican governor, George Pataki, and the continued decline from 2001 to 2008 is the fault of the country’s Republican president. That tortured logic is perhaps not surprising. When Clinton made her 2000 jobs pledge, she and her supporters never thought that she’d be held accountable for it in a state where, once elected, incumbent senators are difficult to unseat.
Their confidence was well placed. In 2006, when Clinton was running for reelection, a number of her supporters pointed out that it was never realistic to expect a senator to produce such an abundance of jobs in New York. In an editorial endorsing her, one upstate newspaper even noted that it was “state-level policies” (high business taxes, excessive regulations) that were really holding back the upstate economy. In other words, we knew all along that Clinton couldn’t produce those 200,000 jobs, but we let her shower New Yorkers with that blatantly unrealistic promise all the same.
Such media sleight of hand was not inconsequential. Ordinary people in upstate New York clearly bought into Clinton’s 2000 campaign rhetoric, giving her unprecedented support in sections of the state that hadn’t recently been friendly to Democratic candidates. Indeed, as a Clinton campaign official crowed to the New York Times in a 2000 election postmortem, her upstate economic promises “worked beyond our wildest dreams.” That is, they worked to get her elected.
Now Clinton is making similar economic promises nationally—not just 5 million new jobs, but also new “green” industries and a sharp reduction in childhood poverty. Why should we believe her?