Hillary Clinton tries to strike the right tone on wealth and income inequality

(Sean Masterson/EPA)

After struggling all month to discuss both her personal wealth and the growing gap between rich and poor, Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to strike the right tone Monday.

During a discussion about income inequality at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Clinton acknowledged her good fortune, yet focused her remarks on the struggles of many Americans to keep a foothold in the middle class.

"We've always been very proud of the fact that we've had an upwardly-mobile, expanding, middle-class society," Clinton said. She added: "I'm a product of it. And of course Bill and I were so grateful for the success we've had. But we remember where we started and where we came from."

Over the past three weeks, Clinton has come under fire during her book tour for a series of stumbles in talking about her personal wealth. The comments have put a spotlight on the wealth she and her husband have built since leaving the White House. (A Washington Post review last week found that Bill Clinton had made $104.9 million delivering 542 paid speeches between 2001 and 2013.)

Critics have seized on Hillary Clinton's missteps to portray her as out of touch with the lives and economic anxiety of everyday Americans.

But Clinton sought to dispel that notion in Aspen, Colo., where she was interviewed Monday afternoon by Walter Isaacson, a writer and president of the Aspen Institute. When Isaacson asked about income inequality, she said: "This is not an issue that is going to go away. In fact, it will only get worse unless we address it now."

She added, "So many Americans are really, really nervous. They feel like they're falling behind, that at best maybe they're running in place."

Clinton noted that many more Americans were lifted out of poverty during Bill Clinton's presidency than during Ronald Reagan's presidency. And she argued that the country's elected leaders, Republican and Democrat alike, must come together now with solutions they can agree upon: "We're all on the same team — we're on the American team — and we've all got to do a better job of getting our economy growing again."

In her hour-long discussion with Isaacson, which was streamed live on Facebook, Clinton discussed a range of foreign and domestic policy issues, including several that are important to the Democratic Party's liberal base, including climate change and voting rights.

Clinton said new laws in some states restricting the ability for people to vote are contrary to America's interests and values.

"People have to vote and we have to make it frankly as easy to vote as possible," she said, adding: "I personally would like to see every 18-year-old American automatically registered to vote."

On climate change, Clinton commended President Obama for some recent actions, including new federal regulations limiting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

"We're moving," Clinton said, "but we need to do so much more."

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.
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Philip Rucker · June 30, 2014