Clinton embraces populist themes in policy speech

Hillary Rodham Clinton used a Friday speech on income inequality to lay out populist themes that have been increasingly embraced by the Democratic Party base whose support she would seek if she runs for president.

In the remarks, among the most specific Clinton has offered on domestic policy since she stepped down as secretary of state, she lamented the strains the American middle class faces and the luxurious position of the super-rich.

“For too many families in America today . . . the dream of upward mobility that made this country a model for the world feels further and further out of reach,” Clinton told a meeting of policymakers, journalists and academics convened by the New America Foundation.

“Many Americans,” she said, “understandably feel frustrated, even angry.”

Clinton spoke to several hundred conference participants after receiving an adulatory introduction from Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google and head of the board of the New America Foundation, which sponsored the two-day event, “Big Ideas for a New America.”

The event capped a week in which Clinton and her husband vigorously responded to partisan attacks, including a suggestion that she may have suffered brain damage from a fall in 2012.

As if to emphasize her vibrancy, Clinton ignored a teleprompter set up by a lectern on the dais and talked directly to the audience, which interrupted her several times with applause.

Her speech also addressed another challenge Clinton faces should she run: Many Democrats have grown enthusiastic about a brand of aggressive, liberal economics championed by leaders such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and not associated with Clinton or her husband.

In her address, Clinton said that more than four in 10 children born into the lowest-income families never manage to climb out of relative poverty.

“What’s more, an almost equal percentage of kids who are born into the most affluent families stay there for life no matter what their effort,” Clinton said. “That is the opposite of the mobility we think of as a hallmark of America.”

The economic data was leavened in her speech by references to her late mother, the coming birth of a first grandchild and her description of Clinton Foundation projects that are beginning to tackle some of these issues, including one program that she said is “helping young Americans struggling to make headway in a tough economy.”

Economic productivity has increased by more than 25 percent since 2000, she said, while wages for most Americans have stagnated.

“Americans are working harder, contributing more than ever to their companies’ bottom lines and to our country’s total economic output, and yet many are still barely getting by, barely holding on,” she said, noting that “some are calling it a throwback to the Gilded Age of the robber barons.”

Clinton called it a “wake-up call” to learn recently that ­middle-class incomes are now higher in Canada than in the United States. Average Canadians are working fewer hours for more pay than Americans are, enjoying a stronger safety net, living longer on average, and facing less income inequality.

Clinton delivered her ­economy-centered address a few hours after appearing as a surprise guest on Barbara Walters’s farewell appearance on “The View.” Clinton advised Walters to take it easy.

The ever-inquiring Walters asked Clinton if she was “going to run.”

“Well, I am running. Around the park,” Clinton said.

When the televised conversation turned to what Clinton wants to be called when she becomes a grandmother, co-host Sherri Shepherd suggested, “President Clinton.”

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