Hillary Clinton sounds populist note while eyeing White House

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Hillary Clinton offered clues on Friday that she intends to ride a wave of populist sentiment all the way to the White House.

The former secretary of state and likely 2016 presidential candidate told an audience in Washington that average Americans no longer have the same opportunities previous generations enjoyed, and that the poor find it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to break into the middle class.

Mrs. Clinton’s comments echoed those of President Obama, who in recent months increasingly has turned his attention to income inequality, wage gaps and other economic problems plaguing the middle class.

Those issues, political analysts say, also will be vital in Democratic presidential primaries, where economic populism is emerging as a winning strategy.

Mrs. Clinton hasn’t yet announced whether she’ll run in 2016, but her remarks Friday easily could have been mistaken for a stump speech.

“The empirical evidence tells us that our society is healthiest and our economy grows fastest when people in the middle are working and thriving and when people at the bottom believe they can make their way into that broad-based middle.

“This is not a new insight. It’s time-tested wisdom. It’s at the heart of what I believe is the basic bargain of America,” she said at a New America Foundation conference. “For too many families in America today, that isn’t the way it works anymore. Instead of getting ahead, they’re finding it harder than ever to get their footing in our changing economy. The dream of upward mobility that made this country a model for the world feels further and further out of reach.”

Mrs. Clinton also took veiled shots at rich families who provide their children an easy life without requiring them to work hard and earn a living for themselves.

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

Within the Democratic party, there is a clear appetite for a presidential candidate who sounds as Mrs. Clinton did on Friday. Among the progressive wing of the party, a passionate movement has emerged around Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has said she won’t run for president but has hit the exact populist note many liberals want to hear from their candidates.

Mrs. Warren also has alleged that, during the Bush administration, big banks and Wall Street tycoons essentially were able to get richer while crashing the broader economy.

Mrs. Clinton took similar shots at former President Bush on Friday, saying the economy meltdown of 2008 was the result of Republican policies.

“That’s what happens when your only policy prescription is to cut taxes for the wealthy, and then to deal with the aftermath of a terrible terrorist attack and two wars without paying for them,” Mrs. Clinton said.

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