A Newcomer to Populism? Hillary Clinton Campaign Begs to Differ.
In her first week as a 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton seemed to channel another high-profile Democrat. “The deck is stacked in their favor,” Mrs. Clinton said of the wealthy and powerful. “My job is to reshuffle the cards.”
The line echoed a phrase that helped make Senator Elizabeth Warren the populist icon of her party. “The game is rigged,” Ms. Warren often says. “Rigged to work for those who have money and power.”
Before that there was Mrs. Clinton’s tribute to Ms. Warren in Time magazine. “She never hesitates to hold powerful people’s feet to the fire,” Mrs. Clinton wrote in the issue honoring the top 100 influential people.
For anyone who wondered what kind of economic message Mrs. Clinton would deliver in her campaign, the first few days made it clear: She is embracing the ideas trumpeted by Ms. Warren and the populist movement — that the wealthy have been benefiting disproportionately from the economy, while the middle class and the poor have been left behind. And the policies Mrs. Clinton is advancing, like paid sick leave for employees and an increase in the minimum wage, align with that emphasis.
But now, the former secretary of state must convince voters that she is the right messenger for the cause of inequality, not simply seizing on it out of political expedience.
Nothing stings her inner circle more than the suggestion that their candidate is late to these issues. Mrs. Clinton was the original Elizabeth Warren, her advisers say, a populist fighter who for decades has been an advocate for families and children; only now have the party and primary voters caught up.
“I don’t know why we have this semicollective amnesia about her past positions,” said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and Mrs. Clinton’s policy director in 2008. “She’s following no one on these issues.”
But affirming Mrs. Clinton’s sincerity as a populist, especially given her reputation for caution and careful consideration of political moves, is proving an uphill battle. The assessment by Bloomberg Politics after Mrs. Clinton’s first campaign stops was that she is “terrified of the left.”
It is easy to forget that for years, Mrs. Clinton weathered criticism that she was too liberal, the socialist foil to her husband’s centrist agenda. Economists in the Clinton administration referred to the first lady and her aides as “the Bolsheviks.”