Clinton calls for ‘toppling’ 1 percenters as critics question her populist bona fides

U.S. presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Reuters / Lucas Jackson)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is striking a populist note during her bid for her party’s nomination, saying the economy needs a “toppling” of one percenters. But critics say her populism is strategic, not genuine.

In a meeting with economists this year, Clinton looked at a chart that showed income inequality in the US, the New York Times reported. It graphed how real wages, adjusted for inflation, had increased exponentially for the wealthiest Americans, making the bar so steep it hardly fit on the chart.

Clinton pointed at the top category and said the economy required a “toppling” of the wealthiest one percent, several people who were briefed on her policy discussions ‒ but could not discuss private conversations for attribution ‒ told the NY Times.

It’s not the first time Clinton has taken a populist stance during her nascent (official) campaign.

“There’s something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker. There’s something wrong when American workers keep getting more productive, as they have... but that productivity is not matched in their paychecks,” Clinton said in Monticello, Iowa, last week.

Clinton critics claim she is trying to trade in on the success of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), a popular populist who many had hoped would run for president until Warren quashed that idea.

“Hillary Clinton’s fake populism is a hit,” a Rolling Stone headline for a Matt Taibbi article said on Thursday.

“At launch she talked a streak of anti-elitist rhetoric that was taken seriously for a few days, until the punditry took the temperature of her populism and declared to it be the right kind: the fake kind, the purely strategic kind,” Taibbi wrote.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus called Clinton’s populism “fake and phony,” according to Breitbart.

Clinton is a populist in the vein of former presidential candidates John Kerry (D) and John McCain (R), Taibbi wrote ‒ they are all “politicians who can sound like idealistic outsiders but have proven credentials as Beltway whores. These are the candidates who in Goldilocks terms are neither too idealistic nor too transparently come off as oligarchs, but are the ‘just right’ amount of blowhard, the kind with the ‘look of a frontrunner’."

But her supporters point to Clinton’s positions on populist issues dating back to her time as first lady in the 1990s.

“I don’t know why we have this semicollective amnesia about her past positions,” Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and Clinton’s policy director in 2008, told the NY Times. “She’s following no one on these issues.”

One Democratic strategist thinks people forgot about Clinton’s stances on domestic issues during her time as secretary of state.

“This perception comes because she wasn’t involved in the discussion for so long,” Anita Dunn, a Democratic strategist, told the NY Times. Because in the White House “she had this reputation as being the very left-wing, liberal, Elizabeth Warren type,” she added.

Clinton championed populists causes during her first presidential campaign, when she called for an elimination for the so-called carried interest loophole, a rollback of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, tighter regulations on derivatives and limits on CEO compensation.

“Let’s finally do something about the growing inequality that is tearing our country apart,” Clinton said in June 2007, appearing at the Take Back America conference, a gathering of liberal groups. “The top one percent of our households hold 22 percent of our nation’s wealth. Enough with corporate welfare. Enough with golden parachutes. And enough with the tax incentives for companies to shift jobs overseas.”