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Hillary Clinton tries to hold off Bernie Sanders threat

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Raise middle class wages. Spank Wall Street.

Hillary Clinton is searching for the safe space that was magic for Bill — somewhere in the middle between left and right extremes. But safety is harder to define today, because of an unlikely Democratic hottie: “#feeltheBern” Bernie Sanders, a 73-year-old self-described socialist.

Back in the day, the search for the middle was called “triangulation.” Today, Hillary Clinton is trying to use the same calculation to cool down Sanders, a loud and moving target on the left.

In a speech Monday that attempted to put down major economic markers for the 2016 campaign season, Clinton laid out a middle ground that is aimed at wooing the middle class. Raising middle class incomes, she said, is the “defining economic challenge of our time.”


Clinton criticized some of her Republican rivals, and did not mention Sanders. But his fiery rhetoric and adoring crowds are clearly on her mind. As she fleshed out some of the details behind the challenge to improving life for middle class Americans — fair pay, family leave, child care, earned sick time — even Clinton acknowledged that “many of these proposals are time tested and more than a little battle-scarred. We need new ideas as well.”

So she pledged to fight for profit sharing.

She called for tax relief for “hard-working families” and “closing the carried interest loophole, which lets wealthy financiers pay an artificially low rate.”

She said she will offer plans to “rein in excessive risks on Wall Street”; appoint regulators who understand “Too Big To Fail is still too big a problem”; prosecute firms and individuals when they “commit fraud or other criminal wrongdoing” ; and expand on the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law designed to prevent future economic crises.

Because of Sanders, the tip of the Clinton triangle is moving left. But not enough for some, as demonstrated by a heckler’s interruption of Clinton’s speech.


“Senator Clinton, will you restore Glass-Steagall?” activist Daniel Burke yelled out. Escorted out by security, Burke told Business Insider that he is an organizer with LaRouche PAC, which supports activist Lyndon LaRouche. The Glass-Steagall Act, which separates commercial banks and investment banks, was repealed in 1999, during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is working to restore it with a bipartisan group of senators.

Glass-Steagall. Dodd-Frank. For a select Democratic primary crowd, words like that will have them cheering from the rafters — just like Donald Trump’s words about immigrants excite the most right-leaning Republican primary voters. Everyone goes through their primary crucible, and Clinton has gone through this before. She did not win the battle in 2008, when Barack Obama ran to her left on the Iraq War. But of course, Obama brought something bigger than mere ideology to that contest, the idea the country could make history by sending him to the White House.

That was part of Obama’s magic formula. It will be harder for Clinton to duplicate that magic, even with a parallel appeal to making history as the first female president. She has been on the stage a long time. Her baggage is heavier. And now she’s up against a committed advocate from the left who is not going away, at least not until after the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary and the shift to more centrist Democratic primary states.


She has to keep her eye on the middle and defend it with all the passion she can muster. Is that possible? Can a candidate defend the middle with passion?

Bill Clinton did.

It was the path to the White House then, and it still is.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.


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