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Brent Budowsky: Hillary and Pope Francis

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Let me interrupt the coronation. Hillary Clinton did not have a good political year in 2013. And there are warning signs that she may be repeating her mistakes of 2008.

I am a strong supporter of Clinton, but throughout 2013 her favorability rating fell considerably. She has been largely silent about great issues of income inequality that galvanize the Democratic base, whose enthusiasm is urgently needed for Democrats to avoid disaster in 2014 and to triumph in 2016.

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There are disconcerting signals that Clinton does not fully grasp the reasons for the enormous admiration — from conservatives and moderates as well as liberals — for the most popular and profound public figure of our times, Pope Francis.

Why is Clinton giving highly paid speeches to big banks and not forcefully championing the causes of economic justice that are so humbly and passionately described by Francis, and are so deeply important to poor and working women and men?

Does Clinton believe it advances her interests to be mediating battles of warring factions of political consultants who compete to become wealthy by merchandising her good name?

Does the former secretary of State believe the pathway to the presidency is to be the candidate of political elites and Washington insiders, by acting like an incumbent entitled to a coronation, generating mostly stories about her political calculations, seduced by the mirage of inevitability that plagued her candidacy in 2008?

By contrast, the pope has lifted the spirit of the world and inspired transcendent admiration with the power, passion, simplicity, sincerity and inclusiveness of his message.

In a world of economic injustice there should be more justice. In a world of great unfairness there should be more fairness. In a world of great poverty there should be more fairly shared prosperity. In a world of small islands of wealth surrounded by wide oceans of pain, those with the greatest wealth should do more to heal the pain. Francis calls on politicians to ask more of them, not merely to ask for money from them.

The limousine libertarians of the right must choose between Ayn Rand, the guru of greed, or Francis, the pastor of generosity. They cannot choose both.

Clinton must ultimately choose between paid speeches to big banks and the noble teachings of the pope. She cannot choose both or triangulate between them.

Francis observes that when the stock market rises there are big headlines, but when a homeless person dies in the street there is silence.

Is Clinton’s mission to seek money from those who prosper from skyrocketing markets, or to empower and give voice to the multitudes who endure crushing poverty and the 80 percent of Americans who believe, according to a recent poll, that for them America remains in recession?

Francis loves the wealthy and the poor. He just asks the wealthy to do a little more. Contrary to the view of conservative columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times, liberal populists do not seek a class war against the rich. We want to end the war against the poor and stop the punishment of the middle class.

Clinton could employ her vast resources and network to mobilize the best thinkers in the nation to devise bold, new programs to reduce income inequality, end the war against the poor, begin the next war against poverty and champion an economy that lifts all people.

Clinton could mobilize, privately and publicly, in briefing meetings and town meetings where she could both speak and listen, the leading liberal economists who were given short shrift during the Obama presidency and the creative conservatives with ideas in the tradition of the late Republican Rep. Jack Kemp (N.Y.).

Clinton could also seek ideas from religious leaders of diverse faiths and leading capitalists such as super-investor Warren Buffett and advertising executive Roy Spence, who stand in the 1 percent but whose business values would lift the 99 percent, too.

By mobilizing the nation’s leading thinkers, Clinton could tap the spirit of Francis to propel the next great era of shared American prosperity.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.