How Hillary Clinton can win in November

Hillary Clinton may be tempted to relax into her inevitable nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate given a sizable delegate lead that looks likely to hold going into the Democratic convention — particularly if she wins the big prize of New York in April.

However, even after the convention, she will need to woo her opponent's supporters — many of whom claim they won't vote for her — to prevail in an unpredictable general election against an unconventional candidate like Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton
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Hillary Clinton

Bernie Sanders has been buoyed consistently by supporters disgusted with a political system awash in big money — and dismayed by Clinton's uncomfortably close relationship to Wall Street. There is a simple move Clinton can make to prove she is willing to take bold action against Wall Street: She can bring back the Glass-Steagall Act that put up a firewall between commercial and investment banking.

Over the course of recent Democratic debates, Clinton has remained opposed to reinstating Glass-Steagall even as Sanders used the rallying cry of breaking up the banks to help lock up several Midwest and Northeastern primaries.

The division between commercial and investment banking imposed by Glass-Steagall, enacted in 1933 amid the Great Depression, prevented banks from using customer deposits to take high-octane gambles in the market that could bring on another financial cataclysm.

Then, in 1999, under heavy pressure from the financial industry, Glass-Steagall was repealed by President Bill Clinton, unleashing the rise of a number of behemoth banks with combined commercial and investment arms. Less than a decade later, most of them nearly combusted in the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, requiring billions in taxpayer bailout funds to stay afloat.

Today, Wall Street continues to be riddled with systemic risks. The Dodd-Frank financial reforms enacted in 2010 in the wake of the financial crisis helped reduce some of the risk, but as the new president of the Minneapolis Fed recently acknowledged, they didn't go far enough. "I believe the biggest banks are still too big to fail and continue to pose a significant, ongoing risk to our economy," Neel Kashkari — a Republican – told an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. last month.

An even more unlikely proponent of reining in big banks is Asher Edelman, the inspiration for Gordon Gekko in the movie "Wall Street." In a recent interview with CNBC, Edelman called for banks to return to lending, which stimulates middle class spending and the overall economy, rather than speculation, which pads the balance sheets of the big banks, not to mention the pockets of the top 1 percent.

While the Volcker Rule — the set piece of the Dodd-Frank reforms — bans commercial banks from using customer deposits for speculative trading on the bank's own accounts, numerous exceptions permit commercial banks to engage in risky investment banking activities they would be unable to carry out under Glass-Steagall. It's not difficult to conjure a scenario in which using customer deposits to bolster market bets causes a global financial contagion on the order of — or greater than — what we witnessed in 2008.

Some argue that Glass-Steagall is unnecessary because many of the financial institutions that triggered the financial crisis, such as Bear Stearns, were purely focused on trading and didn't have commercial banking arms. But those failed investment banks were able to take their risky gambles because they could easily borrow from hybrid entities such as Citigroup. And we should not forget that commercial-investment bank hybrids like Citigroup and Bank of America were ultimately some of the biggest recipients of bailout money.

The solution must be a stronger wall between commercial and investment banking. Senators Elizabeth Warren andJohn McCain have already proposed bipartisan legislation to bring back an updated, stronger version of the Glass-Steagall legislation specifically focused on banning publicly supported banks from engaging in the type of practices that created the financial crisis.

Afraid of Congressional gridlock? A President Clinton could even avoid a dysfunctional Congress altogether by working with bank regulators to create many of the same activity limitations through executive action — but only if she appoints strong regulators dedicated to reining in Wall Street.

With an increasingly likely path to the general election ahead of her, Hillary Clinton in the next few months must strive to shed her image of being beholden to wealthy, Wall Street interests. Reinstating Glass-Steagall is a good way to start.

Commentary by Anita Jain, director of communications at Center for Popular Democracy Action, which leads numerous economic justice campaigns.

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