Washington (CNN) – Hillary Clinton offered a strong defense of her husband's presidency on Friday as both Democrats and Republicans have started to link the former first lady to the economic policies of the 1990s.
Clinton's comments were more political than historical, and she offered a tough critique of former President George W. Bush as someone focused solely on tax cuts for the rich.
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The former first lady, who’s considering a presidential run in 2016, also painted a dour picture of Republican economic policies and commended the economic decisions of the Obama administration.
"The 1990s taught us that even in the face of difficult long term economic trends, it is possible through smart policies and sound investments to enjoy broad-based growth and shared prosperity," Clinton said during a speech at a New America Foundation confab, adding that her husband’s years in the White House showed that "a rising tide really did raise all boats."
Clinton went on to say that the Bush years indicated "we can turn surpluses into debt, we can return to rising deficits.”
“That is what happens when your only policy prescription is to cut taxes for the wealthy," she added.
In describing the Bush years, Clinton said the government "allowed the evolution of an entire shadow banking system that operated without accountability" and failed "to invest adequately in infrastructure, education, basic research and then the housing crash, the financial crisis hit like a flash flood."
Clinton overtly added politics to the speech, too, by mentioning the upcoming midterm elections.
"Americans will have choices to make about which path they want to go down and whether we will make the investments we need in our people," Clinton said of the November elections. "I will leave that discussion to others."
Republican attacks on Clinton have stepped up since the former secretary of state openly acknowledged that she was thinking about running for president. While many Republicans have focused on her record at the State Department and in the Senate, some have begun to take aim at Bill Clinton's economic record.
Not all attacks have come from Republicans, though.
Most notably, Vice President Joe Biden lobbed a critique of the Clinton White House in a South Carolina closed-door fundraiser last week. According to several Democrats at the event, Biden said the fraying of middle-class economic security did not begin during President George W. Bush’s terms, but earlier, in the “later years of the Clinton administration.”
Biden, like Clinton, is weighing a bid for the presidency in 2016, and the two would face off in the Democratic primary if both decide to run.
Hillary Clinton has shied away from making similar attacks at possible Democratic challengers, but her defense of her husband's economic decisions – something she hasn’t done until recently – appears to be a response to those critiques. Former President Clinton has even begun to defend his own record. At a speech last month at Georgetown University, Bill Clinton delivered a professorial defense of his record, complete with slides, graphs and sleeping students.
Clinton also used her speech to showcase her views on income inequality and social mobility in the United States. Channeling leaders in her party's left – like Sen. Elizabeth Warren who has spoken extensively about income inequality – Clinton touted the need for equal pay, paid family leave, and increased skills training for young Americans.
"We know that America is strongest when prosperity and common purpose are broadly shared," Clinton said. "When all our people believe they have the opportunity and in fact, do, to participate fully in our economy and our democracy."
Clinton added that "the dream of upward mobility that made this country a model for the world feel further and further out of reach" and because of that, "many Americans understandably feel frustrated, even angry."
The former first lady also made an economic pitch to millennials, a group she described as "optimistic," "tolerant" and "creative."
"There is no doubt that the biggest cause of youth unemployment is an economy that is still not generating enough demand, despite the recovery," Clinton said. "This is a longterm challenge, but we can't wait for government, which seems so paralyzed."
- CNN's Peter Hamby contributed to this report.