We have been discussing the rather fascinating role of wealth in American politics rather Hillary Clinton’s repeated flubs in claiming to be “dead broke” after leaving the White House and struggling like other Americans to cover tuition and mortgage costs (here and here and here). Despite the fact that most of our leading candidates are fantastically rich, they still feel the need to show voters that they feel their pain. With the Clintons, the new pitch feel flat with even usually favorable media outlets mocking Hillary over her statements. Now Bill Clinton has tried his hand at reviving the new narrative of a working couple done good. Bill Clinton has insisted that the claim of being broke is “factually true” since they had legal debts. However, everyone in Washington knows that these debts to Democratic law firms is funny money and that these firms would have closed shop rather than pursue the Clintons for payment. The debts, as is always the case, was quickly paid off by Clinton supporters, lobbyists, and others interested in helping the powerful couple. It was debt on paper alone and both Clintons were looking at massive windfalls after leaving the White House. It comes down to the meaning of “debt” to paraphrase a certain president. In the meantime, Joe Biden has tried his hand at the “poorer than thou” pitch.
Bill Clinton insisted that Hillary is “not out of touch” when she claimed that they were “dead broke” and later told the Guardian that voters “don’t see me as part of the problem” with income inequality in the United States “because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we’ve done it through the dint of hard work.”
Bill Clinton returned to the claim that it is “factually true” that his family was several million dollars in debt. However, he did not claim that any of these law firms had taken any action to force payment of the debt or address the obvious intention for supporters to pay off the debt. CNN documented that Clinton earned $106 million by making speeches from the end of his presidency through January 2013. Hillary Clinton has pulled in $200,000 a speech and was criticized for receiving $500,000 in one week from Goldman Sachs .
Bill Clinton dug the hole deeper with this rather dubious comment: “Everybody now assumes that what happened in the intervening years was automatic. I’m shocked that it’s happened. I’m shocked that people still want me to come give talks. And so I’m grateful.” The “shocked, shocked” claim was even less convincing than when uttered by Claude Rains. Everybody predicted Clinton would pull in massive bucks on the speaking trail and it was widely discussed before he left the White House. Moreover, he had already started to arrange for such work given the almost immediate speaking engagements.
It is becoming a snowballing disaster for the Clintons as they struggle to portray the image of “country done good.” I am not sure why wealth is so polarizing in American politics to the extent that these super rich candidates have to engage in such desperate re-invention. I do not believe that most people hold great animosity for the super rich while they harbor anger over any special deals or tax shelters. The Clintons have been famous for their army of speechwriters and political advisers shaping every word and gesture — as did candidates like Mitt Romney. However, the rollout of this new narrative has been a disaster. When Hillary later insisted that taking a quarter of a million dollars a speech was commendable thing as opposed to “getting connected with any one group or company,” it triggered analysis on recipts of half a million dollars from companies like Goldman Sachs and revived the scandal of over how a Tysons Food executive arranged for Hillary to invest $1000 to make $100,000 in roughly ten months. While most of us are cringing at the spin, the Clintons appear to see no alternative but to plow ahead on the narrative.
The new claim that Clinton was surprised that people would pay him so much for speeches entirely undermined the credibility of his defense. It played into the view of many voters that our leaders can no longer distinction spin from the truth or at least have little respect for voters to see the difference.
What I thought was equally fascinating was how, as Hillary was struggling with the “dead broke” narrative, Joe Biden (who also wants to be the next nominee), just coincidentally revealed that he does not even have a savings account and will have to live off his government pension. That claim was reviewed by the Pulitzer prize winning organization Politifact. Earlier, the nonpartisan Politifact found Hillary’s comments to be largely false and implausible. Biden fairly only slightly better with a finding that it is “half true” which may be a high for American politicians. The group noted that “Biden also holds four checking accounts, two of which he shares with his wife. In addition, he holds six life insurance policies with Mass Mutual. The Bidens reported an adjusted gross income of $407,099 last year, including his vice presidential salary of $230,700.” He will also receive a $5 million “transition budget” for moving expenses, security, and other incidentals upon leaving office.
Biden is still more credible on this subject as one of the least wealthiest members of the Senate when he represented Delaware. However, it is a narrative that will sit poorly with many citizens regardless of the party. Ironically, conservative figures like Clarence Thomas has a real and compelling story of growing up in poverty. In the end however there is a difference between powerful Americans claiming to be sympathetic with the poor and going even further to having been one of the working stiffs. Ironically, both Clintons have an admirable commitment to the poor and a demonstrated history of working on their behalf. They have street cred on the issue. That is what is so bizarre because this continued effort to claiming to have been dead broke has only alienated voters in an area where the Clintons should rightfully be given great credit.
And the campaign season has not even officially begun . . .
Source: USA Today