When Book Tours Go Wrong

How nice to see Hillary Clinton on the defensive about her family’s considerable fortune. We’re not the types to begrudge anyone their honestly-earned wealth, no matter how considerable, but Clinton always has been and it’s only fair that she subjected to the politics of envy.
Clinton’s class conscious controversy began during an interview with the American Broadcasting Company’s Diane Sawyer, of all people, who unaccountably asked about the five-times-the-median-American-income fees that she commands for an hour or so of speaking to her fellow rich people. One can easily understand how the poor woman might not have expected such an impertinent question coming from a television network other than Fox News, but Clinton’s response was surprisingly clumsy given reputation as a seasoned political player. The former big time law firm partner, First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State pleaded poverty, explaining that she and her even better-paid husband left the White “dead broke” because of legal debts and “we struggled to, you know, piece together the mortgages for houses‚Ķ” She also mentioned that “we had to make double the money because of obviously taxes,” and defended her high-priced oratory as “a much better thing than getting connected with any one group or company as so many people who leave public life do.”
That conspicuous plural in the houses that the Clintons struggled to buy drew most of the derisive comments, especially when photographs of the rather opulent domiciles started to circulate, but every aspect of her hard-scrabble story merits ridicule. The legal bills that the couple faced were a result of her husband’s serial sexual infidelities and other improprieties that left him without a law license, and were largely paid off by the grateful beneficiaries of his economic policies. Taxes were no doubt severe on a couple that relied on income from speeches to groups hoping to gain their political favors, but her longstanding soak-the-rich stances make it hard to render the requisite sympathy. “Getting connected with any one group or company” sounds very much like getting a real job, and we can well understand why Clinton wouldn’t want to stoop to that, but it does lack the populist touch she probably would have preferred. As far as pulling-one’s-self-up-from-the-bootstraps stories go, Clinton’s account of her grueling work on the lecture circuit isn’t quite up to Horatio Alger standards.
Any stereotypically hard-hearted Republican could have responded to the question by daring Diane Sawyer or any other red-blooded American to lie that they would down 200 grand for an hour’s worth of high-minded hogwash, a riposte most people would find both refreshingly honest and quite understandable, and perhaps even commendable, but Clinton cannot avail herself of such common sense. She came into public view with an angry denunciation of Reagan’s “Decade of Greed,” notwithstanding the fact she’d spent the ’80s making a suspicious fortune in the commodities market and otherwise enriching herself through her husband’s political connections, and she is now seeking the nomination of a party that is lately obsessed with the issue of income inequality and a Jacobin hatred for the dread one percent. Her party spent the last presidential election successfully demonizing a Republican for having acquired a fortune estimated at $250 million by saving companies and their many thousands of employees from bankruptcy, so it is a tricky matter heading into the next presidential election that the Democrats’ presumptive standard bearer and her family has a fortunate estimated at $200 million by giving speeches to rich folks and writing unreadable books and taking purely perfunctory seats on the board of directors of gigantic corporations that are up to God knows what sort of corporate evil.

Such galling hypocrisy is usually overlooked by the American public, as it doesn’t involve sex, so Clinton probably expected to get away with it. Pity the poor Republican who espouses family values before being caught with his finger’s in some young woman’s cookie jar, as he will be pilloried by his own party and the public at large, but Democrats can fly private in a carbon-emitting corporate jet on the way to a global warming conference or fly back on Air Force from a five-star vacation to decry the greedy rich, and she could reasonably expect the same deference That the press has lately been so bad must be jarring to Clinton.
The interview with Sawyer was tied to the recent publication of her latest book, hilariously titled “Hard Choices,” and it contained other pitfalls. The longtime Clinton water-bearers at The Washington Post declared that “Sawyer Destroys Hillary Clinton on Benghazi,” a scandal that should have destroyed her nearly two years ago, and others noted how she struggled to name any accomplishments from her four-year run as Secretary of State. The reviews of the already-discounted book have been brutal, too, and Clinton is no doubt reeling from the unaccustomed bad press. Once upon a time her husband could have State Troopers summon low-wage state employees to a hotel room where he would expose himself and hiss “kiss it” and even Gloria Steinem would rush to his defense, so unless it’s all a vast left-wing conspiracy on behalf of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential aspirations it must seem downright sexist.
Over at the tonier they’ve already decided that any conservatives heaping ridicule on Clinton’s good financial luck are the hypocrites, but we feel blameless in our chuckles. We’re not the types to begrudge anyone their good fortune, but we happy those who are called on their own hypocrisy.

— Bud Norman


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