Hillary Clinton is touring to promote her State Department memoir “Hard Choices,” but most of the news she’s made along the way relates to her personal finances, not her tenure in Foggy Bottom. On Tuesday, New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait examined Hillary’s “dead broke” comment and other recent remarks and revelations about the Clintons’ money with an eye toward whether or not they’ll hamper her presumed presidential campaign.
Chait opined that while some of the Clintons’ “buckraking” constitutes “both a problem of perception and a problem of substance,” Hillary nonetheless has two big economic things going for her heading into 2016: voters’ memories of the strong economy during Bill’s presidency, and the near-certainty that if she becomes the nominee, her opponent will represent “a Republican Party still wedded to the upward redistribution of income as its central policy goal.”
From Chait’s post (emphasis added):
The return to preeminence of the Clintons was supposed to signify a renewed economic populism that would define the Democratic Party. It was, after all, Hillary Clinton who quaffed beers with white working-class Democrats in her 2008 campaign against the abstract, yuppified idealism of Barack Obama. And it was Bill Clinton who, in a 2012 Democratic National Convention speech, folksily explained the party’s economic philosophy more concretely than Obama himself had ever managed.
And yet, in the wake of a stream of disclosures and clumsy statements, the class narrative has turned sharply against the Clintons. The Arkansas populists find themselves rendered as plutocrats…
…Clinton’s most recent comments, the ones that finally caused her class problem to leap over the breach from a series of isolated episodes to a full-blown media narrative, is overblown. Here is what she said:
But they don’t see me as part of the problem 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 dint of hard work.
Reporters have widely portrayed this as Clinton distinguishing her income from “people who are truly well off.” That isn’t quite right. Her comments, while slightly garbled, seemed to be defining “the problem” not as high income but as special tax breaks enjoyed by the rich. She was separating herself from wealthy tax-dodgers, not the wealthy writ large…
…On the other hand, her previous controversial comments, in which she claims she and Bill were “dead broke” after leaving the White House, were truly delusional. Whatever the literal dollar figure in their bank account the day they left 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Clintons had a six-figure lifetime salary and generous pension awaiting them, along with unlimited earning potential.
…But how the Clintons took advantage of that earning potential poses both a problem of perception and a problem of substance. The Clintons have attached themselves financially to a wide array of interest groups and interested individuals, some of them quite venal. The Clintons’ buckraking has been swept up into the “out-of-touch” narrative, but it actually represents a far more alarming concern about good government.
…Lurking quietly and mostly unnoticed in the background is the possibility of an Elizabeth Warren primary challenge. Warren is vying for a position of national leadership among liberal activists, and any upsurge in progressive discontent with Clinton — or, for that matter, President Obama — will flow toward demands that Warren challenge Clinton. Will she do it? Probably not, but Warren is pointedly leaving the door open...
To be sure, even if she runs, Warren would stand little chance of winning, but she certainly could provide the Clinton out-of-touch story with months and months of narrative reinforcement...
…The Clinton name still gives her a certain economic cache. The last time the American economy created rising middle-class living standards came with the Clintons in office. That is the sort of heuristic that swing voters, who tend to be low-information voters, can easily grasp.
…Clinton’s economic profile is being defined in personal terms in part because she has neither a platform nor an opponent. As the likely nominee, she will have both, and thus the opportunity to contrast her policies against a Republican Party still wedded to the upward redistribution of income as its central policy goal. Republicans will probably try to redefine the economic debate as a personal question rather than a policy question — especially if they nominate a candidate who is not ostentatiously rich — but Clinton will have weapons at her disposal not currently available.