It was an inevitable and natural outgrowth of the Democrats’ Obama-era campaign themes, but so few seem to have seen it coming.
The obsession with “income inequality” and the Democratic Party’s rhetorical commitment to using the power of the state to address that imbalance has painted the party’s most prominent figures into an absurd corner. Now, wealthy Democratic officeholders are rendering the most ridiculous, forced self-denunciations they can muster in an attempt to reassure their constituencies that they are sufficiently proletarian.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was mocked in the political press when she asserted that she and her husband were “dead broke” after leaving the White House, recently defended her clumsy comments. Speaking with The Guardian, Clinton said that those concerned with what she once called the “cancer” of income inequality “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,” she said.
Not good enough say advisors close the also well-off President Barack Obama. According to The Washington Post, at least one former advisor to Obama is advising Democrats to “panic.”
“It’s going to be a massive issue for her,” one Obama adviser said. “When you’re somebody like the secretary of state or president of the United States or first lady, you’re totally cut off [from normal activity], so your perception of the middle-class reality gets frozen in a time warp.”
“She can’t seem more out of touch on issues like this,” NBC News White House correspondent Chuck Todd said on Monday of Clinton’s “wealth problem.”
This painful instinct among Democrats to renounce their own bourgeois status reached a level of ludicrousness on Monday that previously would have struck Christopher Guest as implausible. Speaking at a Summit on working families, the Vice President of the United States assured the audience that he was always rated as among the poorest members of Congress, owns no stocks or bonds, and does not even maintain a savings account.
A cursory glance at Joe Biden’s 2013 financial disclosure reveals that he owns mutual funds and does, in fact, have interest-bearing accounts. And why shouldn’t he?
None of the Democratic Party’s 2016 prospects are impoverished enough to match their own rhetorical standards for what is an acceptable amount of wealth to have and still serve as a representative of the middle and underclass. It was the natural consequence of the 2012 campaign which centered on framing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as hostile toward the middle class because he was successful.
Even the great progressive hope, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), fell into the trap of misrepresenting her own largess.
“I realize there are some wealthy individuals — I’m not one of them — but some wealthy individuals who have a lot of stock portfolios,” Warren said during her 2012 campaign for Senate. This claim did not sit well with The Huffington Post.
Warren earned more than $700,000 from Harvard, book royalties and consulting fees, and lives in a $5 million house, the report shows. She has multiple mutual funds and stock in IBM, the sole individual stock she owns. The total portfolio is worth nearly $8 million.
Democrats, including President Obama, have long maintained that they do not resent or demonize success. The actions of the party’s most visible figures suggest, however, that this is not true. Why else would Clinton, Biden, and Warren go to such embarrassing lengths to cheapen the fact that they were compensated for their work?
So many Democrats are imprisoned by their own rhetoric and are now sacrificing authenticity in an endless game of populist one-upmanship. It is an awkward display. Maybe Democrats are right to “panic.”