One might have thought that Hillary Clinton would have learned a lesson about minimizing her personal wealth after her “dead broke” comment to Diane Sawyer in the first interview on her Hard Choices book tour. Her team tried to walk back those comments the next day, but to no avail. Political analysts blasted Hillary for being “tone deaf” during the interview, and that was before news broke that the Clintons like to exploit estate-tax loopholes they claim to oppose.
Hillary took her road show overseas, but still is making the same condescending mistakes in her quest to be seen as the hoi polloi with lots of toys. When challenged by The Guardian to explain her ability to speak on income inequality after making an avalanche of money in her post-White House years, Hillary tried to claim that she’s not rich-rich … and besides, she’s worked hard. Unlike the rest of those who have wealth, apparently:
And money? What about money? Bill and Hillary have reportedly made more than $100m since they left the White House in 2001. Yet that didn’t stop Hillary complaining to Diane Sawyer on ABC News that the couple had emerged from highest office “dead broke”, a comment that ranks for its tone deafness alongsideJohn McCain’s admission in the 2008 presidential election that he couldn’t remember how many houses he owned.
America’s glaring income inequality is certain to be a central bone of contention in the 2016 presidential election. But with her huge personal wealth, how could Clinton possibly hope to be credible on this issue when people see her as part of the problem, not its solution?
“But they don’t see me as part of the problem,” she protests, “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 says, letting off another burst of laughter. If past form is any guide, she must be finding my question painful.
“Not to name names”? Why not? If she’s referring to Mitt Romney, he paid plenty of income tax, and never once pretended to not be “truly well off.” Unlike the Clintons, Romney built his own business through hard work, not by leveraging the notoriety acquired by public service into multi-million book advances for memoirs written by ghost writers, and huge fees from the speaking circuit with speeches written by aides. At which job did Hillary employ “hard work” to earn that wealth, anyway?
Democrats are starting to worry about the hypocrisy and tone-deaf pronouncements, and the royal political difficulties they will produce:
Some influential Democrats — including former advisers to President Obama — said in interviews last week they fear that Clinton’s personal wealth and rarefied, cloistered lifestyle could jeopardize the Democratic Party’s historic edge with the middle class that powered Obama’s wins.
“I don’t know whether it’s just that she’s been ‘Madam Secretary’ for so long, but she’s generating an imperial image,” said Dick Harpootlian, who recently stepped down as Democratic Party chairman in South Carolina, which hosts an early presidential primary.
Harpootlian, who backed Obama over Clinton in 2008 and is a longtime ally of Vice President Biden, added: “She’s been living 30, going on 40 years with somebody bringing your coffee to you every morning. Is it more ‘Downton Abbey’ than it is America?”
Multiple Obama campaign advisers — who spoke only on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating the Clintons — said they fear Clinton’s financial status could hurt her as it did Republican nominee Mitt Romney, whom Obama portrayed in 2012 as an out-of-touch plutocrat at a time of economic uncertainty.
“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.”
Asked what Democrats should do, the adviser said: “Panic.”
The panic will begin now, and not wait for 2016. Senate Democrats wanted to use income-inequality messaging against Republicans in the midterms as a way to distract from the non-recovery economy, ObamaCare, multiple scandals, and the collapse of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. Obama himself has been teeing up this strategy for more than a year. With Hillary Clinton actually embodying the persona that Democrats tried to hang on Romney in 2012, that messaging will backfire as Hillary Clinton sucks up more and more of the oxygen from the political scene.
The phrase “limousine liberal” will be poised for a big comeback this midterm season, and Democrats will have Hillary to thank for it.