Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times makes an important, impassioned plea for all of us to remember that the tens of millions of dollars that Bill and Hillary Clinton have been raking in recently is not some indication of a character flaw on their part. It’s only a symptom of the morally bankrupt, political swamp which can suck down even the best of folks.
The problem is not precisely the Clintons. It’s our entire disgraceful money-based political system… Most politicians are good people. Then they discover that money is the only fuel that makes the system work and sometimes step into the bog themselves.
I probably wouldn’t have even noticed this story had it not been picked up by Jim Geraghty in the Morning Jolt today. And Jim was quick to point out the rather glaring flaw in this argument. It’s true that playing in the American Game of Thrones can be an expensive proposition, and when vast sums of money begin flowing, problems can and do follow. But that’s not the case with the Clintons because they weren’t collecting all that cash to fund an election.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Bill and Hillary weren’t hitting the $700,000-per-speech-in-Nigeria circuit because they want to self-finance her campaign – at least, as far as we know. Bill and Hillary don’t want that money as “fuel to make the system work.” (Jeff Jacoby calculates that the Clintons’ average speaking fee is nearly five times what the median US household earns per year.) They want their $30 million per year for themselves – although we know they don’t spend it on private jets, because the Clinton Foundation already pays for all of their travel expenses.
Hillary Clinton isn’t funding her presidential campaign with her own cash… at least that we know of yet. And why would she? First of all, her own team estimates that it’s going to cost a couple of billion to haul her scandal plagued baggage train back into the West Wing, and the Clintons aren’t sitting on that kind of money yet. (At least not as far as anyone can prove.) Their total stated worth wouldn’t get her through the primary season. Besides, there have been people lined up and waiting to throw campaign cash at Hillary since long before the words “considering a run” ever crossed her lips. Why risk your own money when you can run the table with donations from the faithful?
Jim also gets into the rising salaries of CEOs of charities and other non-profits. (For the record, Clinton Foundation CEO Bruce Lindsey comes in right around the national average for large non-profits at roughly $400K.) I’m not sure how much of a concern that is around the country these days. It would be nice to think that people who engage in charitable work just do it out of the goodness of their hearts and don’t expect to get rich off the effort, but charities are big business today and the competition is fierce. The people with the kind of money to really make a difference tend to be either very busy or mostly retired, which explains how that got all that cash in the first place. Running a large charity is probably not up their alley even if they had the time to do it, so they hire experts in the field who expect to be compensated.
But as to Bill and Hillary’s cash, I will return to the position I’ve maintained all along, and it’s possibly the only topic on which I’ll defend them. As long as it’s legal, I say they should grab all the money they can earn. This is America and we are a land of capitalists. You go for it, Hillary. Just spare us the theatrics of pretending that you’re “dead broke” or can somehow relate to the challenges faced by all the poor and middle class people being crushed by your party’s policies.