Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated this week that she and her husband, President Bill Clinton, had trouble getting a home loan after they left their taxpayer funded digs at the White House. Speaking to Der Spiegel magazine in Germany, the former First Lady quadrupled down on her attempts to identify with average voters by explaining the financial hardships of being American political royalty.
“You recently described your financial situation during the presidency of your husband Bill Clinton as dead broke,” says Der Spiegel.
“Well, when we came out of the White House, we were deeply in debt because of all the legal bills that we owed because of the relentless persecution of my husband and myself, and he had to work unbelievably hard to pay off every single penny of every debt we owed. And we did,” Clinton responds.
The magazine posits, “Today, you are multimillionaires. Your husband has earned $104 million with his speeches since 2001.”
To which the former secretary of state responds, “We are very grateful for where we are today. But if you were to go back and look at the amount of money that we owed, we couldn’t even get a mortgage on a house by ourselves. In our system he had to make double what he needed in order just to pay off the debt, and then to finance a house and continue to pay for our daughter’s education.”
This is Clinton’s fourth attempt at clarifying this statement, and it is not getting any better. She had about 20 years to come up with a satisfactory answer to it. Now, she’s had four chances in the last month, presumably surrounded by advisers who specialize in answering such questions well. Even Bill Clinton, who we can all acknowledge has better political skills than his wife, has botched this. Rich Democrats have painted themselves into a (luxurious) corner (with the finest of paints) by facilely portraying wealth itself and wealthy people as the country’s problem. Indeed, some wealthy people inherit large sums, which I don’t find terribly objectionable or indicative of a lack of character. Some make gains through some sort of shady or unappetizing practice— something like, say, politics. But that is a small percentage of the wealthy, American population. Even at the greatest heights of American wealth, on the Forbes 400 list, almost 70 percent are self-made billionaires. Having turned the story of American financial success into a hallmark of moral failing, a rich Democrat is stuck explaining why his wealth is not a hallmark of just that. And, as we’ve heard many times, when you’re explaining you’re losing. Hillary Clinton has lost her fifth round with this trap her party set for her. Color me surprised the press keeps asking about it, but she’s made it damn near irresistible with the ludicrousness of her statements.
Let’s review them.
“You have no reason to remember, but we came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea’s education. It was not easy. Bill has worked really hard. And it’s been amazing to me. He’s worked very hard.”
In her interview with Roberts this morning, Clinton acknowledged that she and her husband, who have both earned millions in speaking fees since leaving public life, have been “blessed in the last 14 years.”
“I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans today,” Clinton told Roberts. “It’s an issue I’ve worked on and cared about my entire adult life.”
She added, “We have a life experience that is clearly different in very dramatic ways from many Americans, but we also had gone through some of the same challenges.”
During an interview in Chicago this morning for her book “Hard Choices,” Emanuel asked Clinton directly about her recent remarks to ABC News.
“Dead broke,” Emanuel said. “Really?”
To some audience laughter at the event for Chicago Ideas Week, Clinton admitted her word choice was not ideal.
“That may have not been the most artful way of saying that Bill and I have gone through a lot of different phases in our lives,” she told Emanuel, a longtime friend and former adviser to President Clinton. “That was then, this is now. Obviously, we are very fortunate. We’ve been given great opportunities.”
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.
And, today is Take 5.
From "Hard Choices", p. 363: "The Lear jet or the Gulfstream? I'd toss a coin, but I don't carry money."
— Dr. Harry Shearer (@theharryshearer) July 7, 2014