Although I almost never vote, when I do make an exception I use three criteria: First, and most obviously, I must either have an especially strong ideological affinity with a candidate or a particularly deep loathing for the challenger. Second, the candidate must (appear) less corrupt than his or her challenger. Third—and this is important—the candidate must be a lot more successful than I am.
This last hurdle is not a particularly challenging, mind you. If a would-be lawmaker believes he or she possess the judgment to lord over millions of Americans, if they deem themselves wise enough to make momentous decisions regarding war and security, shouldn’t they be more adept at managing their everyday lives than I am? No, I’m not impressed that you take public transportation, eat at diners, or struggle to pay your student loans. You still go to the “market” like an average American? So do I. And I would never vote for me. Ever. And it doesn’t matter to me if you’re the child of immigrants, or that you were raised by a single mom or that you had a job sweeping up in a warehouse before you were shuttled off to Harvard. Those are circumstances, not achievements.
That’s just me. So, needless to say, I’m mystified that so many Americans look to candidates who pretend to be just like us. We’re the worst.
Which brings me to Hillary Clinton, whose clumsy efforts to convince America that she’s a commoner aren’t only transparently silly, but intentionally discount her most impressive gift: the ability to convince rational people to pony up $200,000 (the Wall Street Journal says she was paid $300,000 for a speech at UCLA) to hear her talk about a career in politics. One thing’s for sure: those students would benefit far more from a talk about the inner working of Clinton Inc.’s multimillion-dollar business than they will sitting through an hour of platitudes about public service.
If I had to pick a reason to vote for Hillary, it would be her wealth. She should own it. It’s her greatest success. Through her speaking engagements and terrible ghost-written books, she is worth somewhere between $25 and $50 million. Bill’s net worth is around $80 million (or more). Even combined, that’s nothing like the Koch money, or even John Kerry or Mitt Romney money, as the Washington Post helpfully pointed out recently. (One thing wealthy folks don’t understand is that the average American doesn’t really make much of a distinction between $130 million or a billion, anyway. You’re just really rich. And it’s ok.)
Nearly every candidate tries to create intimacy with the common man’s struggles. Populists like to argue that the rich are incapable of comprehending the problems ordinary Americans face or of having empathy for the poor. This accusation is selectively deployed, of course. The Senate is teeming with affluent Democrats who are given a pass on their bank accounts, because, as someone once explained to me, the wealthy liberal advocates for raising taxes on themselves, so they are selfless. Which means, conveniently enough, that wealthy conservatives can always be dismissed as having ideas that are self-serving.
But the problem with Hillary isn’t that she’s wealthy. It’s not even that she became wealthy asking for exorbitant fees while most Americans were living through a brutal recession. Nor is it that, for the most part, she’s lived a privileged life under the protection of taxpayers for decades and still acts like she’s broke. It’s that today she has nothing to offer voters but a reconstituted Obama-style populist progressivism that doesn’t fit her history. She may well win, of course. But that would have more to do with the luck of history than her political skill.
Certainly, Hillary is more gifted at making money than she was at being First Lady, a stint that featured a disastrous stab at health-care policy and her husband being tricked into having an affair by a shadowy conspiracy. She is undoubtedly a better businesswoman than she was a Senator, where the single consequential vote she took turned out, in her own words, to be “a mistake.” And she is a far better businesswoman than she was a secretary of State, a job that doesn’t seem to feature any achievements worth remembering by anyone.
Chelsea Clinton philosophized recently that although she wanted to see if she could “care about [money] on some fundamental level,” she couldn’t. “That wasn’t the metric of success that I wanted in my life,” she explained. Though few people in the world want the sole metric of their life’s triumph to be money, only someone with the security of wealthy family, augmented by a $600,000 yearly paycheck, could dismiss the idea of money so flippantly. But she was right in another way. In the case of her mother’s career, wealth is the only metric that features any success.