Bill Clinton has bills—big ones. He says he needs to keep taking roughly $500,000 for each speech he gives because “I gotta pay our bills.”
One wonders what kinds of expenses the paycheck-to-paycheck Clinton family has run up, particularly in light of the largesse of the taxpaying public in the long season of Clinton’s post-presidency. As Politico reports:
By Election Day 2016, taxpayers will have paid out more than $16 million to fund Bill Clinton’s pension, travel, office expenses and even the salaries and benefits of staff at his family’s foundation, federal records show. Since he left the White House in 2001, Clinton and his office have received more money through the Former Presidents Act than any other ex-president, according to a Politico analysis of budget documents.
But this is relatively paltry stuff compared to the money Bill Clinton earns for talking. In 2013 alone, “Mr. Clinton … earned $17 million from speeches (in 2012)” and “has collected much more outside the United States, including the $700,000 he was paid when he spoke to a company in Lagos, Nigeria.” (Side note about Nigeria: According to the World Bank, in 2010 46 percent of Nigerians lived in poverty. Its per-capita gross national income in 2013 was $2,710).
Hillary: Massive Income from Corporations, Banks
His wife’s speaking schedule should also be replenishing the family coffers on an ongoing basis. As reported by The New York Times:
For about $200,000, Mrs. Clinton will offer pithy reflections and Mitch Albom-style lessons from her time as the nation’s top diplomat. (‘Leadership is a team sport.’ ‘You can’t win if you don’t show up.’ ‘A whisper can be louder than a shout.’) She sticks around for handshakes and picture-taking, but the cost of travel, and whether a private jet is provided, must be negotiated as part of her fee.
Within 16 months of leaving office as Secretary of State, she “earned at least $12 million … a windfall at odds with her party’s call to shrink the gap between the rich and the poor,” according to Bloomberg News. Maybe a little too much editorial comment there, but it stings because it is true.
Now we learn, from The New York Times, no less, that “Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband”—note that; not “former President Bill Clinton” or even the man’s given name by itself, but “her husband”—“made at least $30 million over the last 16 months, mainly from giving paid speeches to corporations, banks and other organizations, according to financial disclosure forms filed with federal elections officials on Friday (May 15).”
Echoing Bloomberg’s apt editorial comment, the Times goes on to note, “The sum, which makes Mrs. Clinton among the wealthiest of the 2016 presidential candidates, could create challenges for the former secretary of state as she tries to cast herself as a champion of everyday Americans in an era of income inequality,” and that “The $25 million in speaking fees since the beginning of last year continue a lucrative trend for the Clintons: They have now earned more than $125 million on the circuit since leaving the White House in 2001.”
The Clintons’ Populist Self-Reinvention
Let’s say Hillary Clinton really does care for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free in places like Dubuque, Albuquerque, and Harlem (or wherever she happens to be at any given moment). Her impulse might be quite genuine.
But her behavior is something quite different. Mrs. Clinton is now attempting yet another heroic self-reinvention, this time as the champion of Middle America, while collecting massive funding from the corporatists and Wall Street barons she is castigating with great abandon.
Among others, the denizens of lower Manhattan’s financial district aren’t buying her new act. Writing in Politico, William D. Cohan last fall reported that Mrs. Clinton’s “support on Wall Street” is “rock-solid”: “‘I think people are very excited about Hillary,’ says one Wall Street investment professional with close ties to Washington. ‘Most people in New York on the finance side view her as being very pragmatic. I think they have confidence that she understands how things work and that she’s not a populist.’”
This cynicism is not unwarranted; as Maggie Haberman discussed last month in The New York Times, at the end of April Mrs. Clinton held two fundraisers at the homes of hedge-fund managers. Journalists Gabriel Debenedetti, Kenneth P. Vogel and Ben White capture the apt dismissiveness from those she is attacking:
Hillary Clinton sounded like a woman on a mission after her long drive into the heartland: ‘There’s something wrong,’ she told Iowans on Tuesday, when ‘hedge fund managers pay lower taxes than nurses or the truckers I saw on I-80 when I was driving here over the last two days.’ But back in Manhattan, the hedge fund managers who’ve long been part of her political and fundraising networks aren’t sweating the putdown and aren’t worrying about their take-home pay just yet. It’s ‘just politics,’ said one major Democratic donor on Wall Street …
The Clinton Foundation and the Secretary of State
Much has been written about the possibly synthetic relationship between the Clinton Foundation and Mrs. Clinton’s role as Secretary of State. Jonathan Allen, formerly of Politico and Reuters, wrote last month in Vox: “The size and scope of the symbiotic relationship between the Clintons and their donors is striking. At least 181 companies, individuals, and foreign governments that have given to the Clinton Foundation also lobbied the State Department when Hillary Clinton ran the place, according to a Vox analysis of foundation records and federal lobbying disclosures.”
Clinton, Inc. seems governed by a couple of basic rules: Seamlessness between public, private, government, and personal relationships and obligations, for one, and no accountability or concern for integrity regarding such relationships and obligations, for another.
What’s the whole financial picture, then? Here’s a good summary paragraph of the former president’s dire financial straits from that hub of the vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, CNN:
According to a CNN analysis of 12 years of federal financial records, former President Bill Clinton had his most active and profitable year on the lecture circuit in 2012, delivering 73 speeches for $17 million from mid-January 2012 through mid-January 2013. That brought his total haul in speaking fees since leaving the White House to $106 million. His previous record for annual speech income was $13.4 million in 2011.
Mrs. Clinton has claimed that when her family left the White House in 2001 they were “dead broke.” But they had friends, like now-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who “put up $1.35 million in cash to secure a mortgage for the Clintons. Otherwise, swamped by more than $5 million in legal debts, the Clintons might have had difficulty obtaining the loan for the five-bedroom, century-old house.”
Sure. Former presidents have such a hard time making an income. They are so unmarketable, incapable of getting big advances for their memoirs, serving on corporate boards, or earning money for speeches. Just what do they do?
A Culture of Willful False Belief?
Satire only goes so far, at least for me. But for the Clintons, self-pity, a sense of entitlement, lies told with conviction and ease, and unabashed hypocrisy roll forth like a seamless carpet of endless length, flowing ever onward from a core of moral hardness that deflects public accountability and scoffs at shame.
As Dan Henninger writes in the Wall Street Journal, “Staring at identical Rorschach blots of the Clintons’ now-famous foundation, their 24-karat speeches, the missing emails and nonstop nonanswers about all of it, Republicans and Democrats come to separate conclusions. Republicans keep asking: Will she get away with it? Democrats alter one word in this question: Will she get by with it?”
Henninger thinks the Internet has changed the calculus from the Clintons’ first go-round with the presidency, that the Right won’t attack so much as the constant flow of obtainable and unsavory information about the Clintons will corrode their credibility.
The Internet has changed things. But have the American people changed? Have we become so inured to sordidness by the flood of raw sexuality pouring forth through the electronic “entertainment” media (online, on network TV, on cable, etc.) that our numbness to vulgarity is too acute for moral outrage? And are we too busy with the ordinary events of our overloaded, hectic, sometimes barely functional lives that our attention to such things as a politicians’ integrity is nil?
Or are we so quickly animated by the ephemeral images of politicians whose capacity for spontaneous candor is buried deep within their decades-long public performances and internal deal-making with those they inwardly disdain that we are willing to believe what we want in acts not only of faith but feeling? Is the sugar-high of “Yes, we can!” so appealing that virtues like honesty and consistency no longer mean anything to our political life?
I don’t know. But there is a deep pathology in the Clintons that people of basic decency and essential normality should find unnerving. The idea that this restless, relentless, grasping duo would again live in the White House is beneath the dignity of this republic.
At least it should be.