Hillary Clinton Tries to Pivot After Tripping on Wealth Comments

Tuesday, 24 Jun 2014 06:52 AM

 

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Hillary Clinton will test today whether she can still drive home a populist message, even after handing critics in both parties an argument that she’s lost touch with the public.

She’ll speak in Denver at a Clinton Global Initiative forum on “economic justice,” just as she tries to rebound from a round of comments in which she suggested that she and former President Bill Clinton aren’t really rich.

Her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, who is married to a hedge- fund manager, reinforced the theme by telling a magazine that she’s incapable of caring about money. And Vice President Joe Biden, who may run against Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, amplified Republican jibes yesterday with an implicit contrast to Clinton by saying he doesn’t “own a single stock or bond.”

Urgent: Should Hillary Run in 2016? Vote Now

Hillary Clinton’s ability -- or inability -- to pivot from her valuation to her political values will tell allies and adversaries a lot about whether she would be more dexterous and disciplined in a second presidential bid.

She will be judged on the strength of her platform, not the weight of her pocketbook, said veteran Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who helped Bill Clinton win the presidency in 1992.

“We Democrats have a great tradition of electing privileged leaders who fight for policies that help working people,” Begala said, nodding to former Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, both of whom came from families known for their wealth. “The only political danger in being well-off is if voters think you are not on their side.”

Promotional Tour

Clinton’s been on a promotional tour for her memoir since before its June 10 release, and she has been prone to making remarks that even some allies qualify as unforced errors. In one case, she fought with National Public Radio host Terry Gross over the timing of her support for gay marriage.

She has been tripped up most often on questions about her finances -- and even when no question has been asked.

Clinton said in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer that she and Bill Clinton were “dead broke” when they left the White House in January 2001. She told Britan’s Guardian newspaper that the couple isn’t “truly well off.” Chelsea Clinton cemented the storyline with remarks to Fast Company magazine.

“I was curious if I could care about (money) on some fundamental level, and I couldn’t,” Chelsea said in the May edition of the magazine.

The Telegraph in London yesterday republished Chelsea’s comments.

Republican Attacks

Republicans, who watched presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney suffer for their own perceived elitism in 2008 and 2012, have pounced on Hillary Clinton’s remarks to depict her as equally out of touch and tone deaf.

“No one around Clinton apparently has the nerve to tell her that she is sounding more like Marie Antoinette than a future Democratic nominee,” Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote on the paper’s website yesterday.

One former Clinton adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss her strengths and weaknesses, said the former secretary is particularly given to becoming defensive in interviews because she doesn’t like the news media.

One irony of the elitism meme for Hillary Clinton’s allies is that her philanthropic work matches wealthy donors to projects that benefit the underprivileged. Another is that they’ve seen her drink beer, dance and eat regional delicacies with local residents around the world.

Clinton Caricature

That shows that she’s not anything like the caricature of an American diplomat who seldom ventures outside U.S. embassies, said a former adviser who also asked for anonymity to discuss the matter.

The Clintons have spent much of the past year raising more than $200 million for an endowment that should keep their family foundation, the parent of CGI, financially viable even if she becomes president and they are no longer able to collect money without creating conflict-of-interest issues.

“Aren’t you supposed to turn around and give back to others?” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who will speak at the same forum today, said of CGI’s elite donor set.

Clinton’s discussion of her own wealth provided a rare opportunity for Biden to throw a rhetorical elbow. He’s had to watch Democrats, including some of President Barack Obama’s former advisers, swarm to Clinton’s side.

He hasn’t been able to echo Republican criticism of Clinton because most of it has been directed at what she did while she served in the administration with Biden.

No Savings

Biden, who has always sold himself as an up-from-the- bootstraps, blue-collar Democrat, found opportunity in Clinton trying to wear his political clothes.

“I don’t own a single stock or bond,” he said at White House “Working Families Summit” yesterday. “I have no savings account.”

Biden, who has often told the story of wearing nuts and bolts as cuff links in his childhood, described a government pension as his main source of financial security.

Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committeeman from New York and longtime Clinton supporter, said the current fascination with the former first lady’s money won’t captivate voters if she runs for president.

“Whether a candidate is in the one percent or not is not the issue,” he said. “The issue is whether the candidate focuses on building the one percent or on building the middle class.”

Her ability to articulate that will be tested today in Denver.

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