Hillary Clinton has a Hillary Clinton problem.
The former secretary of state and presumed 2016 Democratic front-runner has consistently tripped herself up in the last couple weeks, showing that she may be her own worst enemy as she stumbles through a shockingly clumsy media blitz around the release of her memoir, Hard Choices.
Clinton's troubles began right out of the gate. ABC's Diane Sawyer landed the book tour's debut interview. When asked why she would give up a lucrative speaking career to run for president, the former senator claimed that the Clintons left the White House "dead broke." "We struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea's education," Clinton told Sawyer.
One of those mortgages, critics pointed out immediately, resulted from Clinton's decision to run for the U.S. Senate in New York, as she bought a house to establish residency. Her job in the Senate paid her $172,000 a year, which, combined with former President Bill Clinton's pension, totaled almost as much as his presidential salary. But that was a mere pittance compared to other incomes earned by the former First Couple. A Washington Post analysis of the Clintons' financial disclosures showed their net worth in 2001 ranged between $4.7 million and $24.7 million, with Bill Clinton getting $13 million for his speaking tour alone in The Year of Struggle.
Now, there's nothing wrong with being wealthy. Far from it. But there is something very wrong with being wealthy while swearing you're not wealthy, and trying to lead a political party that has for years attacked its opponents for their own wealth.
Despite the avalanche of media criticism, which declared her "tone-deaf" in interviews about her wealth, Hillary Clinton continued to claim economic hardship in the days ahead. Yes, she briefly walked back the hardship claim the next day on ABC's Good Morning America, but was back at it again this weekend, continuing her argument that she's just another working stiff. The Guardian asked her to explain how she could possibly carry the banner of income inequality for Democrats when her family has made more than $100 million since leaving the White House, mainly for book bonuses and large speaking fees:
"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. [The Guardian]
"The dint of hard work," as Clinton describes it, consisted of record-breaking bonuses for three (probably ghostwritten) memoirs (two for her, one for Bill), plus massive fees for delivering speeches written in large part by aides. Despite her observation that she pays taxes just like the next guy, the profits from this hard work went into tax shelters that the Clintons claim to oppose as the refuge of One Percenters. Bloomberg reported that the Clintons managed to ease their struggles by exploiting the same estate-tax loopholes they oppose as a form of "evading taxes," as do Democrats in general in their income-inequality crusade.
Not too many of the hoi polloi will identify with that kind of "struggle" faced by the Clintons, and that's precisely the problem for Democrats this year, as well as in 2016. Ever since Mitt Romney began his run for the presidency, President Obama and the Democrats made him a personal target for their income-inequality political messaging campaign. They painted him as a clueless One Percenter who couldn't possibly relate to middle-class voters. They spent the summer of 2012 attacking the business he built, even though it created middle-class jobs and invested in private-sector success stories like Staples.
With ObamaCare a disaster, the economy still stagnant, and Obama's foreign policy collapsing, Democrats running in red states this year need to maintain the demagogic income-inequality theme. They have little else to cling to. Suddenly, though, the party's presumed front-runner for 2016 has turned into a comic figure, someone akin to what Democrats imagined Romney to be. She laments the struggle of earning eight figures in a single year after leaving the White House and entering the Senate, while giving Sawyer a guided tour of her $5 million home in Washington, D.C. It doesn't get much more tone-deaf than this.
Hillary Clinton is a living example of the hypocrisy of Democratic rhetoric and the attacks on Romney's character, at a moment in time when Democrats can least afford it. Chris Cillizza notes that Clinton is handing Republicans the issue "on a silver, ahem, platter." Ouch.