That Time The Clintons Ran Out Of Money, Ctd

Following her tone-deaf claim that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House, Alec MacGillis posits that Clinton’s wealth will be an issue if and when she runs for president:

Even before Clinton’s clumsy answer to Sawyer, it wasn’t hard to predict that the Clintons’ relentless quest for great wealth in the years since they left the White House was going to loom as one of the main areas of scrutiny should Hillary make a second bid for president. Bill Clinton’s pursuit of riches, and the company he was keeping in that endeavor, was an issue when she ran in 2008, and in the years since, Hillary herself has joined the chase, giving $200,000-and-up speeches to Goldman Sachs (twice) as well as humbler venues such as the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (really.) The couple’s net worth is now estimated to be as high as $50 million and they spent last summer living in a $200,000 per month mansion on the Hamptons [seen in the above tweet, which has the incorrect year].

Americans are famously slow to begrudge successful people their good fortune. Still, the country is getting more sensitive to the winner-take-all trends benefiting the top one percent (and top-tenth of the top one percent that the Clintons qualify for), and it will be very interesting to see how candidate Hillary Clinton reconciles her family’s fabulous wealth with her and her husband’s explicit attempt to fit their rhetoric (and the mixed economic legacy of the Clinton administration) into a more populist frame.

In fact, Yglesias remarks, the amount of debt the Clintons accrued in the late ’90s was not at all a sign of penury. Quite the contrary:

You need to be really rich to go that deeply into debt.

Nobody would lend a normal person $10 million or anything remotely in that vicinity. A similar problem arises when you try to compile a list of the poorest members of congress. Instead of having the lifestyles of actual poor people — or even actual middle class people — the members of congress with the lowest net worths are guys like David Valadao with negative $4.10 million to his name (a result of his families’ business interests in dairy farming) or Alcee Hastings who’s $2.23 million in debt (related to legal fees).

The story with the Clintons is that they left office millions of dollars in hock to various law firms. But this wasn’t some random financial misfortune that could have happened to anyone. If you found yourself in legal hot water, you wouldn’t possibly be able to hire the Clinton’s lawyers. No firm would let you run a multi-million dollar tab. The reason the Clintons were able to get away with it is that it was always obvious that Bill had enormous post-presidential earnings potential.

Despite her “dead broke” gaffe, Michael Hirsh sees inequality as Clinton’s best option for a campaign theme:

[N]owhere is Hillary less defined as a candidate than on economic policy. There is good cause for that lacuna: Upon being named President Obama’s secretary of state in late 2008, Clinton quite properly kept herself out of domestic-policy issues. She had a free pass from the biggest economic debates of the era, whether on the bank bailouts, the president’s nearly $800 billion stimulus package, the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law, Obamacare or the sluggish housing recovery. And yet it is on economic policy—not on foreign policy, on Benghazi, her broader record as secretary of state or even her now-ancient votes as the senator from New York—that she is most likely to build her case for the Oval Office in an era of a chronically wayward recovery and runaway inequality.

To make that case, according to some people familiar with Clinton’s thinking, she is likely to argue that she was often well ahead on those issues the last time she ran for president in 2007—that in fact she was often to the left of the more centrist Obama, who as president has regularly upset his own liberal base for what is perceived as a moderate, Wall Street-friendly response to the financial crisis.

“She was talking about inequality before inequality was in vogue,” says Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and a longtime close aide and adviser to Clinton.

Meanwhile, John Dickerson suggests that Clinton ought to worry more about being dishonest than out of touch:

The danger for Clinton is that the “dead broke” comment will not be seen as a tone-deaf slip-up about personal wealth but as an effort to create a false story when confronted with the uncomfortable fact that she and her husband have made a lot of money fast. (That Clinton resorted to such a clumsy dodge gives you some sense of how uncomfortable she is with the topic.) The misstatement will be irresistible for her opponents who want to lampoon Clinton and press on the trust issue, which is the one that hits voters in the gut.