Hillary Clinton is usually the epitome of calculation – in fact, her over-rehearsed nature probably hurt her when she was running for president. But what’s interesting is that now that she’s on tour supporting her new book, Hard Choices, she seems to be suffering from the same chronic inability to talk about her privilege that Mitt Romney suffered from when he was running for president.
So what’s happened? I’ve got a couple theories. My first theory is that Clinton isn’t running for president like everyone thinks she is, so she feels unhampered by things like “public opinion” or “sounding good” – so when she insists that she’s not wealthy or when she characterized her family situation post-White House as “dead broke” at one point, she did so because she’s not surrounded by those nervous image groomers who would normally slap her on the wrist and warn her that she’s starting to sound like a post-millennial Marie Antoinette.
My second theory is that if she is considering a second presidential run (something I hope she doesn’t do), then it might be that she’s just incapable of setting aside her wealth privilege in much the same way that Romney couldn’t. It’s difficult for people floating around in an iron bubble, to understand that folks outside of privilege don’t live the lives of comfort that these folks do – so when Clinton saw herself as “dead broke” she may have been sincere, even though she was speaking of a time when she was just elected to the senate and her husband was about to embark on a highly-lucrative speaking career.
Regardless of political persuasion, it’s clear that something happens when people ascend to power – their perspective becomes highly skewed. Clinton isn’t from a moneyed family, nor did she grow up with all sorts of la-di-da privileges, so it’s especially galling, that she indulged in some “woe is I” rhetoric.
Instead, she should embrace the fact that she’s wealthy – don’t lord it over us or rub our noses in it, but don’t pretend that you’re somehow not in an exalted position – acknowledge it and move on from there. Be honest, and let us know how regressive tax laws allow for multi-millionaires and multi-billionaires to hold on to their moola, while middle class folks find large chunks of their income scraped away. Clinton was never about populist-pandering – she never ran as an underdog, because it wouldn’t have worked – instead, she ran as the Tracey Flick-like candidate, always raising her hand with the right answer (with the exception of Iraq). Her supporters didn’t like her because she had some rags-to-riches story like President Obama or her husband, Bill Clinton. People liked Hillary Clinton because she was smart and tough and didn’t apologize for being ambitious, even if she came off unlikable (which also was a reason why people hated her). So because her privilege was never an issue with her supporters, there’s no reason for her to try to mitigate it.
Because it looks like she’s testing out the waters for a presidential run, the right has returned to its crazed “I Hate Hillary” song – and some of what it tried to lob at her was laughably pathetic: she has been depicted as a feeble-brained old lady with one foot in the home; and she has also been slammed in a cooked up faux gender war bit of nonsense when she, as a public defender, did her job well and got a rapist off on a reduced charge. Neither of these tactics, nor does the right’s continuing flogging of the dead horse that is Benghazi have worked. But if Clinton continues to claim ersatz poverty – which comes off about as sincere as when Nancy Reagan performed “Second Hand Rose” in thrift drag – she’ll give the right exactly the kind of ammunition it needs to torpedo her plans.