One of the fun things about observing politics is that you get to see, on an almost daily basis, fallen human nature trying to wrap itself in glory. Politics is a land of vice, not virtue, no matter how many speeches you hear about the nobility of public service. Ambition, pride, envy, malice, betrayal, these are the vices that drive the political animal. (Evidently, lust is a requirement, too, if you seek the governorship of New York.) But one of the most delicious sins is that of taking delight in the misery of others, or schadenfreude.
It appears, however, we are about to get schadenfreude in reverse. Normally, it is good news when someone comes into a fortune. It expands their range of choices. It permits them to dabble in philanthropy. New wealth may tend to be a little tacky in some of its aesthetic sensibilities, but who amongst us has not bought a lottery ticket and wondered, “What if…”
Bill and Hillary Clinton have made a fortune in the past seven years, mostly from his investments and speaking fees, somewhere in excess of $50 million. (The details will show that he, unlike his wife, did not make it all in pork futures.) Bill is no investment strategist, nor has he ever demonstrated a particularly original cast of mind, so it is unclear to me why anyone would pay him gobs of money to sit on their Boards or to stand at their lecterns, but they do. They want the aura that attaches uniquely to one who was once the most powerful man on earth. The super-rich may like to be able to say, “Oh, I had the President over to the club the other day.” And, some people may genuinely enjoy his company: Bill is notoriously a first-rate Hearts’ player and conversationalist.
So, congrats to them both. Except, of course, Hillary’s campaign is built upon her appeal to lower and lower-middle workers who are struggling to keep their homes. They play the Lotto when the grand prize is less than the $50 million Bill and Hill have reportedly made. Suddenly, Hillary is not only the fighter for social justice, the person whose personal struggles have provided her with the emotional empathy to connect with those who have lost their health insurance or can’t afford their meds. She is the woman worth $50 million. She is not, alas, one of us.
In America, we do not begrudge the rich their riches. But, insofar as Bill Clinton’s only rationale for such an enormous earnings potential is that he held an office to which the rest of us elected him, it will be curious to see just how generous he was with his gains. There is, in the end, something unseemly about trading on the presidency to make a fortune. But, unseemly has never been enough to train the Clintons’ moral compass. Remember when the Lincoln Bedroom was let out to the highest bidder?
As soon as the full tax returns are released, armies of accountants hired by the news agencies will be pouring over the documents. <a href="http://caymannetnews.com/news-6270--1-1--.html">That investment fund</a> in the Cayman Islands is sure to garner attention. (I think you need to be a millionaire to even know where the Cayman Islands are!) They may find something nefarious, they may not. It doesn’t really matter. The scandal is what is perfectly legal: the demeaning of the presidency.
Michael Sean Winters