Schadenfreude Reversed


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="">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

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
10 years 11 months ago
And the simple math, for the simple folk, is that the Clintons gave to charity at a rate of about 10% from 2000-2007. The Obama's donated almost 25%.
10 years 11 months ago
I am really tired of the meandering comments of Michael Sean Winters. He offers no significant insight or gleaning of information widespread in the public domain. His personal views are open to our our hearing and assimilation. But, I do ask whether this forum is the most apt venue for his verbal meandering. Mike


The latest from america

Mourners hug on March 18 after visiting the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, the site of a terrorist attack last Friday. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
First, reach out to your neighbors and local mosque to show concern and compassion. Then call out those in your life who dehumanize others.
Saadia AhmadMarch 19, 2019
This undated photograph shows a close-up of the table where executions are carried out by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison in California. (CNS photo/courtesy of California Department of Corrections)
Everything about the death penalty system seemed to be designed to deny hope. 
George WilliamsMarch 19, 2019
“We need a permanent legislative solution for those who have spent their lives contributing and living in the United States, the country they know as home,” Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Tex., and chairman of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Migration, said while endorsing the latest iteration of
J.D. Long-GarcíaMarch 19, 2019
Before long I had tears in my eyes—and not from the uneven grooves worn into the wood by pilgrims’ knees. Something about the physical discomfort helped me to focus on the much greater pain Jesus had felt on those same stairs.