Hillary Clinton Needs A New Message, Stat!
Hillary Clinton has been talking about her wealth—or relative lack thereof—a lot lately, and her responses have done more to raise eyebrows and encourage additional follow up questions than to satisfy the questions and put a close to the issue.
The topic came up during an interview with Diane Sawyer earlier this month, and Secretary Clinton fumbled the answer:
DIANE SAWYER: “It has been reported you’ve made $5 million making speeches, the president’s made more than $100 million.”
HILLARY CLINTON: “Well, if you — you have no reason to remember, but we came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea’s education, you know, it was not easy. Bill has worked really hard and it’s been amazing to me. He’s worked very hard, first of all, we had to pay off all our debts which was, you know, we had to make double the money because of obviously taxes, and pay you have at debts, and get us houses and take care of family members.”
Mrs. Clinton may be right on the facts—but no one is likely to relate the struggle of the average American family to a former U.S. president and first lady exiting the White House with enormous future earning potential.
And did she say houses, plural? That tone-deaf answer is stupefying given that John McCain famously committed the same gaffe (he couldn’t remember how many homes he owned) and that Mitt Romney infamously said his wife drives two Cadillacs.
Mrs. Clinton doubled down in an interview with The Guardian this week:
“With her huge personal wealth, how could Clinton possibly hope to be credible on this issue [income inequality] when people see her as part of the problem, not its solution?
“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.”
Is she saying that with their millions of dollars, the Clintons aren’t truly well off? That’s a subjective claim. If she’s comparing her family to Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, she has a point. But I’d guess most Americans are comparing her to themselves, not to the Buffetts of the world.
(In fairness, that quote could also be read another way: that she’s saying she is well off, but unlike others in her economic class, her family pays income tax. If that was her intent, the ambiguity of her statement is her responsibility.)
What should Mrs. Clinton say?
She should stop the phony pose of pretending she’s just like the average American. She’s not, and I can’t imagine many potential voters expect her to be. Instead, she should simply say: “My husband and I have done very well financially since Bill left the White House. But I understand firsthand the challenges that families face, and I support policies that will make it easier for them to succeed in this economy.” That’s it.
She should also look at the tape of her husband’s 1992 town hall presidential debate, during which a woman asked: “How has the national debt personally affected each of your lives? And if it hasn’t, how can you honestly find a cure for the economic problems of the common people if you have no experience in what’s ailing them?”
Mr. Clinton didn’t discuss his own financial situation—even though it was presumably much less impressive at the time. Instead, he discussed his personal experience with people who were hurting and described how his policies would help them.
I wouldn’t be opposed to Mrs. Clinton describing her modest upbringing. But describing their obvious wealth as anything less is a bad strategy destined to backfire.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.