The Times And The Transcripts

The New York Times has published an editorial calling upon Hillary Clinton to release the transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs.  It’s a good editorial and I’m glad they’ve done it, because maybe now she will finally do the right thing and release them.

This is a simple matter of transparency, which is one of those words that politicians like Hillary Clinton like to throw around, but don’t really mean.  When large Wall Street financial institutions are a political issue — and they are — and one of the leading presidential candidates has given three speeches to one of those institutions for a grand total of $675,000, transparency demands that that candidate release the transcripts of what they said.  It’s not a tough question, and the answer should be obvious.

27CclintonBHillary Clinton’s response is that we should trust her when she says she’ll be tough on Wall Street, and that she’ll release her transcripts if every other candidate, Republican and Democrat, releases the transcripts of every speech they’ve ever given for money.  That’s not exactly a leadership position, is it?   And Clinton apparently doesn’t recognize that one way you build trust is through transparency.  If Clinton released the transcripts and they showed nothing but her observations about international affairs, it wouldn’t undercut her attempt to convince voters that she will be a vigorous fighter against Wall Street excesses.  Of course, the apparent problem is that she said something more to the Goldman Sachs people — and that something more is what voters should be entitled to see.

Hillary Clinton seems to think that she is getting unfairly singled out.  I’m not aware of any other candidate who received so much money for so few speeches, or who, with their spouse, has amassed millions of dollars in personal wealth largely from giving speeches.  It raises questions that are unique to Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton.  The fact that Hillary Clinton isn’t willing to answer those questions tells us something about her secretiveness and her character, and it’s not positive.

 

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Bush Fatigue, Clinton Fatigue

They say you can get “chicken fatigue.”  It happens when you’ve eaten a lot of chicken, and suddenly you just can’t bear the thought of choking down another bite of it.

Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton must feel like the last drumstick right about now.

hillary-and-jeb-bushToday is a big day for Bush and Clinton.  For Bush, it’s the South Carolina primary; for Clinton, it’s the Nevada caucuses.  Both started out the 2016 race as apparent lock-cinch winners, dubbed by pundits and Beltway insiders as the presumptive nominees.  As designated front-runners, they raised huge sums of money and seemed to have every advantage.  But it hasn’t quite worked out.

Bush has been knocked down into the single digits, eclipsed by the bizarre Trump phenomenon, and just doesn’t seem able to take off.  If he does poorly in South Carolina, where he’s spent lots of money and brought in his brother and mother to campaign, he’s probably finished.  As for Clinton, she’s struggling to break through against a surprising challenge by Bernie Sanders.  Who would have thought that Hillary Clinton would be getting a run for her money from a septuagenarian socialist?

Why has this happened?  Obviously, part of it is that Bush and Clinton just aren’t great candidates.  Bush doesn’t seem to be able to identify a good, compelling reason why he should be President, and Clinton is weighted down by baggage, like the ongoing email investigation, and bad decisions, like the continuing inability to deal with being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak at Goldman Sachs, where one attendee said she gave “pretty glowing” remarks about that Wall Street firm.

I think part of the reason, too, is that a lot of Americans have come to realize that they are tired of the Bushes and the Clintons.  We feel like they’ve had their moments in the sun, and now it’s time for somebody else to have a turn at the wheel.  We groan inwardly when we see people like Bill Clinton giving another speech, or think of the possibility that the Bush crowd or the Clinton crowd could be back in the White House.  Enough already!

This has been a weird and astonishing presidential election so far, but the struggles of the Bush campaign and the Clinton campaign really shouldn’t be surprising.  It’s just a case of chicken fatigue writ large.

 

A Candidate Of Self-Inflicted Wounds

Voting has started today in the New Hampshire primary.  The polls and pundits are saying that Senator Bernie Sanders is likely to beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, further puncturing the air of inevitability that her campaign has sought to project.

Why is Hillary Clinton struggling?  She’s got tons of money, and tons of endorsements, and allies up and down the Democratic Party structure.  She can point to a record that includes service as a Senator and Secretary of State.  She’s the first woman to seriously contend for the presidency and has that historic element to her candidacy.  And she’s got an ex-President always ready to go out and campaign for her.

635615989866784419-ap-dem-2016-clintonSo, why isn’t she wiping the floor with Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-avowed socialist?

I think it’s because Hillary Clinton is the candidate of self-inflicted wounds.  A lot of politics is instinctive, and her instincts just aren’t there.  Time and again, she doesn’t effectively deal with questions or issues, and then rather than changing tack she digs in and just makes the issue more difficult for herself.

The latest example of this is the continuing runout of the Hillary Clinton Goldman Sachs speeches story.  At the most recent Democratic candidate debate, Clinton was asked if she would release the transcripts of those speeches.  Clinton said, guardedly, that she would “look into it.”  It’s a classic non-answer, a deferral in hopes that people will just forget about it.  But, of course, the media is like a dog with a bone — when a story has legs, as the Wall Street speeches story does, the press won’t let go.

So the media reports that transcripts of the speeches were required by contracts covering the speeches, at Clinton’s insistence, and that she owns the transcripts and controls the ability to release them.  Then, when the Clinton campaign doesn’t promptly announce its decision after “looking into” the issue, the press asks about it, which leads to stories speculating about why she wouldn’t release the transcripts — unless there’s something bad in them.  Days later, Clinton tries to stop the bleeding by saying she’ll release her transcripts if every other candidate who has given a speech for money agrees to release those transcripts.  It’s another non-answer and deferral technique, because nobody is seeking every transcript of every speech by every other candidate — they just want to know what Hillary Clinton said at Goldman Sachs.

It must be frustrating for Clinton’s supporters and campaign staff, to deal with the constant drip, drip, drip of stories about issues that won’t go away and that won’t allow Clinton to try to deliver her own, coherent campaign message.  Why won’t she just release the damn transcripts and be done with it?  If Hillary Clinton doesn’t beat Bernie Sanders, she should just look in the mirror for the culprit, because she is the candidate of self-inflicted wounds.

“That’s What They Offered”

This morning I asked a very close friend — a lifelong, dyed in the wool Democratic voter — if Hillary Clinton had said anything interesting in last night’s New Hampshire town hall event on CNN.  She grimaced and said that when Anderson Cooper had asked whether Clinton regretted being paid $675,000 to give speeches to Goldman Sachs during the time period between her service as Secretary of State and her decision to run for President, Clinton said no — and when Cooper followed up by asking whether she had to be paid that much money, Clinton said:  “Well, I don’t know . . . that’s what they offered.”

Ooof.

160203221242-nh-town-hall-bernie-clinton-split-large-169Look, I recognize that this is one of those issues that we’re not going to agree on.  Hillary Clinton supporters will say that this is just another effort by Hillary Haters to tar Clinton on an issue when everyone who has served in an important public office makes a lot of money giving speeches, and anyway Clinton couldn’t possibly be corrupted by making $675,000 for giving three speeches.  If you’re a Hillary supporter, you believe Clinton when she says precisely that, and can’t understand others who don’t take her word for it.  (I should note. though, that Clinton’s later statement that the financial folks aren’t giving her a lot of money since she officially declared for President has been vigorously challenged by some journalists.)

But consider, please, what a terrible message Clinton’s rationalization sends.  Basically, it’s saying that everyone who engages in “public service” cashes in and, in her case, gets paid more for making three speeches than many people make over a 20-year career and far more than most Americans have saved for their retirements.  You can say that it doesn’t change your position on the issues, or give the people who paid that $675,000 special access, or make you any more likely to agree with what they have to say if you ultimately make it to the Oval Office, but such statements are very difficult for the ordinary voter to accept.  To most of us, $675,000 is a hell of a lot of money.

And how can you possibly complain about the corrupting nature of campaign finance laws, where issues organizations that technically aren’t affiliated with your campaign can contribute toward commercials that provide support for your candidacy or attack your opponents, when you’ve taken $675,000 that is paid to you, personally, for giving three speeches?  Ask most people what is worse — a direct payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the ultimate candidate, or indirect support through advertisements — and I’d bet that the majority say the direct approach is far more troubling.

But more damning still is the phrasing that Hillary Clinton used in her answer:  “that’s what they offered.”  It makes you wonder whether Goldman Sachs could have paid any amount that would have given Clinton pause.  $1 million?  $2 million?  $5 million?  It sounds like Hillary Clinton is allowing Goldman Sachs to define her ethical boundaries — which, unfortunately, seems to suggest that she doesn’t have much in the way of ethical boundaries in the first place.

As I said, I’m sure that Hillary Clinton’s supporters will pooh-pooh her answer and the amount she was paid for giving the speeches as another trumped-up tempest in a teapot.  They will accuse critics of being hypocrites.  But I think the Wall Street speech issue, and Clinton’s response to it, neatly capsulizes a much more significant, disturbing issue about the crushing presence of money in politics.  It’s a big reason why Bernie Sanders is vastly outperforming inside-the-Beltway expectations.