Hillary Clinton isn’t having a particularly good month, but it doesn’t matter because President Obama is having an even worse one.
The Hillary Clinton book (transition to candidate) tour is providing some extra hours for the Republican National Committee Death Star as it pours on more coal to get the opposition furnaces burning at full capacity. Nothing stokes the Republican fires like a Clinton. It gives the party temporary unity before, once again, it turns on itself when its presidential primary begins in earnest on election night 2014. The main controversy has been Clinton’s remarks about her wealth: First, she talked about being “broke” when she left the White House. Later, she distinguished her wealth from that of others because she and her husband pay income taxes, as opposed, presumably, to lower taxes on capital available. Clinton sought to contrast herself with others who make their money on money, instead of on labor (if giving a speech and getting $200,000 can be called “labor”). These statements have been “parsed” repeatedly; the political media complex loves to parse the Clintons. Count me among those who think her flailing on the matter of her income and wealth has been mildly harmful to her potential candidacy. It isn’t just the familiar pattern of statement followed by clarification; rather, Clinton’s testiness is her standard response when anyone challenges her about her finances. Starting with her infamous cattle futures trades, through Whitewater and to her book and speaking contracts, she has had to answer questions about her income and business dealings. Speculating, I would suggest these questions bug her because of the the thinly veiled assumption in them that she is somehow shady or a hypocrite. Clinton has a very thick skin, but that’s one way to get under it because it goes to the heart of how she sees herself. In her eyes, she could have spent the past 40 years making not just a few million dollars, but hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. Instead, she chose a career in public service, and not only saw her earning power cut dramatically but also has had to endure constant questioning of her true motivations, which, in her eyes, are pretty pure compared with some of the people asking the question. She doesn’t need me to tell her, of course, that this is a completely counterproductive line of reasoning and needs to be reserved for private dialogues with a mirror or mute friend, like a dog.
So, as I said, not a great month for Clinton. But an even worse one for President Obama (his job performance numbers continue to decline) has not only masked the former secretary of state’s troubles but also continued to supply what is her most useful foil. Clinton is perceived to have what Obama lacks: strength and an ability to get things done. The more the current president looks hapless in the face of foreign and domestic challenges, the more the American people yearn for a leader whom they perceive as having competence and fortitude. In 2008, Clinton’s timing was awful; in 2016, it might just be perfect.