The Post headline reads: “Some Democrats fear Clinton’s wealth and ‘imperial image’ could be damaging in 2016.” That raises the question of whether the other ones are out to lunch or simply afraid to voice their views. Her latest gaffe (she claims not to be “truly well off”) should tell her fellow Democrats they have a problem, especially in a populist-charged era when wealth, insider status and being out of touch are politically toxic. (“Multiple Obama campaign advisers — who spoke only on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating the Clintons — said they fear Clinton’s financial status could hurt her as it did Republican nominee Mitt Romney, whom Obama portrayed in 2012 as an out-of-touch plutocrat at a time of economic uncertainty.”)
The tone-deafness suggests a few things aside from Clinton’s bizarre sense of financial vulnerability. (No wonder she keeps racing after $200,000 speeches.) Here are 10:
1. No one around Clinton apparently has the nerve to tell her she is sounding more like Marie Antoinette than a future Democratic nominee. She has a very large entourage and circle of advisers, but a shortage of candor in Hillaryland.
2. She and her aides may be under the delusion that her past insulates her from criticism. (“Clinton’s allies, however, strongly dispute suggestions that she is disconnected from the concerns and values of middle-class Americans. They note she grew up in a middle-class suburb of Chicago and said she has committed her adult life to lifting up the downtrodden — from her early work at the Children’s Defense Fund to initiatives at her family’s charitable foundation.”) In fact, she’s been around so long a whole lot of voters don’t think she was ever anything but fabulously wealthy.
3. Democrats do get a pass on wealth (e.g. FDR, JFK) in many instances, but they can’t cry poverty. In the modern era all candidates need to connect with voters in some personal way — an immigrant story, a rags-to-riches life, overcoming disease or disability, etc. Hillary, who’s never been the “I feel your pain” half of the couple, already has an issue with remoteness and stiffness. Her own comments make her elitism even worse.
4. Her claim to have been a gender victim, already implausible, just became silly. A multimillionaire claiming poverty and discrimination? Puleez.
5. Republicans instead of simply mocking her (although tempting) need to set up a contrast for 2016 both in terms of the messenger and the message, although the two are related. (Raising taxes on small business or blocking school choice, for example, show how removed Clinton is from the lives of middle-class Americans.)
6. A GOP focus on a staunch libertarian message — anti-government, unconcerned with upward mobility, fixated on supposed tyranny — would only allow Clinton to reclaim the role as champion of the little guy. Republicans have to offer a compelling agenda that centers on those who aren’t well off.
7. The Democrats have really not thought through the possibility that their already anointed candidate is seriously hobbled by her own attitude and experience. They have such a long drop to the next potential tier of candidates (Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley? Really?), they may have to rethink the effort to “clear the filed.” One of those contenders might in fact turn out to be a more compelling figure. Right now the pickings are slim.
8. Celebrity candidates have a special problem when they become personally unappealing. Since Clinton hasn’t shown off any innovative ideas or policy solutions right now, she is riding on her persona. She better have a back-up plan.
9. This is an opening for the right to point out that while advocates of the liberal welfare state think they are helping the poor, they refuse to recognize their policies don’t work (e.g. more poverty than before the War on Poverty). Forcing liberals to address results and not simply be judged on good intentions is critical to a reform conservative agenda.
10. It is possible she won’t run, you know. We have assumed and she and her fleet of advisers may have thought she certainly was running, but now that she and Democrats have gotten a taste of what a Clinton candidacy may look like, maybe she will opt for the Al Gore approach — be “bigger” than the presidency and continue as a star in the left-wing universe. If so, Republicans better rethink how they are going to deal with someone who doesn’t have the Obama-Clinton baggage.