Opinion writer
CNN host Anderson Cooper asked Hillary Clinton about her compensation for three speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs after being secretary of state during CNN's Democratic forum in Derry, N.H., on Feb. 3. (CNN)

It is the nature of our political environment that the best performance of one’s career can be ignored — and ruined — because of a single remark. Hillary Clinton was sailing along in the Democratic town hall hosted by CNN Wednesday night, sounding thoughtful and at ease when — bam! — the viral disaster ensued:

ANDERSON COOPER: One of the things that Sen. [Bernie] Sanders points to and a lot of your critics point to is you made three speeches for Goldman Sachs. You were paid $675,000 for three speeches. Was that a mistake? I mean was that a bad error in judgment?

CLINTON: Look. I made speeches to lots of groups. I told them what I thought. I answered questions.

COOPER: But did you have to be paid $675,000?

CLINTON: Well, I don’t know. That’s what they offered.

And if her feigned obliviousness to the access-buying game were not infuriating enough, she let out yet another whopper:

CLINTON : You know every secretary of State that I know has done [paid speeches].

COOPER: But (inaudible) for office they’re not running for an office…

CLINTON: Well, I didn’t know…

COOPER: … have known.

CLINTON: To be honest I wasn’t — I wasn’t committed to running. I didn’t know whether I would or not.

COOPER: You didn’t think you were going to run for president again?

CLINTON: I didn’t. You know when I was secretary of State several times I said you know I think I’m done. And you know, so many people came to me, started talking to me.

Really? Even while secretary of state, as we know from her emails, her political antennae were on high alert. And certainly those who paid her exorbitant sums and donated to her foundation believed that she would run for president. That is what drove up her price.

The good Hillary Clinton — knowledgeable, occasionally thoughtful (as when expounding on the centrality of gratitude in her life) — is inseparable from the bad Hillary Clinton — often dull and entirely incapable of hiding her greed. When she is hitting her stride, one can imagine how impressive she might be in a general election, but then fairly or not, she can be so unforgettably awful that her strengths are ignored.

It is not surprising that Republicans pounced as soon as the words “That’s what they offered” escaped her lips. “With her incredibly tone deaf answer on her exorbitant speaking fees, Hillary ‘Dead Broke’ Clinton gave New Hampshire voters a good reason not to support her next Tuesday,” Jeff Bechdel of America Rising said in a prepared statement. “The Clintons have lived at the nexus of money and politics for the last quarter century, and it’s one of the main reasons she is struggling so mightily in the areas of trust, ethics, and honesty.”

Clinton likes to fancy herself as an innocent (Oh, gosh, they just wanted to pay me a lot because what I say is so interesting) or a victim. She insisted that the vast right-wing conspiracy is still going strong: “Yes. It has gotten even better funded. You know, they brought in some new multi-billionaires to pump the money in. And, look, these guys play for keeps. They want to control our country. . . . They salve their consciences by giving big money to philanthropy, and, you know, getting great pictures of them standing in front of whatever charity they donated to.” Well, that’s an apt description of her Wall Street backers as well.

Clinton sees herself as the put-upon do-gooder. She is entitled to bend or disregard the rules because her motives are so pure, you see. We cannot question her motives or her shortcuts since she is, in her own mind, above reproach. Those motives always entail her acquisition of great power and wealth. Coincidence? Hardly.