Bill Clinton is the best politician of his generation and one of the all-time greats. No serious person can dispute that fact.
And yet, in an interview with NBC News over the weekend, Bill showed, yet again, the blind spot that he and, to a lesser extent, his wife, have when it comes to their relationships with donors and how they talk about their own personal finances.
Two Clinton quotes really stood out to me.
1. "People should draw their own conclusions. I'm not in politics. All I'm saying is the idea that there's one set of rules for us and another set for everybody else is true."
Um, okay. First of all, the "I'm not in politics" line is absolutely amazing. The world has rarely created someone as political (and as good at being political) as Bill Clinton. He will always be "in politics"; it's, literally, who he is.
The second sentence is more eye-opening. This is Bill Clinton in self-pitying mode; people treat us so unfairly and we do so much good and so on and so forth. Feeling bad for yourself is never an attractive look for a politician but especially in this case. At issue is a family that includes the former president of the United States and the heavy favorite to be the next Democratic presidential nominee. By dint of those titles, the Clintons operate in a different space than normal people and even normal politicians. Do they get more scrutiny than some? Sure. Do they get lots of benefits from their status? Absolutely yes.
The truth is that the Clinton Foundation, the nonprofit group that Bill, Hillary and Chelsea head, has been the main vehicle for Hillary and Bill Clinton's activities since she left as secretary of state following the 2012 election. Given that, it makes perfect sense that the Clinton Foundation would be subject to questions — even if it hadn't admitted to not adhering to its own established donation practices a few weeks ago.
Stories like this one by WaPo's Roz Helderman, which details the relationship between the Clintons and a single donor who has given upwards of $100 million to the foundation, are totally fair game — and should be.
Bill Clinton, for some reason, doesn't get that.
2. "I gotta pay our bills."
This quote comes in response to question by NBC's Cynthia McFadden about the large speaking fees ($500,000 and above) that Clinton charged organizations during the time Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.
It brings back memories of Hillary Clinton's claim that the family was "dead broke" when they left the White House in 2000. (She later said she regretted using those words to discuss the couple's financial situation.)
Here's the thing: I am sure the Clintons have big bills, as any couple would who live a lifestyle anything like theirs. But no one wants to hear about the big bills of a couple likely worth hundreds of millions of dollars. (Bill Clinton made $105 million from paid speaking gigs alone between 2001 and 2013.) It just doesn't sit well. And it makes any attempt to portray Hillary as a "regular person" that much harder.
There's no question that Bill Clinton can be an asset to his wife's campaign. But as we saw in 2008, he can also be a problem — if he comes across as angry, self-pitying and out-of-touch. This NBC interview tilts in the latter direction more than anyone in Clintonworld would like to see.