Hillary Clinton makes a lot of money when she speaks. This is, somehow, offensive to the Republican Party.
Let that sink in for a moment. The Republican Party, which wants to keep women and minimum wage workers (the majority of whom, incidentally, are also women) severely underpaid while trust fund families and Wall Street execs pocket more — this crowd is attacking Hillary Clinton for being paid well.
In a hum-drum effort to vet the hum-drum presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, news outlets have been reporting on Clinton’s speaking fees and contract requirements. Most recently, the Washington Post revealed Clinton’s terms for a speech at the University of California Los Angeles.
For the speech, Clinton’s team made such ludicrous requests as a “pitcher of room temperature water, water glass, and lemon wedges.” Why can’t she settle for cold water? Plus she wanted, nay demanded, that backstage there be “diet ginger ale, crudité, hummus and sliced fruit.” How dare Hillary Clinton demand healthy snacks? For this, she was paid $300,000 — a sum, like all her speaking fees, which Clinton donated to the Clinton Global Foundation.
The Washington Post story comes on the heels of June reporting about a speech to the University of Nevada Las Vegas Foundation, for which Clinton was paid $225,000. Anti-Hillary conservatives have taken this reporting and run with it:
— America Rising PAC (@AmericaRising) November 27, 2014
First, the facts. Neither the UCLA speech or UNLV speech were paid for with student tuition dollars. The UCLV Foundation is a private non-profit separate from the university; the UCLA speech was paid for as part of a separately endowed lecture series. More pertinently, though, both speeches raised money for the universities and their students. For instance, the UNLV event raised more than $350,000. But shame on Hillary, speaking at events that raise money for public universities!
It’s ironic that, after a 2012 election spent complaining about how Mitt Romney was attacked for being successful, Republicans now find themselves trying to attack success. And that’s just the tip of the irony iceberg.
On the occasion of Clinton’s UNLV speech, the Republican National Committee put out a statement saying, “Hillary Clinton’s speaking fee at UNLV is more than 4 times what the average Nevadan makes in a year.” Raising the minimum wage would sure help those Nevada families way more than cutting Hillary Clinton’s speaking fee. But Republicans are the ones blocking a minimum wage hike nationwide.
Conservatives also complained that Clinton accepted six figures to speak at a public university about, among other things, the challenges of mounting student debt. They pounced on calls by some students for Clinton to donate her speaking fees back to defray scholarships and rising tuition costs.
Certainly, Clinton has stumbled in finding a populist way to talk about her finances, as when she said she was “dead broke” when she and Bill left the White House (they had two houses). The New York Post wrote that Clinton’s “diva routine could hurt her chances of campaigning as a champion for the middle class.” Sure, but you know what else hurts a party’s reputation as a middle class champion? Repeatedly opposing policies like paid sick leave and investments to fix roads and schools that help the middle class—which Republicans routinely do.
Selective outrage sure works for fanning the flames of Twitter trolls, but when Election Day rolls around, Republicans won’t be able to paint Hillary Clinton as an out-of-touch elitist if their party is a still a worse example of that which they seek to condemn.
There is plenty in Hillary Clinton’s speaking schedule actually worth scrutinizing. Since leaving the State Department, Clinton has given paid speeches to Goldman Sachs, Fidelity, the Carlyle Group, the National Association of Realtors and other business interests. “This is a great way for a company to get access to her, to hear what she’s thinking, to be remembered if and when she does run for office,” Campaign Legal Center policy director Meredith McGehee told Mother Jones. This might also seem like the perfect thing to attack given the problems with Clinton’s coziness with Wall Street in a post-Occupy political era increasingly focused on the crisis of inequality. Curiously, conservatives aren’t even mentioning these speeches—just the ones Clinton has given at fundraisers for public universities.
Of course, why would Republicans ever critique big business, even if big business is courting the potential Democratic frontrunner for 2016? While conservatives might rhetorically feign a defense of public colleges and the middle class, they would never, ever hint at attacking big business. Which reveals the deepest irony of all — Republicans regularly say that government should get out of the way and let “market forces” handle everything from pay inequity to healthcare. But market forces are precisely what have made Hillary Clinton the second best paid political speaker in America (after her husband, Bill) — she’s simply more popular, by leaps and bounds, than any potential Republican challenger. By drawing attention to how much Hillary Clinton is being paid to speak, Republicans are merely pointing out how in-demand Clinton is—presumably not just on the stage but in the voting booth in 2016.