In response to Hillary Clinton: Bill and I Aren’t ‘Truly Well Off’:
It’s kind of fascinating that she won’t shut up about this, as though determined to win some kind of argument with the Middle Class about whether she’s had it rough or not. I would imagine some of this is due to her understanding of how important the empathy metric is for modern candidates – she’s pretty much panicked at the thought of getting dumped into the Mitt Romney political dungeon as a disconnected wealthy elitist. I get the impression it’s not so much that she wants to posture as a populist, so much as she wants to avoid getting pigeonholed as an aristocrat.
I suspect her handlers are also worried about a populist backlash against people who amass huge fortunes after a lifetime of nothing but government “service,” and trading on political connections to get rich… which is particularly annoying to people stuck in a stagnant high-unemployment economy, as they are bombarded with daily stories of Big Government waste and incompetence. Unfortunately for her, she’s Hillary Clinton, which means everything she says on the subject is tone-deaf and provides instant fodder for mockery.
Another factor is the liberal belief that our Ruling Class anointed deserve fabulous riches and a posh lifestyle. At heart, the modern Left is essentially feudal. They’re in love with the concept of monarchy – look at how they swoon over dynastic politics, one Kennedy inheriting the seat left by another, oh how wonderful it would be if Michele Obama was given a Senate seat by the political barons who run Chicago. They just want the monarchy to cling to left-wing ideology, because more than blood relationships, that’s what elevates you to royalty. And it’s not your actual, demonstrated effectiveness that keeps you on the top shelf – it’s your wonderful, compassionate, collectivist intentions. No amount of damage inflicted upon the American government or private sector by Barack Obama will keep him from wearing a crown and holding a royal scepter in the eyes of liberals, for the rest of his life.
I wrote a piece back in 2009 called “The Aristocracy of Intent” that explored the way liberals secure regal status by posing as ideological heroes, and I think it holds up well today. I was extremely prescient about what would happen when Ted Kennedy died, an event which had not yet occurred at the time of writing:
The radiant aura of their good intentions insulates liberals from even the most basic criticisms they level at others. Lots of those “greedy” health care professionals are female, but I doubt many of them are rocking $6000.00 handbags like Michele Obama. You’d have to steal a lot of tonsils to afford the kind of million-dollar night on Broadway the Obamas are known to enjoy. The moral superiority of leftist politics transcends any personal transgressions he might have committed. When Ted Kennedy finally passes away, you can expect the media to float the idea that Mary Jo Kopechne’s life was a small price to pay for decades of having this magnificent liberal lion stalk the halls of the Senate.
The Left is also very selective in who it chooses to criticize for greed and selfishness. We obviously aren’t meant to hate hard-working schoolteachers or auto workers for striving to provide the best for their families, but we’re supposed to hate hard-working dentists so much that we’ll turn their entire industry into a penitentiary. By the way, the median income for those evil tonsil-grabbing pediatricians is about $150k per year. How much is Henry Gates pulling down per year? The President seemed a lot more concerned about inconveniencing Gates than he did about disrupting the lives of the millions who are happy with their current health insurance.
Sure enough, we did indeed get encomiums from left-wing writers about how Ted Kennedy’s brilliant political career more than made up for that unfortunate bit of Chappaquiddick business, including some opinion pieces that explicitly stated Mary Jo Kopechne’s life was not too high of a price for having Ted on Capitol Hill.
And now you can see Hillary Clinton groping through the other aspect of the “Aristocracy of Intent” psychology: she really does think she’s had it rough, because she deserves so very much more. (She’s always been far more outspokenly obsessed with her personal income, and that of her opponents, than most liberals are comfortable with.) Daniel Drezner makes this point very nicely today at the Washington Post, in a discussion of “Status-Income Disequilibrium” – in other words, Hillary hobnobs with some very rich people, and burns with not merely jealousy, but rage at the utter injustice of how they live even more extravagant lifestyles than Madame Clinton can afford:
To paint a sympathetic narrative: This is a woman who grew up in a middle-class family but attended Wellesley and Yale Law School. This is someone who clearly worked much harder than her husband in law school. She worked even harder in Little Rock to support her husband both emotionally and financially even though he didn’t care all that much about money or … other aspects of their marriage. She had to suffer the indignities of trying to have an influence on policy as first lady, even though that’s a fantastically awkward position from which to exercise the levers of power. Her opponents drowned her and her husband in legal fees throughout their eight years in the White House. Humiliated by her husband’s scandals, she struck out on her own, first as a senator, then as a presidential candidate, then as Secretary of State.
And despite all of that effort, despite the $200,000 Goldman Sachs speeches she delivers, she’s still not as well off as the run-of-the-mill hedge fund manager. At the same time, she likely does face a higher income tax rate, because her income does not come via carried interest or capital gains. If she runs for president in 2016, she’s going to have to cadge enormous sums of money from these people to fund her campaign. Does this burn her sense of how the world should work? I bet it does.
Who can be surprised that people who rise to power by weaponizing envy, twisting it into a crusade for “social justice” against the dragons of “income inequality,” imbibe deeply of their ideology and reach the conclusion that they deserve wealth? That’s a standard feature of every single left-wing government on the planet, across all of history. The “Champions of the People” always live in mansions and build up fat bank accounts, even when The People are starving to death. And they deserve those riches, so it’s either an ideological or literal crime to criticize them for it. Somehow the battle against “income equality” is invariably accompanied by the insistence that the Aristocracy of Intent is allowed to have extremely unequal income. Forcing them to live the way they insist everyone else should live becomes the worst “injustice.” Hillary Clinton is having a very difficult time pretending that she doesn’t subscribe to those theories.