Bernie Sanders versus Hillary and Goldman Sachs

More than Benghazi or her emails, the Goldman Sachs debacle epitomizes what's wrong with Hillary and why she's the candidate the left and right love to hate.

(Flickr/A. Golden)

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2016 — Hillary Clinton’s three speeches to Goldman Sachs earned her $225,000 each. For the money, she undoubtedly delivered a fair bit of glowing boilerplate, avoiding any mention of Wall Street wrongdoing prior to 2008.

In return, she set herself up for a great deal of grief from Bernie Sanders in 2016.

On Sunday, Clinton told ABC’s “This Week,”

Let everybody who’s ever given a speech to any private group under any circumstances release them. We’ll all release them at the same time. I have never, ever been influenced in a view or a vote by anyone who has given me any kind of funding.

If that’s true, Clinton is by her own assumptions an unusual politician. Democratic objections to the Citizens United decision and the Koch brothers are predicated on the assumption that, in addition to elections, money buys access and special favor. It would be odd if, in return for their $675,000 investment, Goldman Sachs expected only boilerplate or a kick in the teeth.

From temper tantrum New Hampshire to serious South Carolina

Asked by Anderson Cooper about her extravagant Goldman Sachs payday, Clinton said, “That’s what they offered,” a soundbite that will appear in rival attack ads against her unless her opposition is stupid beyond belief. In fact, that’s not what she was offered, but what she demanded. That they were willing to pay it suggests that either they expected three days of extraordinary entertainment and enlightenment or that they hoped for something more.

Clinton might say that they just didn’t understand how uncommonly incorruptible the Clintons are.

That she demanded that kind of money suggests that Clinton didn’t know that she’d be running again for the presidency, or that she didn’t believe that, at this point, it would make any difference. She didn’t take into account the anger at Wall Street that would be tapped into by Bernie Sanders.

Money is the lifeblood of our political system. New members of Congress may arrive in Washington like Mr. Deeds (as played by Gary Cooper, not Adam Sandler), ready to follow in the steps of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, but they immediately learn that their first priority is to raise money. And no one gives a lot of money expecting the candidate to turn around and bite his hand off.

Clinton probably didn’t plan to provide Goldman Sachs with any quid pro quo for their money, nor is she likely to. She hadn’t announced her campaign; perhaps the bankers had no clue that she’d ever again be in a position to help them out. But it takes a great deal of arrogance or political naivete to take that kind of money, then tell voters that you stand with the little people against Wall Street interests.

No one believes that the Clintons are politically naïve.

If Sanders had lost in New Hampshire or if Clinton had managed to make the race closer, this would all be moot. She could have burned the texts of her speeches and they’d have been forgotten. Most of the Republicans in the race—Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ted Cruz—have Wall Street ties, so they probably wouldn’t use Clinton’s speeches against her.

Democrats’ competing economics: Socialism v. Crony Capitalism

Sanders, however, is roaring out of New Hampshire like a young lion, and Clinton looks shell-shocked and old. Democrats, especially those under 45, are flocking to Sanders’ populism, and they don’t like Hillary’s Wall Street friends. We are judged by the company we keep, and Hillary’s company is rich and posh, not populist. Sanders might be willing to give her a pass on classified emails on her home server, but not on earning more from Goldman Sachs in three hours than most Americans earn in 10 years.

Hillary isn’t down and out after New Hampshire. When things look bleakest is when the Clintons pull all the stops, and Sanders would have to be an idiot to think he won’t be treated by the Clinton campaign like a disgusting and expendable old pervert.

But Hillary’s path isn’t easy, either, and those speeches won’t go away. Big money and wealthy friends are part of the Clinton lifestyle. The Goldman Sachs speeches epitomize everything that her critics on the left despise about Hillary: the sense of entitlement, the hypocrisy, the flexible principles and flexible morality. And that sums up why her critics on the right despise her as well.

More than Benghazi and the email scandal, the Goldman Sachs speeches sum up what’s wrong with Hillary Clinton. Unlike Benghazi and the emails, those speeches matter to the left, as does her hypocritical feminism in defense of husband Bill. Hillary is suddenly vulnerable, and if she wins the nomination, she’ll be badly damaged goods.

And the damage comes from the left, not from the vast, right-wing conspiracy. That is irony worth savoring.

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