A few other 2016 presidential candidates have navigated the same loophole, people who were not in public office and had not yet formally declared. These include Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. And they deserve to be called out for this, too. Indeed, Fiorina apologized profusely for taking paid speaking gigs after she formally announced her candidacy. But none of them have come anywhere near what Hillary has done. She is blazing new trails of corruption. Bush, Carson and Fiorina are trying to get an airplane to fly; Hillary has landed on the moon and has her sights set on Mars.
It is worth adding that there is an additional factor, that does not alter the matter of ethics or legality, but is of practical political importance. Hillary is running as a "progressive who gets things done." She is a champion of the average person and will effectively represent their interests vis-a-vis large corporations. She will wage war against money in politics, she tells prospective voters. No one expects Bush, Fiorina or Carson to make such claims; quite the contrary. In their view, the interests of Wall Street banks and billionaires are the interests of all Americans.
When Hillary makes these claims, in the face of evidence of her vast wealth accumulated in checks from these same interests she is ostensibly going to battle on the people's behalf, it promotes a spectacular cynicism, and turns people off from the electoral process. In this sense, she is "establishment" politics in every sense of the term. Money in, bullshit out. It could prove disastrous for her if young people--who tend not to like her very much and are turned off inordinately by corruption--do not vote in the general election should she get the nomination. Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley have focused on issues and their own record so far in the Democratic race; they have not pushed this issue and because of that, the news media has paid almost no attention to it.
Bit if Hillary gets the nomination, expect Ted Cruz, or Donald Trump or Marco Rubio to drive a truck through this crack. In their hands, this will become a huge issue, and they will pursue it shamelessly. They are nothing if not effective provocateurs and debaters. For Democratic voters concerned first and foremost with preventing a Republican victory, they are deluding themselves if they think this issue is going to disappear because Bernie Sanders is too much of a gentleman to raise it. Hillary will be lampooned as a fraud and a hypocrite, and her defense will likely only make matters worse. It is not that people will switch from Democratic to Republican candidates as much as people will not vote at all. That is the only way Republicans can win the White House in November 2016 and this issue is precisely what can hose down any enthusiasm for Hillary and keep people on their couches come November.
JB: There is a real, large and vocal contingent that believes that Hillary was cheated of the nomination in 2008 by many voters who were swayed by the concept of a Black president. They're going for broke; they want a woman president already and believe Hillary's time is now or never. What would you say to them?
RM: Before we delve into the politics of the moment and Hillary's political prospects, I want to make clear that I would criticize what Hillary has done by accepting these massive speaking fees if it was done by any other candidate, Democratic or Republican. If Sanders did anything remotely like this, I suspect his campaign (and possibly his career) would be over, but as a sitting US Senator, that was never an option. Martin O'Malley, on the other hand, has been out of office since the end of 2014 and informally planning his presidential run since then. He could have legally taken corporate speaking gigs and fattened his bank account before officially entering the race, just like Hillary. And O'Malley really needs the money. Whereas Hillary has a net worth in the $30-45 million range, and Bill and Hillary together have a net worth in excess of $100 million, O'Malley, like Bernie Sanders, has a net worth after a very successful career in public service of well below $1 million, which is exactly where it should be in a sane society. But O'Malley did none of this. Perhaps the reason is that corporations would not pay him big bucks because he was such a long shot for the nomination. After all, corporations are not charities--these speaking fees are investments, and Hillary is a much smarter investment.
We do not know if O'Malley even considered liming his pockets with corporate money while he was still in the informal stage of his presidential campaign. Probably not. But we do know that Hillary (and Bill) had an elaborate structure established through the Harry Walker Agency to solicit and negotiate these speaking gigs. In fact, she deals Chelsea in to do talks she cannot do herself, at around $75,000 a pop. This contributes to Chelsea being a millionaire many times over herself.
As for the "real, large and vocal contingent that believes Hillary was cheated in 2008" because people were attracted to the idea a black president, I respectfully disagree. In 2007-'08, Obama's decisive move was to emphasize the one anti-war speech he gave against the invasion of Iraq while he was a state senator in Illinois. Hillary, of course, voted for the war, and has always been a strong believer in the use of military force in general. Obama astutely said he opposed the type of thinking that got us into Iraq, and won over much of the anti-war wing of the Democratic voting base, which was considerable by then. This overlapped with young voters of all races and genders who found Obama very appealing. Then, when he added in getting most of the crucial African-American vote, largely on identity politics grounds, Hillary was reduced to trying to win by soliciting older white male votes, a group she has singular problems appealing to. And the more people saw Obama and Hillary in action, the more Obama's margin grew. (That may be one of the reasons why DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz has worked assiduously to minimize public exposure to the Democratic presidential candidates through debates in 2015-16. There is a fear it seems that Hillary is not especially attractive to voters the more they see her. At any rate, this it's the first time in history I am aware of that a party worked to limit popular attention to the party and its candidates.)
JB: I was wondering about the weird timing of the Democratic debates. It makes sense if what you say is true.
RM: Now Hillary's supporters have every right to be miffed that Obama was hardly an anti-war guy; in retrospect it was a smart political move and little more. He appointed Hillary his Secretary of State, kept Bush's Secretary of Defense, and has really pursued the general contours of the same foreign policy she would have pursued as president.
But the lesson of that experience, to me at least, is not, "Hey, you got your black president, now it is time for a woman president." The lesson is that it is time we stop electing people who spin us with what focus groups saying are winning slogans and then govern according to the interests of powerful interests.
Hillary Clinton is a very smart, talented and competent professional politician. She would probably be a president of similar quality as Obama or her husband. I gather from mutual friends she has considerable charm and charisma at a personal level, and is rather likeable. This is a key factor in the spectacular loyalty she generates. Hillary Clinton has also made being the first woman president a point of emphasis in the debates and in her campaign. The great support she generates is almost entirely on identity grounds; on actual policy issues affecting women, there is little difference between her positions and those of her male opponents. By comparison, Obama never came close to saying, "Hey, vote for me because we need a black president." His race was self-evident and he probably thought such a statement would be insulting to many and backfire.
I think Hillary would have been wise to follow suit there; when she emphasizes she is a woman to dodge a question about her ties to Wall Street, as she did in the second debate, it may get her diehard middle age supporters like Debbie Wasserman Schultz doing back flips in the aisles, but it is an insult to everyone else. It suggests she has something to hide. And as the evidence makes clear, she does have something to hide"and it will not remain hidden through November 2016.
So what do I say to Hillary's die-hard supporters who are centrally concerned with having a woman president? Two things. First obviously the desire for a woman president is on a sliding scale. I doubt NOW or NARAL would ever support Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin or Carly Fiorina. There are core principles and issues that come first. If Hillary supporters would be appalled at another politician doing what Hillary has done by becoming fabulously wealthy taking this corporate money, they must apply the same principle to Hillary, and act accordingly. Otherwise, they are opportunists, and do not deserve to be taken seriously. (And if they do not have a problem with what Hillary has done, and think all politicians should by every right to do the same, then they have a vision for government that is far more cynical than anything I can accept.)
Secondly, the point of feminist political success is ultimately about creating a world with fairness and justice and opportunity and equality for women. If policies to these ends are put in place it will be a short matter of time until there are far more women in Congress and in the White House. The two go hand-in-hand, but not entirely. There are numerous Republican women who are unsympathetic to feminism, and electing them to more positions will hardly advance the cause of women.