Bill enters, stage right. Note the difference between the post title as edited at Bloomberg:
Bill Clinton Defends Hillary’s Middle-Income Ties [What does that even mean?]
and the URL, which shows the original title:
C’mon. Nobody outside the Beltway ever “pivots” from anything to anything else. That tells you where this whole fauxtroversy is coming from and who’s expected to care about it. Nevertheless, to the story:
Hillary Clinton, the former first lady and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, is trying to rebound from a series of comments in which she suggested that she and the former president aren’t really rich.
Bill Clinton acknowledged that she didn’t “give the most adept answer” to questions about their personal wealth. “You can say, ‘OK, I gotta clean that up,’ which she did.”
[Hillary Clinton] has been tripped up most often on questions about her finances — even when no question has been asked.
Clinton said in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer that she and Bill Clinton were “dead broke” when they left the White House in January 2001. She told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that the couple isn’t “truly well off.” Chelsea Clinton cemented the storyline with remarks to Fast Company magazine.
Logically, Clinton — I’m calling “Hillary Clinton” Clinton, now, and Bill Clinton “Bill,” reversing my 2008 usage — is perfectly correct; as Piketty knows, and heck, Karl Marx knew, income really is not “true” “wealth.” If you’re “truly well off,” you get to clip coupons! (To me, wealth is about ownership; specifically, about owning the product of the collective labor of others. That’s one reason that the “1%” frame from the Occupy movement was so analytically destructive; it distracts from social relations to focus on mere quantity. The Bloomberg reporter helpfully blurs this distinction with the formulation “not really rich.”)
The real issue is this: The fact that we’re even having this conversation is a sign of the policy vacuity at the heart, if any, of the Clinton non-campaign. If Hillary Clinton were advocating truly humane policies that benefit all equally — the 12-Point Platform gives a good list — we wouldn’t talking about Clinton’s tone deafness or hairstyle or health or looks or any of her personal characteristics at all: We’d be talking about policy. The political class would be outraged! Outraged! that Clinton advocated — picking an example at random — free public education K-16. Their hair would be on fire! Heck, even HOLC, back from 2008, an FDR-style bailout of individual homeowners, would put every pair of knickers in the beltway in a twist! FDR was a patrician, for pity’s sake; and the Roosevelts were a “truly” “wealthy” New York dynasty, not first-generation arrivistes from
Mammoth Falls Little Rock. Arkansas. And FDR was brought to recognize the necessity of the New Deal, so kwitcherbellyachin, political class!
Clinton’s policy vacuity gave the opening to the h8terz, not inartful wording. Get back in your box, Bill!
Let’s go back to another time and place: Beijing, September 5, 1995, where Clinton gave the plenary speech to U.N. 4th World Conference on Women Plenary Session. In relevant part:
The great challenge of this conference is to give voice to women everywhere whose experiences go unnoticed, whose words go unheard. Women comprise more than half the world’s population, 70% of the world’s poor, and two-thirds of those who are not taught to read and write. We are the primary caretakers for most of the world’s children and elderly. Yet much of the work we do is not valued — not by economists, not by historians, not by popular culture, not by government leaders.
At this very moment, as we sit here, women around the world are giving birth, raising children, cooking meals, washing clothes, cleaning houses, planting crops, working on assembly lines, running companies, and running countries. Women also are dying from diseases that should have been prevented or treated. They are watching their children succumb to malnutrition caused by poverty and economic deprivation. They are being denied the right to go to school by their own fathers and brothers. They are being forced into prostitution, and they are being barred from the bank lending offices and banned from the ballot box.
As an American, I want to speak for those women in my own country, women who are raising children on the minimum wage, women who can’t afford health care or child care, women whose lives are threatened by violence, including violence in their own homes.
It’s the same issue; Clinton, being an American, is by definition wealthy with respect to the rest of the world. Her answer: “Those of us who have the opportunity to be here have the responsibility to speak for those who could not.” Contrast Clinton in her Guardian interview:
America’s glaring income inequality is certain to be a central bone of contention in the 2016 presidential election. But with her huge [What? Like a billionaire? Put down that hatchet!] personal wealth, how could Clinton possibly hope to be credible on this issue when people see her as part of the problem, not its solution?
“[CLINTON] But they don’t see me as part of the problem,” she protests, “, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names [why not?]; and we’ve done it through dint of hard work.”
Such lawyerly parsing, when 1995’s answer, slightly revised — “Those of us who have the opportunities have the responsibility to speak for those who cannot” — would, at the very worst, been buried, and certainly wouldn’t have allowed the the Clinton h8terz to gin up a controversy. Eleanor Roosevelt campaigned in a mink stole!
A second contrast, still from the Guardian interview:
“[CLINTON] I would like the social fabric that has begun to fray to have been repaired, for people to feel we were all in this together, that the American dream was real, not some distant vanishing image on the horizon, that fairness had been returned to the economy and politics, that our education system was doing a better job and more kids were healthy, and that we were once again respected for our values and how we presented ourselves to the world.”
This isn’t exactly a Roger Mudd moment, where Mudd asked Teddy Kennedy why he wanted to be President, and Teddy stumbled through a non-answer. But the language is cliched (“social fabric”) and the policy proposals are both vacuous (“American Dream”) and pre-compromised (“ job,” “ kids were healthy”). Everything is all about feelings (“feel we were all in this together”) and goals without metrics (“fairness had been returned”). It’s mush. Feelings aren’t facts, let alone concrete material benefits. Contrast the vivid and precise language of Clinton’s 1995 speech. Again:
They are watching their children succumb to malnutrition caused by poverty and economic deprivation. They are being denied the right to go to school by their own fathers and brothers. They are being forced into prostitution, and they are being barred from the bank lending offices and banned from the ballot box.
In 1995, every line not only calls out for justice, but calls up policies with verifiable outcomes. Sad. Very, very sad.
I’m not sure what happened to Clinton between 1995 and 2014 — almost 20 years is a long time in anyone’s life. I like to think of our political class as rather like a refinery with human resources — for example, that golden couple, the Clintons, but many, many others — as feedstocks. As the human crude rises within the cracking towers, it is “refined,” as more and more human characteristics (especially empathy) are stripped away, under immense heat and pressure. The purest essences that are drawn off from the top of the towers are sociopathic simulacra, and hence optimally useful as inputs to the systems that the political class, in turn, serves (see under “Oligarchs, owned by”). Only the most exceptional humans (Lincoln, FDR, even Washington, who after all surrendered power and freed his slaves) can resist the cracking process and retain some humanity at their core. Most don’t have a prayer. We could reform the process by banning the production and sale of the most volatile essences, but it may be our only hope is to shut down the refinery altogether and do without the product.
 This, from the candidate who ran on “The economy, stupid!”. It’s also a two-fer, in that Bill undercuts Clinton’s competence while trying to help her — reminds me that there’s some truth to the old saw that Bill Clinton can shake your hand while pissing down your leg — and in that the Rovian riposte is almost too painfully obvious. It’s so disgusting I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader.
 Here’s the video of Clinton’s 1995 speech in Beijing:
NOTE For Warren fans, and fans generally of running “the more effective evil” play with a white woman instead of a black man, let us remember that Warren hates single payer and is a hawk on Iran. So she should do well in today’s Democratic Party.