Here is some free advice for Hillary Clinton, even though she can easily afford it: stop pretending you're middle class. Hillary Clinton's 2016 pre-campaign campaign has already gotten off on the wrong foot, thanks to a few Mitt Romney-level out-of-touch comments about her fortune.
The root of the problem is Democrats' push to end income inequality, which arguably seems insincere coming from any and all wealthy politicians seeking re-election. Over the weekend The Guardian pressed Hillary on that very issue, and she replied by saying she's not like "truly well off" people who don't pay income taxes. From The Guardian:
America's glaring income inequality is certain to be a central bone of contention in the 2016 presidential election. But with her huge 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?
"But they don't see me as part of the problem," she protests, "because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we've done it through dint of hard work," she says, letting off another burst of laughter.
On the one hand, Clinton is pointing out that she pays a higher tax rate on her speaking engagement income than someone like Mitt Romney, who pays a much lower tax rate on his investment income. Wages are taxed more than investments, and most of the 99 percent is made of wage earners. The Clintons' theory might be that it doesn't matter how rich you are if you pay taxes like most Americans. As Jaime Fuller at The Washington Post wrote, "the narrowness of the point seems to work better at showcasing how different her financial life is from most of the United States, just like the statement about being 'dead broke' after leaving the White House in 2001." Yes, the Clintons left the White House in debt related to Bill's legal bills, but even then, they bought a $2.85 million house in December 2000, prompting Politifact to rate the "dead broke" claim mostly false.
And even if people did find Clinton's lower tax bracket noble, last week Bloomberg reported that she and Bill were trying to use loopholes to get around the estate tax they supported. The Clintons used the same strategies employed by millionaires to protect their assets from the 40 percent tax, even though Hillary once said that, without the tax, the county would become dominated by inherited wealth. (We won't even mention Chelsea's NBC salary, which one could argue was based on "inherited" relationships.) Regardless of how much the government taxes their millions, the Clintons are part of the problem.
And Democratic strategists who don't necessarily want Hillary to be the 2016 nominee are saying the Clintons' wealth could be a liability, according to Philip Rucker at The Washington Post. “She’s been living 30, going on 40 years with somebody bringing your coffee to you every morning. Is it more Downton Abbey than it is America?” Dick Harpootlian, South Carolina's former Democratic Party chairman told The Post. Harpootlian backed President Obama in 2008 and is an ally of Vice President Biden, but it's the sort of issue that could get play in a primary.
And Biden seems well aware of that. At Monday's White House Summit on Working Families, the vice president managed to point out that he's "listed as the poorest man in Congress," but still "really, really fortunate," according to Time. In other words, he's well off, but not out of touch and definitely less rich than the Clintons. When it comes to talking about income, Hillary should take notes.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.