Is Hillary Clinton speaking at October’s UNLV Foundation dinner, or is Mitt Romney?
Accusations that the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state is “out of touch” and “super rich” are flying across the Internet with such frequency, you’d think it was the 2012 presidential campaign, when Mr. Romney, the GOP nominee, was eviscerated daily as an elitist gaffe machine who couldn’t possibly relate to the American middle class.
Last week’s news that Mrs. Clinton would be paid $225,000 for a speech at a UNLV benefit quickly became a national story because it followed other self-inflicted political wounds. While promoting her memoir, “Hard Choices,” Mrs. Clinton asserted she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, were “dead broke” upon leaving the White House — that they were in financial distress despite their celebrity, influence and guarantee of book and speaking income — and that they, “unlike a lot of people who are truly well off,” had worked hard for their wealth. But a single speech doesn’t qualify as “hard work” to the majority of Americans who are paid in one year a fifth as much as Mrs. Clinton receives in one day.
The UNLV story sparked wider media examination of the Clintons’ speaking income, which uncovered other six-figure payouts for speeches at colleges.
Mrs. Clinton’s defenders have been quick to point out that private dollars are covering her UNLV speaking fee — not tax or tuition dollars — and that the fee is going directly into the Clintons’ family foundation. And because Mrs. Clinton is the consensus front-runner for the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination, her Las Vegas speech will attract national attention to the university — not to mention donors who otherwise might not attend.
All this should be a nonstory. This is a private contract between two willing parties, and each party is satisfied with the benefits and value of the agreement. (Just like a CEO’s salary!)
Of course, it’s a story because Mrs. Clinton’s private life increasingly is at odds with her public persona. She touts her party’s lines that “income inequality” is a threat to the American Dream, that the rich are only getting richer, that the wealthy don’t pay their “fair share,” that Democrats can better relate to the struggles of the middle class, and, notably, that higher education offers middle-class children their best chance at upward mobility despite its burdensome costs.
Yet Mrs. Clinton keeps getting richer while strategically reducing her tax liability — recall that in this space last week, we noted the steps she and her husband had taken to avoid the estate tax they support — and keeps collecting money from campuses that are increasing their tuition and fees, pushing college out of reach. If Mrs. Clinton were truly looking out for the struggling middle class and indebted college students, she’d contribute at least some of her speaking fees to scholarship funds at the campuses she visits — as UNLV student leaders suggested last week.
As the left is fond of asking, how much is enough?
Mr. Romney’s wealth, how he earned it and whether he could relate to struggling Americans were dominant storylines during the 2012 campaign. Mrs. Clinton can expect to undergo identical scrutiny. Perhaps she can use her UNLV Foundation speech to reconcile what she says about wealth and what she does with it.