Monday, February 25, 2008

"Go Bucks!"

In his speech at Shawnee State U., in Porstmouth, Ohio, on Monday, February 25, 2008, Bill Clinton (shown above) was at his best – and worst. He showed the intelligence and mastery of detail and the articulateness for which he is admired and envied, but he also showed his tendency to talk too much and to reveal, or imply, more than he intended. Maybe a bunch more.

He has learned something since his gaffes earlier in the campaign, when he talked too much about himself and stooped to playing the race card, in South Carolina. It may be the role of someone else in the Clinton campaign to play the race card, but it can’t be Bill, not as a former president, not as a candidate’s husband, not without turning lots of voters against her. In his speech in Portsmouth, he criticized Obama but only obliquely and usually not by name. Others, reportedly Clinton staffers, were playing the religion card, even as Bill was speaking, sending via the internet photos of Obama in a turban. (I talked to someone after the rally who had been leaning toward Obama but is now convinced, on the basis of that turban photo, that Obama is a Muslim.) But Bill behaved himself in his speech; he repeated over and over again “what Hillary believes” and “what Hillary said,” to show he understood that she not he was the candidate. He put his eloquence and analytical skills, his salesmanship and awshucksness, at her disposal as he talked about the economy and trade, about health care, education, and the war.

But he also brought up, seemingly incidentally, to my surprise, the issue of how much money he and Hillary now have, which is perhaps one of the two Achilles heels of the Clinton campaign, the other being her support of the Iraq war. (Since she was for it before she was against it, let’s call her support of NAFTA a bunion.) Criticizing the Bush administration was the context in which Bill raised the issue of how wealthy he is. What he said, if I heard correctly from the balcony, was that he had made a “bunch” of money. Making a “bunch of money” sounds down home and cracker barrel. How much more culturally jarring it would have sounded, especially in the Appalachian venue in which he was speaking, if Bill had said, “Hillary and I have made a bundle,” or “Hillary and I have made scads of money.” Anyway, he admitted he was now in a much higher income bracket, along with the Republican financial elite. He didn’t explain how he made that “bunch” of money. That would have been very impolitic, but the politically literate know where it came from. It came from his and her big book deals, from his $450,000 a crack speaking fees, and from his financial and business connections with billionaires and potentates. For example, the Wall Street Journal reported Bill is now partners in an investment fund connected to his longtime friend and political supporter, the Los Angeles billionaire Ronald Burkle. For alleged shenanigans, that fund is now under investigation.

The well-heeled have been very generous to Bill who has raised $500 million and counting for the Clinton Foundation, which is funding the Clinton Presidential Library and Bill’s charitable activities. He has refused to reveal who those donors are. Hillary’s mandatory 2006 Senate disclosure forms revealed that she was then worth somewhere between $10 to $25 million. She was not obliged to be any more precise than that. Somewhere between and probably lots in addition to, since she loaned her campagin $5 million recently. No, Bill in his Portsmouth speech wasn’t foolish enough to go into details about how he and Hillary made their bunch, because the devil is in the details.

The point Bill wanted to make was that now that he is in a high income bracket, he is in a good position to know how much the Bush administration and the Republicans spoil the rich with tax breaks and other advantages. How those Republicans must be making life miserable for the poor rich kid from Arkansas. What he was trying to suggest was that though he has become rich, he is not inhaling financially, like all those Republican potheads. This was not Bill at his best and brightest. He did mention that when he and Hillary began their tenure in the White House they were as poor as any new presidential couple had ever been. But if they really were poor, does such virtue apply retroactively? When politicians who spend most of their adult life “serving the people” end up as multi-millionaires, are we to assume it was their business acumen and not their political connections and wealthy friends, not their willingness to cut ethical corners, that helped them make their bundle? Hillary has put her holdings in a blind trust, but anyone who trusts politicians not to prosper in office is blind.

During the campaign Hillary has more than once declined to make her tax returns public, which would reveal her total net worth. She is not legally required to release them, and most candidates don’t until they have secured the nomination of their party. She has promised she would if nominated, but Obama has released his tax returns, putting pressure on her to do the same. If she is not legally required to, she may be politically unwise not to. But if the Clintons’ net worth is so high that it might shock and awe blue-collar voters, especially those in Ohio, then she of course can not afford to, not when she is relying so much on those blue collar voters. “The Clintons are worth what?” is not a question that Bill and Hillary want to hear shocked blue-collar Ohio voters asking.

Making the Sale

So, there was Bill on Febuary 25, in blue-collar Ohio, in down-and-out Portsmouth, speaking for the party of the working man, and, in the process of criticizing Republicans, revealing that he and Hillary are more or less somewhere in between being loaded and filthy rich. “Go Bucks!” might be the Clinton campaign slogan for Ohio. He qualified his admission of wealth by pointing out he and Hillary were poor as church mice when they arrived in Washington. He also threw in that Hillary’s father, Hugh E. Rodham, was the kind of guy who wouldn’t buy a car unless he could pay cash for it. The implication was her father didn’t have much money and would do without a car rather than go into debt to own one, but in fact Hugh E. Rodham was not accustomed to being without a car. Bill was telling this Rodham family story as a way of contrasting Hillary’s father with the Bush administration, which hasn’t hesitated to increase the national debt by gazillions. But what Bill didn’t tell us was that Hillary’s father was a rabid tight-fisted Republican, who didn’t lack money to pay for a car, and, according to Carl Bernstein in his biography of Hillary, always drove a new Cadillac or Lincoln. Like a slick car salesman, Bill Clinton will say almost anything to sell whatever model he is trying to sell, which in this case is his wife. He won’t hesitate to falsify Hillary’s family’s history to do it. If Hugh E. Rodham were alive today, he probably would have voted for Bush twice and for John McCain in November, against Barack Obama.

I would be surprised if Obama, before his career of serving the people is over, hasn’t made a bundle, or should I say a bunch. That’s the American way. The core of the American dream is making money. It’s our national obsession, and national politics is where good, that is to say unscrupulous, salesmen can really clean up. If Clinton now wears five hundred dollar ties, those well tailored suits of Obama don’t look like they come from Macy’s. But why should people of color and women be forever excluded by white males from making a bunch of money through politics?

No Thanks to Kalb

At the beginning of the rally in the Athletic Center, somebody read off the list of names of local Democratic politicians, but, if I heard correctly, that somebody omitted the name of a bottom feeder in the local Democratic food chain, Mayor Jim Kalb (shown here). When President Bush began his speech to a rally in the same Athletic Center in 2005, he thanked acting Mayor Kalb for the city’s hospitality. Governor Strickland swore Kalb into office a few years later, but now Strickland is beginning to slip in the polls, and the Democrats apparently cannot afford to acknowledge Kalb as one of their own, if I am not giving them too much credit. The primary in Ohio is shaping up to be very close, with Hillary slipping in the polls every day, and Democrats cannot afford to have the Clinton name linked with a local crook. Even if he is a political nobody, Kalb has alienated a number of Portsmouth voters. Not only has the incompetent Kalb in his miserable career not made a bunch of money, in the face of a looming recession he has tried to get himself a snazzy new official SUV and has tried to slip a raise for himself in the budget he submitted, in violation of state law that says office holders cannot receive raises during their term of office.

Think of how much worse it would be if we had only Democrats or, worst of all, only Republicans. I would argue that Republicans are bigger hypocrites than Democrats when it comes to making money while “serving the people.” When you consider what social, gender, and racial barriers the Clintons and Obama had to overcome to get where they are, Bush by comparison is a bratty, backslapping, buckpassing, gaspassing “miserable failure,” to use Dick Gephardt’s phrase. When he spoke at the Athletic Center in 2005, Bush was the bubble boy on the campaign trail, facing the only kind of audiences he dared to, the carefully screened or the obediently military. Republicans denounce government night and day, but they clearly depend as much upon public office to get ahead as Idaho’s Republican Senator Larry Craig does public bathrooms.

Miserable Failures

You only have to look at the careers of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to see what a Republican politician will do to get ahead. Bush in the 1960s opted for the National Guard and oil money connections in Texas to avoid fighting for his country. Cheney explained why he had not served in the military by saying he had “other priorities in the 1960s,” which included making his bundle as servant of the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower had warned the country against in his Farewell Address, in 1961. I suppose what it comes down to is a choice between those who have made a bundle from the military industrial complex and those who have made a bunch of money from billionaires. It looks like a Hobson’s choice. Still, though the bunch politicians may be bad and getting worse, they are nowhere as bad as those miserable failures, the incompetent bundle politicians, who are the worst.