Whatever you have heard about the conservative movement’s mission to advance the welfare of the 1%, you may now discard it as yesterday’s news. All of their sycophantic worship of the wealthy as “job creators” (they are not), and entrepreneurs, and the Ayn Rand-inspired architects of abundance from whom the drops of prosperity trickle down to the peasants, is but a mirage of the past. No longer do they regard success as a worthy aspiration, but as something for which to be punished.
At least that’s how they see it so far as Bill and Hillary Clinton are concerned. Conservatives are bursting with hostility for the Clintons, whom they are comparing unfavorably to the Romneys. They have abandoned their defense of Mitt Romney as a paragon of American ingenuity and ambition, and are now conceding that he was just an arrogant, out-of-touch, elitist who lost credibility with average Americans. Which is precisely how they now see Hillary Clinton.
This sudden change of perspective was precipitated by recent remarks Clinton made in response to questions about the financial status of her family. Of course, in order to portray Clinton’s comments as socio-economically aloof, they first had to brutally mutilate her actual words and present the distortions as if they were verbatim quotes. In other words, they had to lie.
The first rhetorical misrepresentation occurred last week when Clinton was asked about whether she would be hurt by perceptions of her rapid income growth after leaving the White House. Clinton defended her earnings saying that “We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.” That, of course, was true. Not only that, but the Clinton’s were always middle-class. The first home they ever owned was the one they moved into in Chappaqua after they left Washington.
But the conservative media circus was not satisfied with the truth. They deliberately misrepresented Clinton’s remarks to suggest that she was complaining about being poor post-presidency, and even currently. But that isn’t what she said. She was merely pointing out, correctly, that her family had incurred debts greater than their assets and that they had to take steps to resolve that imbalance. She never said she was poor or that she had no opportunity to generate revenue. And recall that she was answering a specific question as to the reasons she began highly remunerative speaking engagements so soon after becoming a private citizen. She was not whining about her misfortune, as the media portrayed it. She was simply explaining why it was appropriate for her to make some money to pay her debts, as any responsible person would do.
With this week comes a new misrepresentation. This time a reporter with the Guardian asked Clinton whether she could be credible on the issue of income equality given her personal wealth. Clinton responded that voters “don’t see me as part of the problem, because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off – not to name names.”
As expected, disreputable conservative media hacks (pardon the redundancy) immediately set about to distort the nature of Clinton’s remarks. They uniformly characterized her as implying that she is not prosperous. However, the only rational interpretation of her comment requires the presumption that she was including herself in the group of those “people who are truly well off” It only makes sense as a comparison between herself and others in the same strata.
Clinton was referring to people in the upper income brackets who pay less than their fair share by arranging their returns to reflect only interest earnings which are taxed at lower rates. The Clintons, on the other hand, are taxed at ordinary rates associated with business earnings and labor. If Clinton was not comparing her tax status to others in high income brackets, her statement wouldn’t have made any point.
The attempt to cast Clinton as oblivious to her wealth, and consequently the plight of average citizens, was adopted by all of the usual suspects in the wingnut press. Fox News, of course, was prominent among them, airing this deceptive distortion repeatedly since the Guardian’s publication. In one instance, Fox’s supposedly serious White House correspondent, Ed Henry, agreed heartily with the co-hosts of Outnumbered that Clinton’s comment was troubling and potentially damaging to her prospects for the White House – for which she has not declared any intention to run.
The upshot to all of this concern-trolling by the right is that they seem to regard the fact that the Clintons have been financially successful as a fault. These are the same pseudo-free-market evangelists that generally praise people who manage to enrich themselves through ambition, creativity, and hard work. Unless those qualities are held by liberals. In that event, they are seen as opportunistic advocates of wealth distribution and socialism. There has always been a sharp distinction between rich conservatives and liberals. News Corpse examined this in detail last month saying in part that…
“The Republican rich can usually be found bankrolling people and projects that benefit them personally or professionally. Thus the Kochs’ fixation on opposing unions and denying climate change is closely aligned with their exploitative and polluting business interests. Well-off Dems, on the other hand, commonly finance more philanthropic endeavors (civil rights, environment, aid to the poor) that aim to improve the quality of life without necessarily enriching themselves.”
But if the right is going to concede that not all wealth reflects a positive social value, then maybe we ought to take them up on it. Let’s challenge right-wingers to take the same standards they are using to condemn Clinton and apply them to the Koch brothers. Let’s see if the newly sensitive conservatives will join the movement to reverse Citizen’s United. The right has already come out against SuperPACs – at least those benefiting progressive people or causes. For instance, Jonathon Soros, the son of the right’s all-purpose liberal bogyman, George Soros, created the Friends of Democracy PAC, a SuperPAC aimed at ending the influence of SuperPACs. Likewise, Lawrence Lessig’s MayDay PAC has the same noble goal of rescuing our country from the Big Money interests who are holding our democracy hostage. Lessig hopes to “pay the ransom and get it back” by building “a SuperPAC big enough to end all SuperPACs.”
Fox News has already come out against these SuperPACs. They published an article by the Daily Caller on Fox Nation attacking Lessig with the endearingly disparaging headline “Harvard Professor’s Anti-Big Money Super PAC Collects Big Money From Filthy Rich Leftists.”. But maybe we can get them to show some consistency and direct their SuperPAC hatred to the rest of the blatantly partisan special interests that are trying to destroy the environment, break unions, restrict access to voting, etc. After all, if it’s terrible what Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and Tom Steyer are doing and saying with regard to wealth, than isn’t it the same with the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, and Joe Ricketts?
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Even though Clinton’s remarks were savagely mischaracterized by right-wing deceivers, the gist of their criticisms should apply to anyone in the same caste. And if conservatives now want to attack rich people as out-of-touch and unfit to represent ordinary Americans, then let’s make them hold their own accountable to the same standards. The result could be fewer wealthy special interests crowding out the majority of the population at election time. The only problem is getting the right to apply their standards consistently. In fact, the probability of that is so remote that there really are just two words to sum up this entire article. And they are…..“Never mind.”