I never had much of a belief in the value of Bernie Sanders “pulling Hillary to the left.” Yes, he might cause her to take somewhat more progressive positions on the campaign trail, but so what? What she does once in office will be influenced far more by the 2020 election than by the 2016 election. And if everyone is saying “Bernie can’t win but it’s really good that he’s running because he’ll pull Hillary to the left,” why does she have to move left anyhow? To appease a bunch of Democrats who believe her opponent is unelectable?
But what about Bernie as a serious alternative to Hillary? I know, must the face of the progressive movement in America be a 73 year-old curmudgeon who can’t keep his hair combed? I struggled with this. I’m sure others have as well. I’m done struggling. It’s a shallow reason not to support Bernie to begin with, and a close look at Hillary is revealing too many inconvenient truths. Those truths are coming not from the Hannity and Limbaugh crowd, but from voices generally considered to be left of center.
I wrote about David Sirota’s piece, The left’s Citizens United hypocrisy: Why Hillary is getting a fee pass, in a post two weeks ago, If Hillary Were a Republican…”
Today, there’s Jonathan Allen, at Ezra Klein’s Vox, in Hillary Clinton personally took money from companies that sought to influence her.
Allen’s point is an obvious one, but one that isn’t receiving enough attention. Yet. There’s a difference between campaign contributions and speaking fees. Speaking fees actually enrich the recipient personally.
But there’s something very important to see that is different than the past stories. This time, it’s about Hillary Clinton having her pockets lined by the very people who seek to influence her. Not in some metaphorical sense. She’s literally being paid by them.
And, as Allen points out, when a person is “paid” hundreds of thousands of dollars to give a one hour speech, it’s not compensation for services, it’s a gift, plain and simple.
Allen makes short work of the justification that Hillary’s speaking fees were received when she was not in office or seeking office:
The skimpy fig leaf of timing, that the speeches were paid for when she was between government gigs, would leave Adam blushing.
The “timing” explanation might prevail in a court of law, but I’m guessing it won’t work well in the court of public opinion, otherwise known as the ballot. The problem, as I see it, is at a gut level. If a decision involving Corning, be it legislative or regulatory, confronted a President Clinton, it will be hard for voters to fathom how her objectivity would not be impaired by having received a $225,000 speaking fee from the company.
And here’s why that will be hard to fathom. At a gut level, voters know they themselves would have their objectivity impaired by a gift that size. So, it won’t be that they think Hillary is exceptionally corruptible; it will be that they don’t think she’s exceptionally incorruptible.
Allen’s main point is a different from mine, and equally significant. Allen’s take is more that the fees will be viewed as payoffs for past favors, as the companies that paid Clinton the generous “honoraria” had lobbied the State Department while she was at its helm. There’s two aspects of this. First, there’s the appearance of corruption:
There’s a reason government officials can’t accept gifts: They tend to have a corrupting effect. True, Hillary Clinton wasn’t a government official at the time the money was given. But it is very, very, very hard to see six-figure speaking fees paid by longtime political boosters with interests before the government — to a woman who has been running for president since the last time she lost — as anything but a gift.
Second, even putting the appearance of corruption aside, there’s the matter of Hillary’s judgment in accepting the fees. Allen:
And while most Democrats will shrug it off — or at least pretend to — it’s the kind of behavior voters should take into account when considering whether they want to give a candidate the unparalleled power of the presidency. It goes to the most important, hardest-to-predict characteristic in a president: judgment.
So, whaddayathink? Was it good judgment on Hillary’s part to accept six-figure speaking fees from corporations that had lobbied her? I’m sure I’ll hear how it’s nothing that Republicans haven’t done. But isn’t that the point?