COMMENTARY | How much real estate does a presidential candidate need? The dichotomy of rich candidate vs. poor (well, okay, upper-middle-class) candidate is as old as the nation. From George Bush Sr. looking out of touch with the middle class for being surprised by supermarket checkout lane technology to John Edwards’ four hundred dollar haircuts to debates over Mitt Romney’s investment profits, we love pillorying our politicians over their finances, real or alleged. Or, on the flip side, we like defending our politicians’ business and investment savvy and savage the socialist critics who want to whinily redistribute the wealth.
From the Kennedys and Bushes to John Kerry to Mitt Romney, we see our fair share of upper-crusters compete for the White House. And, from Harry S. Truman to Dwight D. Eisenhower to Bill Clinton to John McCain, we’ve seen plenty of middle class citizens who have pulled themselves up by their public service bootstraps also contend for the presidency. The ability for members of all social classes to strive for the highest office in the land helps make our nation great.
But what happens when politicians use their celebrity to become wealthy? Hillary Clinton, the recent Secretary of State who seems likely to run for president once again in 2016, is being criticized over a recent gaffe related to an interview with ABC News ahead of the release of her new memoirs, “Hard Choices.” Critics are displeased that Clinton claimed she and her husband needed high-dollar speaking fees to help provide for “mortgages,” plural, for “houses,” plural. Yes, the Clintons do have multiple homes, both worth north of five million dollars.
Is it surprising for a presidential candidate, with a former president as a spouse, no less, to have such valuable real estate? Of course not. But does it fly in the face of Clinton’s liberalism and populism? Perhaps. With each Clinton able to command $200,000 per speaking engagement, critics are sounding the horn about alleged hypocrisy. How can she advocate for economic reform when she makes several times the average annual U.S. salary for a few hours of talking?
It’s an interesting conundrum and reveals a bit of hypocrisy on the part of the public. Is it more acceptable for a politician to already be rich prior to entering politics than to become rich later on, using his or her celebrity? After all, nobody forced these institutions to pay these outrageous speaker fees. If the free market thinks a Hillary Clinton speech is worth $200,000, why is it wrong for her to accept it? Honestly, who among us would turn down such money, especially since we would simultaneously get to make a speech that advanced our respective views?
All in all, the hubbub will likely die down quickly. After all, liberals from Franklin D. Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to John Kerry have been amazingly wealthy, and many former presidents have gone on the lucrative lecture circuit. However, Clinton’s speaking fees and real estate riches might come to dog her depending on her Republican opponent in 2016. Though likely opponent Jeb Bush is a silver spooned political veteran, Chris Christie or Rand Paul, more likely the latter, might be able to tar her as a “limousine liberal.”
Tea Partier Rand Paul, the U.S. Senator from Kentucky whose father Ron has run for president a few times, has a populist streak himself and might try to woo voters away from Clinton on the grounds that he is a better representative of the middle class. If Bush wins the GOP nomination in 2016 the speaking fees and real estate of Hillary Clinton will be a moot point…but if Paul winds the nomination there might be some financial spin to play.