COMMENTARY | It’s a conundrum that faces many a celebrity: How to retain the image of street smarts, and street cred, while garnering ever increasing levels of fame and luxury? Actors, musicians, athletes, and even politicians want to maintain some indie cred and middle-class charm even as their bank accounts swell and their trophy cases get full. Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York, and U.S. Secretary of State, has been getting walloped by criticism of losing her middle-class identity as she embarks on her book tour, reports CNN. The likely 2016 presidential candidate, a staunch Democrat, has been mocked for her exorbitant speaking fees, as high as $200,000, as she goes on the economic offensive and blasts Republican fiscal policies.
Politicians being dogged for their wealth while allegedly trying to “slum it” with the middle class is nothing new. Blue bloods from FDR to JFK to John Kerry have been labeled “limousine liberals” and accused of hypocrisy, turning on other rich folk in order to rake in votes. However, these men all grew up rich. Hillary Clinton, alongside her presidential husband Bill, famously defeated incumbent president George Bush Sr. and First Lady Barbara in 1992 when they, a middle-class couple, appeared more in touch with economic realities than the blue blood Bushes.
But, in the 22 years since, the Clintons have become quite well-to-do. Can Hillary appear sympathetic to the middle class today? What happens when the “rags to riches” story becomes too heavily weighted on the “riches” side of the equation?
It is an interesting dilemma for the Democratic Party: Do middle-class liberals have a shelf life? It is well-known that politicians of all stripes usually get wealthier over time, meaning even street smart populists become a bit gilded over the years. While Republicans and blue blood “limousine liberals,” and even “Hollywood liberals,” often have their wealth accepted by political opponents, and even voters, do middle-class liberals end up in a Catch-22? If they fail to pursue wealth they lack the resources to spread their views…but if they pursue wealthy they are deemed turncoats or hypocrites.
And do we unfairly judge “rags to riches” liberals for their accumulated wealth after decades of success? Is there a curse of the successful populist? Certainly, Clinton appears to not have anticipated the wrath of her critics and has flubbered her attempts to justify her speaking fees. Has she reached her shelf life and “turned,” now becoming toxic to the Democratic Party, tainting it with a flavor of hypocrisy?
Perhaps it is unfair, but it might be so.
This troubling possibility limits American democracy by limiting the ability for average citizens to pursue a political career, at least as an economic liberal. You can argue for policies to support the poor and middle class…so long as you yourself do not rise about those classes. Become wealthy, and your support of policies benefiting the poor and middle classes is mocked as hypocrisy.