Hillary Clinton has called for a “toppling” of America’s wealthiest one percent, according to a New York Times report. Clinton did so during a private meeting with “economists” earlier this year.
I found Clinton’s call odd. Not because Clinton herself is in the upper echelon of “one-percenters.” It’s quite common these days for prominent modern left-wing populists to be extremely prosperous, if not filthy rich.
What’s odd is Clinton’s use of the word “toppling.” The common synonyms for “topple” are: overthrow, oust, unseat, overturn, bring down, defeat, get rid of, dislodge, eject. The term is thus a revolutionary one — King Louis XVI, Czar Nicholas II, and the Shah of Iran were toppled.
Clinton didn’t say she wants to increase taxes on the wealthiest one percent or that she wants to “hold them more accountable,” whatever that might mean. She called for their overthrow.
Was this just poor word choice? Possibly. But if Clinton speaks this loosely, she will struggle on the campaign trail, as she struggled on her book tour.
Or did Clinton intentionally select an incendiary word in order to impress her audience with her populism? The New York Times describes the audience as “economists.” If they were at all sober-minded, it’s unlikely they were impressed by a call for the “toppling” of the one-percenters.
Or was Clinton’s intended audience her Party’s populist left, which perhaps was represented in the audience and to whom word of her remarks would be leaked? This is a sensible explanation.
Still, you have to wonder whether Clinton’s call for a “toppling” of the rich passes the straight-face test with the left. It’s more than plausible to believe that she will raise taxes on the rich. But “topple” them? That’s about as plausible as her claim to have left the White House “dead broke.”
In the end, I favor a combination of the first and third explanations. Hillary may well have difficulty choosing her words when she speaks. It’s a pretty common problem for people in her age group — I know from experience. When the mot juste does not pop up instantly, as it usually did in our younger days, we compensate not by taking extra time to pick a word — long pauses can be embarrassing — but by defaulting to a handy word that may not be quite what we want to say.
Here, Clinton may have defaulted to a handy term that, with its revolutionary overtone, over-compensated for her own status as a one-percenter with strong ties to the one-percenters on Wall Street.
This is sheer speculation, of course. But there’s nothing speculative about concluding that the Clinton campaign is well-advised ruthlessly to limit the amount of spontaneous speaking Clinton does during the next year and a half.
UPDATE: John Podhoretz provides his take. He goes with the “overcompensation” explanation, and concludes that “if [Hillary] continues to speak in ways that surely set off even the most hardened liberal’s bull detector, she is not going to be the president of the United States.”