Bill Clinton’s howlers cast doubt on his usefulness to Hillary

Will Bill Clinton be an asset to his wife’s campaign for the presidency? A week ago, I would, without hesitation, have said yes. After all, the former president remains popular and surely is a better politician than Hillary.

But after his comments to NBC’s Cynthia McFadden, I’m not so sure. Consider his defense to charging $500,000 or more for a single speech. Serving up an instant classic, Clinton told McFadden “I have to pay our bills.”

It may be difficult for the Clintons to reconcile this statement with the class warfare oriented campaign Hillary wants to wage. For example, it’s a staple of Democratic campaign rhetoric to attack multi-million dollar salaries for CEOs, and Hillary has already trotted out this theme. But CEOs have to pay their bills too.

If the Clintons really have bills that require such enormous speaking fees, then they are living a lifestyle that virtually no American can relate to (as, indeed, they are). This doesn’t bother me. But it undercuts Hillary’s attempts to portray herself as in-step with middle class Americans, whose “champion” she holds herself out as.

Now, consider Bill Clinton’s claim, also made to NBC, that he has “taken almost no capital gains” in the last 15 years. The Clintons tax returns tell a different story. They show that from 2000-2006, the Clintons made nearly $400,000 in capital gains. In 2006, they made more than $155,000.

In what universe is capital gains of this magnitude “almost no capital gains”? Most Americans probably didn’t make $400,000 in income plus dividends plus capital gains during this time period.

At best, Clinton’s claim is a howler that, like his “gotta pay the bills” line, shows how out of touch he has become. At worst, it’s a significant liberty with the truth.

Eight years ago, at roughly the midpoint between the end of his presidency and today, Bill Clinton’s contribution to Hillary’s campaign was mixed. Even without the latest howlers, it would be plausible to suspect that his political skills and acumen have continued to erode, perhaps at an accelerated pace.

I’m sure Bill still gives a great speech, having famously stayed in practice. Whether the rest of the package is intact remains to be seen. Even for a political genius, it must be very difficult to live as Bill Clinton does and still retain the common touch.