Nothing seems to rattle Hillary Clinton quite so much as pointed questions about her personal finances. How much she’s made. How she made it. Where it all came from. From her miraculous adventures in the cattle futures market to the Whitewater real estate scam, many of the most venal Clinton scandals down the decades have involved Hillary’s financial entanglements and the serpentine measures she has taken to conceal them from public scrutiny.
Hillary is both driven to acquire money and emits a faint whiff of guilt about having hoarded so much of it. One might be tempted to ascribe her squeamishness about wealth to her rigid Methodism, but her friends say that Hillary’s covetousness derives from a deep obsession with feeling secure, which makes a kind of sense given Bill’s free-wheeling proclivities. She’s not, after all, a child of the Depression, but a baby boomer. Hillary was raised in comfortable circumstances in the Chicago suburbs and, unlike her husband, has never in her life felt the sting of want.
Mrs. Clinton’s stubborn refusal to disclose the text of her three speeches to Goldman Sachs executives in the fall of 2013 fits this self-destructive pattern of greed and guilt. She was fortunate that Bernie Sanders proved too feeble a candidate to seize the advantage. Each time Sanders was asked to show a nexus between the $675,000 she was paid and any political favors to the financial vultures at Goldman, the senator froze, proving strangely incapable of driving a stake into the heart of her campaign.
A less paranoid politician would have simply released the tedious transcripts of the speeches on a Friday evening to bore insomniac readers to sleep. The real question, of course, was never about the content of the speeches, but about why Goldman was paying her $225,000 an hour to give them. Goldman executives weren’t huddling around Mrs. Clinton to listen to her recite the obscurantist mish-mash ghost-dictated by her top economic advisor Alan Blinder. Blinder, a well-known Wall Street commodity himself, is a former vice-chair of the Federal Reserve and co-founder of Promontory Interfinancial Network, a regulatory arbitrage outfit whose top executives pocket $30 million a year. Blinder has publicly assured his Wall Street pals that Clinton will not under any circumstances break up the big banks and neither will she seek to reanimate Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era regulatory measure whose exsanguination by her husband enabled the financial looting by firms like Goldman and Lehman Brothers that spurred the global economic collapse of 2008.
The lavish fee from Goldman for Hillary’s speeches was both a gratuity for past loyalty and a down payment on future services. Goldman’s ties to the Clintons date back at least to 1985, when Goldman executives began pumping money into the newly formed Democratic Leadership Council, a kind of proto-SuperPac for the advancement of neoliberalism. Behind its “third-way” politics smokescreen, the DLC was shaking down corporations and Wall Street financiers to fund the campaigns of business-friendly “New” Democrats such as Al Gore and Bill Clinton.
The DLC served as the political launching pad for the Clintons, boosting them out of the obscurity of the Arkansas dog-patch into the rarified orbit of the Georgetown cocktail circuit and the Wall Street money movers. By the time Bill rambled through his interminable keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention in Atlanta, the Clintons’ Faustian pact with Goldman had already been inked, their political souls cleansed of any vestiges of the primitive southern populism Clinton had exploited so effortlessly during his first term as governor.
In 1991, the Clintons traveled to Manhattan, where they tested the waters for Bill’s then rather improbable presidential bid. At a dinner meeting with Goldman’s co-chair Robert Rubin, Clinton made his case as a more pliant political vessel than George H.W. Bush, who many of the younger Wall Street raiders had soured on. Rubin emerged from the dinner so impressed that he agreed to serve as one of the campaign’s top economic advisors. More crucially, Rubin soon began orchestrating a riptide of Wall Street money into Clinton’s campaign war chest, not only from Goldman but also from other banking and investment titans, such as Lehman Brothers and Citibank, who were eager to see the loosening of federal financial regulations. With Rubin priming the pump, Clinton’s campaign coffers soon dwarfed his rivals and enabled him to survive the sex scandals that detonated on the eve of the New Hampshire primary.
After his election, Clinton swiftly returned the favor checking off one item after another on Rubin’s wish list, often at the expense of the few morsels he’d tossed to the progressive base of the party. In a rare fit of pique, Clinton erupted during one meeting of his National Economic Council, which Rubin chaired, in the first fraught year of his presidency by yelling: “You mean my entire agenda has been turned over to the fucking bond market?” Surely, Bill meant this as a rhetorical question.
When the time came to do the serious business of deregulating the financial sector, Rubin migrated from the shadows of the NEC to become Treasury Secretary, where he oversaw the implementation of NAFTA, the immiseration of the Mexican economy, imposed shock therapy on the struggling Russian economy, blocked the regulation of credit derivatives and gutted Glass-Steagall. When Rubin left the Treasury to cash in on his work at Citigroup, Clinton called him “the greatest secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton.” Nine years later, following the greatest upward transfer of wealth in history, the global economy was in ruins, with Clinton, Rubin and Goldman Sachs’ fingerprints all over the carnage.
In mid-May, Hillary announced her intention to make Bill the “economic czar” for her administration. This served to quell any anxiety that she might have been infected during the primary campaign by the Sanders virus. For Wall Street, the Clintons are still as good as Goldman. Quid pro quo.