Not too long ago—back when Hillary Clinton was scraping and clawing to out-progressive Bernie Sanders for the Democrat nomination—the former Secretary of State literally laughed off the question of when she would release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Wall Street banks. The insinuation was clear: Never. She long ago made the political calculation that dealing with the criticism of being secretive was far better than having to answer for the things that she said behind closed doors.
Now we see why. Thousands of e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, were posted by WikiLeaks on Friday evening, including excerpts from some of the paid closed-door speeches she gave to Wall Street banks. As Time Magazine’s Laura Koran and Dan Merica write, “Clinton’s comments to financial firms, if legitimate, would validate what supporters of Bernie Sanders long said about her: Clinton is a fake populist who is really out of touch with the middle class.”
Voters have always sensed that Clinton tends to say whatever it is she believes her audience wants to hear, but rarely has such an open-and-shut case of political two-facedness been presented. The emails show that Clinton freely told her Wall Street pals that she often tells American voters one thing while doing something completely different behind closed doors.
“[I]f everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least,” Clinton said in a 2013 speech. “So, you need both a public and a private position.”
That has proven to be exceptionally true this election season.
In public, Clinton has been a fierce opponent of Wall Street and pushes for more regulation and greater government oversight of the financial sector. But behind closed doors she told bankers that blaming Wall Street for the economic collapse was at attempt at “politicizing” the issue, that she has “a lot of respect of the work you do and the people who do it,” that there’s “nothing magic about regulations,” and that although more needs to be done it “really has to come from the industry itself.”
In public, she’s flip-flopped on her support for the Trans Pacific Partnership and portrayed herself as a warrior against trade deals. But in private, she told an audience that her “dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity or every person in the hemisphere.”
In public she was a technological neophyte who didn’t really understand how email worked and thus couldn’t imagine the threat that having a separate email server could pose. But in private it was clear she fully understood the cyber threat she was creating. “At the State Department we were attacked every hour, more than once an hour by incoming efforts to penetrate everything we had,” she said. “[When we travelled] we would leave all of our electronic equipment on the plane, with batteries out, because this is a new frontier.”
And in public she’s attempted to play up her middle class bona fides, talking about her father’s life as a small businessman who worked hard and struggled. But in private Clinton willingly admitted that she was “kind of far removed [from middle class] because the life I’ve lived and the economic, you know, fortunes that my husband and I now enjoy.” A far cry from when she attempted to sell voters on the idea that she came out of the White House “dead broke.”
Henderson agreed and pointed out that these leaked transcripts don’t help Clinton and that this hurts her standing with progressives and millennials who already had a distrust for Clinton during the Democratic primary.
As Tim Mak and Andrew Desiderio write for the Daily Beast, the revelation of Clinton’s two faces plays up one of her biggest liabilities:
For Clinton, it is an embarrassing revelation that strikes to her greatest vulnerability: that she can’t be trusted, doesn’t mean what she says and is too close to the big banks—all at a time when she is struggling to generate enthusiasm among the young progressives who backed Sanders over her in the primary.
Perhaps the most damaging to Clinton—and most validating to Sanders—will be her fawning speeches about Wall Street—to Wall Street. In her remarks, Clinton appears to prove Bernie right.
How will Sanders’ supporters react? After all, she’s successfully wooed many of them by making a highly publicized shift in the senator’s direction. But is that just her public position, or is it also her private position? Given Clinton’s comments, and record in general, it’s nearly impossible for voters to tell.