Fill 'er up.

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What Clinton's Speeches Tell Us

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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Hillary Clinton has sometimes been cast as her husband's opposite. He's a natural; she's calculating. He's a bubbly roue; she's a Methodist scold. He's a slapdash genius; she's a buttoned-down know-it-all. He's indiscriminate and omnivorous; she's discerning and restrained.

I've never found this twin portrait entirely convincing. Hillary Clinton didn't traipse through the ice of New Hampshire in the winter of 1992 answering embarrassing questions about her marriage because she insists on a tidy, well-ordered life. She did so because she shared her husband's soaring ambition. Maybe not every last morsel of it, yet surely enough to endure more than many spouses would.

And, of course, Clinton proved her personal ambition later, running for Senate and then for president. Twice.

Clinton is currently resisting calls made by Senator Bernie Sanders to release the texts of speeches she gave to Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, UBS and other financial institutions.  The speeches are very likely banal, and whatever praise she dolloped out to the bankers, and however unseemly her chumminess with them, it won't be sufficient to sink Battleship Clinton.

But as a measure of sheer appetite, the speeches are curiously telling.

After leaving the State Department in 2013, Clinton delivered a series of such speeches for lucrative fees. Like countless high-ranking government officials before her, she saw her opportunities, and she took 'em. The New York Times reported that talking earned Clinton and her husband $30 million in just 16 months after her State Department job ended. Since Bill Clinton's presidency ended in January 2001, the New York Times reported, the Clintons earned more than $125 million on the speaking circuit.

After leaving the State Department, Clinton gave three paid speeches to Goldman Sachs, earning a total of $675,000.

Consider the context:

-- In 2013, the Clintons were worth many millions.

-- Goldman Sachs, like other Wall Street banks after the financial crisis and subsequent bailouts, was a pariah among American voters on both right and left.

-- For the sake of $675,000 that this fabulously wealthy family scarcely would notice, Clinton created a new doubt about her judgment and a clear line of attack for her opponents and the news media. (The New York Post called out her "pathological need for cash.")

Having set out to capture the biggest prize of all -- the presidency -- Clinton still couldn't resist making a few pit stops to pick up easy, yet politically fraught, money.  

For Clinton haters, of course, this offers a new opportunity for another hapless quest, marked by comic excess and the firm conviction that someone in that darned family will someday get their comeuppance.

For the rest of us, the tale presents the basic mystery of those whose appetites can never be sated. It poses the question of why a supremely intelligent, exceedingly competent, detail-oriented, ever-prepared politician just can't leave well enough -- or even well-off enough -- alone.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net