Establishment pundits used to note habitually that Bill Clinton, for all his vices, wasn’t greedy. His post-presidency has proven even that tired bit of conventional wisdom wrong. Clinton has relentlessly cashed in on his presidency, scooping up fees from all sorts of derelict companies, old and new.
The party that casts itself as the champion of the poor is more like the party of Wall Street plutocrats. That Bill Clinton’s most famous pardon went to a billionaire financier illustrates the party’s evolution. Clinton ended up soft on crime, only deviating from Democratic custom by choosing a white-collar one.
Not long after pardoning Marc Rich, Clinton received from Morgan Stanley — in a small sign of Wall Street’s client-indifference and dereliction to come — $100,000 for a speech at a “high-yield” conference in Boca Raton. It was the first speech of his post-presidency.
Only after clients erupted in outrage did Morgan Stanley apologize for inviting him. It issued a beside-the-point statement saying that it regretted not showing more concern for its clients’ feelings about Clinton’s “personal” behavior. The New York Times worried that “Morgan Stanley’s decision to criticize itself for arranging the speech could have a serious impact on Mr. Clinton’s post-White House income if other large investment firms and corporations feared that they, too, could face criticism from their clients by paying Mr. Clinton to speak.”
There was no need to fret. Since then Clinton has been up to his eyeballs in easy money from Wall Street. Once Clinton returned to the media’s good graces and recovered his celebrity status, he got back on Wall Street’s speaking circuit. Tanking banks, into whose executive ranks members of his administration graduated, have given him millions.
Famous Democrats have long divided their limousine drivers’ time between skid row and Wall Street, with Clinton perfecting the con job: giving speeches to reckless financial firms, then counting his loot back at his office in Harlem. A president who could pardon a fugitive financier was someone from whom they could learn much.
The press cast the Reagan years as the era of greed. But by today’s standards they look pretty sober. The lifestyles of the filthy rich and famous really didn’t get going until Clinton and his financier pals arrived on the scene. Liberalism, contrary to its propaganda, is always good for greed, as its underlying moral relativism extends to all the capital sins. If right and wrong are unknowable, then greed is good. The new morality, subjective to the core, is a sustained defense of selfishness in one form or another. Why wouldn’t it extend to money too?
The Clinton alumni society at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac epitomizes this era of yuppie avarice, making millions while crafting regulations based on left-wing ideological whims that sent the housing market into a death spiral. Will any of the Clinton-era architects of the subprime lending market be handing their salaries back? Be giving up their corporate jets? No, they will just re-route them to new speaking and consulting opportunities, maybe even a trip to Davos to reflect on global inequities.
The party of the very rich and the very poor now hands the bill for Wall Street’s collapse to the middle class. The special interests legislation at which Democrats excel benefits people at the top and the bottom but never in the middle. Clinton’s “middle-class tax cut” didn’t materialize and there is no reason to think Obama’s will either. “Tax credits” will go to ACORN’s voters, bailouts to Robert Rubin’s.
Meanwhile, Clinton will prepare for his next six-figure speech. Morgan Stanley had bailed him out a long time ago, offering him his first post-presidential platform to begin a new career as an expert on crises he helped create and bad actors he let go.