Hillary Clinton’s totally-not-running-for-president campaign has seen a few highs and lows so far. With the release of her book and its subsequent tour, the issues that could come into play should she actually run in 2016 are already being outlined and how she handles them may well presage the campaign to come. There have been a few events that she has weathered already, such as the issue of how rich she is, a rape case she was a part of early in her law career and how much it costs to have her speak at an event. But all of these issues can boil down to one important factor: likability. The basic question is whether Hillary Clinton is likable enough to get elected and this case of likability will become increasingly important as the 2016 Election season nears.
The latest issue to pop up for Hillary has been a rape case in which she defended the accused. An interview with the victim has helped paint Clinton, who was the defense, as a ruthless, unscrupulous operator who badgered the victim in order to win. There has been a certain amount of uproar about the story, including accusations from feminists and Republican critics. They say that the former Secretary of State cannot possibly be pro-women because of how she handled that case. As many people know, women are an important voting block in the United States and were a large part of the reason why Obama was able to win the election twice. Some may think that Hillary may already have the female solidarity vote, so a good strategy for opponents would be to loosen the apparent tie between her and these swing voters.
The outcry lacks true substance, however, especially if anyone knows how the American justice system works. Michael Krauss, a professor at George Mason School of Law, wrote a piece in Forbes magazine about the ethics of the case and he points out that Clinton did an admirable job. American justice gives accused persons the right to a competent defense, which she provided. The elements of the case which were said to have caused distress to the victim are common elements of defense even today and were not inflicted without legal cause. She did not defame the victim or accuse her of anything, but merely followed the rules for providing a decent defense for her client. If anything, her only failing was to violate the confidentiality agreement between her and her client when she discussed the case with a reporter, but that has not been a point for her critics who do not have to worry about the felon vote. Instead, they have focused on the female victim’s story in order to try to make Clinton less likable to women.
Nevertheless, it ignores an important point about lawyers and the work they do. Sometimes they represent “the bad guys.” Even guilty people deserve fair representation and that is what lawyers are ethically bound to do. There have been some famous cases of lawyers who have done just that. Three weeks after the Boston Massacre in 1770 when sentiment was still running hot, John Adams represented the British soldiers who had been charged with murder. His defense was so good that seven of the men involved were acquitted and two were only convicted of manslaughter, which kept them from facing the death penalty. A more recent case was the current Chief Justice John Roberts, who once represented serial killer John Ferguson as a trial lawyer. In the cases of these two men, their previous history was no impediment to their attaining high office, even the office of the president in Adam’s case. Using the former First Lady’s history as a lawyer against her, when compared to these men, seems politically motivated or at least disingenuous.
A bigger issue, however, has been the case of Hillary Clinton’s money, specifically how much she is worth, how much she makes for her speeches and how that affects her likability with middle class voters. There have been comments about her claims that her family was broke and in debt after they left the White House and that they struggled to make ends meet. Part of how they survived were the speaking engagements she and her husband had, which have made them millions of dollars. Hillary currently makes about $200,000 per speech as the former Secretary of State. Some of her comments in her own defense have been badly put, for instance when she referred to mortgages and houses in the plural as part of the reason she and her family needed her to make that much money. This has been painted as a gap between her and middle class voters who cannot afford second homes and are the largest percentage of voters in the country. It is a group that she cannot afford to be out of touch with, should she indeed run in 2016.
There are two problems with this line of criticism. The first is that there are many politicians who have made more money on their speeches than Hillary has and yet that has not been a problem for them or their careers. Donald Trump, a one time Republican presidential nominee candidate, has made $1.5 million on one speech. Even Rudy Giuliani, who only made $270,000 for one speech is ahead of Hillary’s number. Neither of these men faced censure about their price tags when they were running for president. So why is it such an issue for Clinton? There seems to be a double standard between these candidates and Hillary or at least an arguable amount of sexism.
The other problem is the matter of Hillary’s wealth, which is being cast as inhibiting her from identifying with the middle class. Other notable politicians running for president have faced the same criticism, including Mitt Romney, who was worth $250 million in 2014 just on a combination of stocks, bonds, and cash when he ran in 2014. He was accused by Democrats of being too rich and too out of touch with Middle America to understand how things were for the average voter. His campaign argued that his success as a businessman was what had contributed to his wealth and made him the perfect candidate for the middle class because he knew the value of hard work. Perhaps Clinton should be taking the same tack except with the added element of her personal interactions with people before, during and after her speeches. She could claim to be far better qualified than Romney because of her closeness to the middle class, not her distance from them in high-powered boardrooms.
Hillary is not even running for president and already the well-used attacks for political candidates are coming into play. In political life, a person’s past history is always fair game and can often be spun in such a way to make the person look untrustworthy or worse, unlikable. Women and the middle class are the main targets of these latest efforts and they have a 50-50 chance of working. There are always people willing to believe such stories, but that should not make everyone lose sight of what is really going on. Politics is a popularity contest and if enough people do not like a candidate, that candidate will lose. At least that is the hope of the former Senator’s opponents who may be hoping to stop her running for the White House before she even officially begins. It is all about the case of Hillary Clinton’s likability, not her record as a lawyer or a speaker or a politician that is at stake here, which makes all of this nothing more than politics.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury