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Hillary, wealth and what matters

Hillary Clinton blew it, more than once, when talking about her wealth recently. Does it matter? Should it?

In an interview last month with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Clinton said she and husband Bill were “dead broke” when they left the White House in 2001. In a later interview with The Guardian, she suggested that the Clintons were not “truly well off.” She defended the millions they have made from giving speeches, saying it came “by dint of hard work.” And she said Americans wouldn’t hold her wealth against her because she pays ordinary income taxes, unlike those who pay a lower rate because most of their income comes from capital gains.

Whew. That’s a lot of fodder critics can use to label her as out of touch. And they have been quick to pounce. Conservatives and populist Democrats alike have said Clinton’s comments show that she is far removed from regular people, and they question whether her potential presidential bid can survive. Next to a populist Democrat like Elizabeth Warren or even a Wall-Street-bashing Republican like Rand Paul, she could be vulnerable.

Clinton’s protestations that she’s not rich are laughable to most Americans, who can never dream of making more than $200,000 per speech, as each of the Clintons do. It is her being disingenuous, not the money itself, that’s irksome.

Much of the ensuing chatter has been about the political ramifications for Clinton. Less has been devoted to examining whether Clinton’s wealth, or her attitude about it, makes her less fit for office.

There’s nothing wrong with being rich. And most U.S. presidents have been extremely well off. What matters in a president is his or her vision for the country, and the depth of concern for helping all citizens, not just those who can write fat campaign checks. Mitt Romney’s wealth was an issue in the 2012 campaign, but it did not sink him until he wrote off 47 percent of the country as living off government handouts.

Clinton has demonstrated her concern for the poor and middle class for much of her life, from her work at the Children’s Defense Fund to her policy stances as a U.S. senator.

Hillary Clinton needs to get a lot better at answering questions about her wealth. The rest of us, meanwhile, should be focused on asking her more meaningful questions.

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