Goldman Speeches a Big Unforced Error for Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton did not have to deliver paid speeches for Goldman Sachs. Photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images for The Foundation

At a public conference today, Hillary Clinton said her much-questioned, much-criticized speeches to Goldman Sachs officers and employees in 2013 were explained by the fact that “they paid me.”

In context, she was saying that she did paid speeches at that point in her career, and didn’t do anything more for that particular audience than she would do for anyone else. Similarly, her hosts at the Recode conference, where she made this comment, also had Goldman Sachs representatives present because they were paid, too.

I understand. I empathize. But precisely because of my “centrist” background as someone who thinks mixing and mingling with Wall Street types does not necessarily suggest corruption, I think HRC’s Goldman speeches represented political malpractice in the extreme.

No, Clinton could not have known in 2013 that Bernie Sanders was going to challenge her on an anti-corporate platform in 2016. And she certainly could not have anticipated that her general-election opponent would be a Republican who pretended, at least, to object to Wall Street influence over the White House (as it happens, he loaded the White House with Goldman Sachs alums).

But she should have realized that after years and years of lefty heartburn over Clinton family connections with Wall Street, and the particular anxieties associated with the Obama administration’s failure to criminally prosecute those associated with the financial meltdown of 2008, this is the one place she could not go to make paid speeches. It played directly into every negative stereotype of her — and her husband — from both the left and right of the political spectrum. There is no way it was worth it.

It would be nice if Clinton acknowledged this as an unforced error — perhaps less important than James Comey’s intervention in the election, or the email saga in general, or the underlying sexism she struggled against — but important nonetheless. “I got paid” is a poor excuse for letting people think she might have gotten paid for ignoring their own needs.

I am confident Clinton does not “play for pay.” But I can’t really prove it. And that’s a bad and avoidable thing.

Goldman Speeches a Big Unforced Error for Hillary Clinton