The news that Hillary Clinton has earned what the Washington Post characterized as "close to $500,000" for two recent speeches to Goldman Sachs is generating a certain amount of excitement.
An editorial in the Washington Examiner reports that "some critics now raise questions about the propriety of a Wall Street firm that depends in so many ways upon political influence to maintain its financial health paying such egregiously large speaking fees to the potential next Oval Office occupant, especially someone who has little or no experience with financial products or entrepreneurship."
Neither Goldman Sachs nor Mrs. Clinton has disclosed in detail the contents of the speeches. But the image of Mrs. Clinton — or, for that matter, her husband Bill — as somehow naïve or innocent in matters of finance or business is enough to bring a smile to the lips of anyone who remembers the Clinton back story.
This is the same Hillary Clinton, after all, who made nearly $100,000 in ten months of 1978 and 1979 trading cattle and hog futures, gains she explained improbably by saying she had diligently read the Wall Street Journal.
It is the same Hillary Clinton who served between 1986 and 1992 as a member of the corporate board of directors of Walmart. That was during that Arkansas-based retailer's phenomenal growth, at a time when it had a non-union, low-cost workforce similar to the one that troubles left-wing activists today.
Bill Clinton, meanwhile, collected a post-presidential $12 million from a partnership he had with Ron Burkle and what the Wall Street Journal described as "Dubai Investment Group (YGP) Ltd., an entity that was part of the business empire of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai." That's on top of the $106 million that Mr. Clinton has earned in speaking fees since leaving the White House, which itself comes on top of his reported $15 million book advance.
Meanwhile, the New Republic, in a long feature on how former Bill Clinton aide Douglas Band parlayed his Clinton ties into a personal fortune and a 200-employee corporate advisory firm, can quote an anonymous "Clinton friend" claiming that Mr. Clinton "doesn't care about money."
That's the Clinton trick — making lots of money while appearing not to care about making money or even to know much about business. It's a feat, an illusion.
And if Goldman Sachs can manage to learn from the Clintons how to convey the appearance of global do-gooders while at the same time generating this sort of cash-flow, then whatever speaking fee the firm paid Mrs. Clinton will be worth every penny.
It wouldn't be the first time that Goldman tried to capture some of that Clinton image magic. The firm paid Gene Sperling, who had served as an economic policy aide in the Clinton administration, a reported $887,727 in 2008 for "advice on charitable giving." At that rate, a half-million for Hillary is a bargain for Goldman Sachs.
To be sure, Goldman's mission of serving clients and shareholders is different from the Clinton mission, if she runs for president, of serving the public. But just as Goldman clients may sometimes wonder if their interests or the firm's come first, Americans may sometimes wonder if their interests or the Clintons' own come first. Sometimes the interests are aligned, but when they aren't, watch out.
Perhaps after the Obama presidency, Americans would find it refreshing to have, in Mrs. Clinton, a president who doesn't seem hostile to business. Voters will seek reassurance, however, about whether Mrs. Clinton's enthusiasm for profits extends beyond those earned by her clients, her husband, and herself.