WASHINGTON – Behind closed doors, Hillary Clinton adopted a rather more accommodating tone with Wall Street than she has on the campaign trail.
In private paid speeches to financial firms and interest groups before she declared her candidacy, the Democratic presidential nominee comes off as a knowing insider, willing to cut backroom deals, embrace open trade and grant Wall Street a central role in crafting financial regulations, according to excerpts obtained last week through hacked campaign emails provided to WikiLeaks.
Compare that with her public remarks in the presidential race. For voters, Clinton has embraced the rhetoric of a class warrior: Higher taxes on the wealthy. Tougher rules for Wall Street. Empathy for the financial burdens of ordinary Americans.
The gap between her private and public remarks helps explain the relatively high levels of distrust that voters, including some of her own supporters, have expressed about the former secretary of state, New York senator and presidential spouse. Privately, to audiences at Goldman Sachs and others, Clinton expressed a philosophy that in some ways clashes with the progressive vision she has articulated while campaigning.
Here’s a breakdown of the differences:
In public, Clinton has taken a hard stance against Wall Street, opposing any weakening of the regulatory reforms passed after the 2008 financial meltdown. She has warned that Republican lawmakers and Donald Trump want to abolish the stricter rules imposed under the Dodd-Frank law enacted in 2010.
“We should extend the rules passed in Dodd-Frank on Wall Street in crisis and strengthen them both for the big banks and the shadow banking system,” Clinton said in a speech in North Carolina this summer. “And I will veto any reforms to repeal those rules and vigorously enforce the law with accountability so Wall Street can never wreck Main Street again.”
Yet fears have lingered that despite such proclamations, Clinton remains too cozy with major banks and investment funds. The financial sector has been a major source of campaign donations for Clinton. And in a paid speech for a Goldman Sachs symposium in 2013, Clinton suggested that the industry should play a dominant hand in developing its own rules
“There’s nothing magic about regulations, too much is bad, too little is bad,” she is quoted as saying in the hacked emails. “How do you get to the golden key, how do we figure out what works? And the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry.”
Many experts agree that the financial industry itself needs to have some voice in crafting regulations, if new rules are to be effective and provide safety without sacrificing economic growth. But the emphasis in her private speech was much more sympathetic to the financial sector than what some industry watchdogs would wish.
THE MIDDLE CLASS
Clinton routinely celebrates her connection to average Americans.
“My mission in the White House will be to make our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top,” she said in an August speech. “This is personal for me. I am a product of the American middle class. … I’ve always remembered that I’m the daughter of a small-business owner and the granddaughter of a factory worker — and proud of both.”
Yet despite the vast financial riches that she and her husband, Bill, began reaping once he left the presidency in 2001, Clinton even seemed to suggest that they face the same struggles with debt and college costs that many American households do.
“We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt,” Clinton told ABC News in 2014. “We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea’s education.”
The Clintons are now worth several tens of millions of dollars, collected from speeches, book deals and other business arrangements. She seldom highlights this wealth in campaign addresses.
But she did so in a 2014 speech for Goldman Sachs and BlackRock, the investment management company. Speaking in private, Clinton acknowledged being increasingly isolated from the financial struggles of much of the country, saying, instead, that memories of her middle class past are her primary connection now.
“Obviously, I’m kind of far removed because the life I’ve lived and the economic, you know, fortunes that my husband and I now enjoy,” she said.
The excerpts indicated that Clinton might not always be candid with voters.
In a 2013 speech before the National Multi-Housing Council, Clinton indicated that she might hold a private position on issues that differs from her public stance because politics can often be an ugly business.
“Politics is like sausage being made,” she said. “It is unsavoury, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be. But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the backroom discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position.”
That philosophy could be problematic in solidifying the trust of voters.
For example, Clinton is now against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, even though she had said in 2012 that the trade agreement “sets the gold standard.”
Her disavowal of the trade deal pushed by President Barack Obama came up frequently during her Democratic primary battle against Bernie Sanders, with Clinton saying that the TPP wouldn’t help raise middle class wages.
But Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally, raised doubts about her sincerity when he told Politico that a trade agreement would go through under Clinton.
“Once the election’s over, and we sit down on trade, people understand a couple things we want to fix on it, but going forward we got to build a global economy,” McAuliffe said.
Later, though, the Virginia governor walked back that suggestion, saying that Clinton would in fact continue to oppose the trade partnership.
But the speech excerpts made her views hazier as Clinton took a different, though not necessarily contradictory, position in a 2013 speech.
“My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere,” she said.