Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Speaking of . . . speaking

In order to get as clear a picture of the 2016 presidential race as possible, let's spend a bit of time speaking about . . . well, speaking.  For despite the fact that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have yet to put their imprimatur on precisely who their respective candidate will be, their respective strategies for victory - or defeat - are perfectly clear.  It all boils down to speaking; to words . . . words that have been spoken in the past, words spoken today, and words yet to be given voice. For the Clinton campaign, Donald Trump represents an opposition researcher's most treasured dream. For in Trump, the Clinton staff has an opponent whose nasty, vindictive, racist, xenophobic, sexist and just plain head-scratching speeches, tweets and verbal explosions are the stuff of which strategic campaign dreams are made.  In short, Secretary Clinton and her staff of advisors, strategists researchers, surrogates and pollsters are already using Trump's words against him . . . and will continue so doing until either the second Tuesday in November or the day Donald Trump announces that due to "a recently discovered, life-threatening medical problem," must "regrettably leave the presidential race in order to take care of my health." (As much out of left field as this may seem, do not, dear reader totally discount the possibility.)

And there's plenty of fodder for opposition research.  According to Politifact, in 2015, Donald Trump was the "liar of the year." A mere 2 out of 162 claims he made were true (and a combined 36 were either "mostly true" or "half true"), while 96 were either "false" or "pants on fire." By comparison, they found that out of 211 claims made by Hillary Clinton in 2015, 48 were true (and a combined 104 either "mostly true" or "half true") while 27 were either "false" or "pants on fire." And Trump calls her "crooked?"  Methinks this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black . . .

We need neither rehash nor remind of Trump's wont for verbal inanities, self-congratulatory encomia, forensic inconsistencies or outright lies.  When all is said and done, the man is a Hall of Fame-class blatherskite.  And luckily for Clintonians everywhere, virtually the entire Trump aural oeuvre has been preserved and is thus available for use against him: everything from speaking out in favor of abortion and Planned Parenthood to being one of the founding fathers of the anti-Obama birther movement and most recently, dusting off a 1990s conspiracy regarding the suicide of former Clinton aide Vince Foster. And all these are just the tip of the iceberg; an iceberg that will be played out again and again and again in Clinton campaign ads.

Then, there are the speeches of Donald Trump's supposed supporters. When they open their mouths, they do neither themselves nor their candidate a bit of good. As but one example, the other day California Representative Duncan Hunter who, along with Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions co-chairs the Trump Leadership Committee in Congress, spent two minutes at a press gathering attempting to say something positive about his candidate for president.  An excerpt from the encounter speaks volumes:

A Washington Post reporter kicked things off by asking about Trump’s remarks at a Wednesday rally in Atlanta, where he made this suggestion to Republican leaders who are critical of him: “Be quiet. Just please be quiet. Don’t talk.”

Said Hunter, “I’m not going to comment on what he said. Really.”

The reporter followed up: “Is it wise for him to be telling Congress — ”

At which point Hunter interjected, “I’m not going to comment. I’m not going to tell him what’s wise and what’s not. It’s all about Trump.  . . . What I’m done with is trying to articulate or explain or answer for what Donald Trump says,” Hunter said. “I think he’ll be a great president. I think he’ll make good decisions on the economy, on the border, on national security, but it doesn’t mean we endorse what he says. I think what he says and what he’ll do are two different things.”

The Post reporter asked him, “So what should we believe when he says something? What should we believe when it comes out of his mouth?”

“What he said,” Hunter replied.

“But you just said you don’t necessarily believe what he says is what he’s going to do,” said the reporter.

“Right,” Hunter said. “True. But him talking about things and saying things about things is different than him saying what he’s going to do. I think he’ll do what he says he’s going to do. I’m not trying to parse words; I think he’ll do what he says he’s going to do. But he says things about things that I don’t endorse, and I’m not going to try to articulate for him.”

"It’s not my job to answer for Donald Trump,” Hunter said. “Really. I’m not even a surrogate. I’m just an endorser.”

Got that?

Trump's strategy against Secretary Clinton will also involve speaking . . . what she said, who she said it to and how much she was paid for saying whatever she said.  It is of course no secret that the Clintons are quite wealthy. Together, they have earned tens of millions of dollars on the lecture circuit as well as millions for writing bestselling books.  Secretary Clinton is represented by All American Speakers, whose other high-paid speakers include Magic Johnson, Ben Affleck, Jay Leno, Bob Dylan, Meryl Streep and. . . Donald Trump - all of whom earn a minimum of $200,000 a speech. 

Frequently, we hear from Donald Trump - and Senator Bernie Sanders as well - that Secretary Clinton is a creature of Wall Street and international bankers; that because she has given highly paid speeches before banking and investment groups, she is not and never shall be on the side of the middle class. 

Hmmm . . .

The truth of the matter is the majority of the money Secretary Clinton has made from speaking fees did not come from Wall Street. She has given nearly 100 paid speeches since leaving the State Dept., and only 8 were to “Wall Street” banks.  With the possible exception of one speech given to Deutsche Bank, all of Secretary Clinton’s 8 speeches to Wall Street were for a speaking fee of $225,000. That does not even break the top 20 of her highest paid speeches. In fact it’s not even close. For example she received over $275,000 each for three speeches she gave to The Vancouver Board of Trade, the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, and Canada 2020. So apparently Canadians also “own” her.  Nearly all of her speeches were to organizations like American Camping Association, Ebay, Cisco, Xerox, Cardiovascular Research Foundation, United Fresh Produce Association, International Deli-Dairy-Bakery Association, California Medical Association, A&E Television Networks, Massachusetts Conference for Women, U.S. Green Building Council, National Association of Realtors, American Society of Travel Agents, Gap, National Association of Convenience Stores, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, etc.

Does Wall Street have influence with Secretary Clinton? Grow up, of course they do. Whether one likes it or not, Wall Street is one of the key engines of the American economy, and as such has enormous influence with everyone. EVERYONE. Don’t kid yourself on that point. And aside from anything else, she was a 2-term Senator of New York, and this made Wall Street an important corporate member of her constituency. The issue is not influence. The issue is whether or not paid speeches and campaign donations alone are proof of corruption. And they’re not. The last time I checked there was an important difference between association and guilt, between proof and slander. Corporations and Associations pay large fees for important speakers all of the time. And Secretary Clinton got booked fairly often because she is both interesting and popular, and because there’s a great deal of status attached to having her speak at an event. Ignoring all of this however, a large contingent of anti-Hillary people continue to insist that all those speaker’s fees from Wall Street banks were bribes, and that because of this they “own” her. But by that logic shouldn’t we all be asking what in the world the American Camping Association is up to?

Moreover, Secretary Clinton is far from being the highest-paid speaker on the circuit; Donald Trump has been paid more than $1.5 million on numerous occasions without anyone saying a word.  Then too, before he began his run for POTUS in 2007, former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani had been making in excess of $700,000 PER MONTH in speaking fees, with an average of $270k per speech. It’s estimated that in the 5 years before his run he earned as much as $40 million in speaking fees. Nobody cared, no accusations of impropriety were made, and there was almost no media interest.  And speaking of corruption, after leaving the Florida governor’s office Jeb Bush made millions of dollars in paid speeches. This includes large sums he collected from a South Korean metals company that reaped over a BILLION dollars in contracts from his brother’s presidential administration. Speaking to an Indian newspaper about this type of thing Bush said, “This is the life of being the brother of the president.” Do you remember reading all about that while Jeb was running for President? I didn’t think so. Jeb got a pass too.

So why all the concern over Secretary Clinton?  Could it be because she's a woman?

And so, the strategies seem to be set.  On the one side we have the words, speeches and pronouncements of Donald Trump - plus the halting, faltering statements of his supporters - coming back to haunt him and make him appear to be the political pigmy he is; on the other we have the accusation that because she has given speeches before groups of Wall Street bankers (and won't tell us what she said), that Secretary Clinton is really a stealth candidate representing the interests of the top 1%.  (Of course, there are also several other "minor" factors like policy, knowledge, understanding of the world, tenacity, temperament,  experience, maturity, statesmanship and, while we're at it, hairstyle. Along these lines, not only does Clinton out lap Trump by about 50,000 furlongs; she is, quite likely, the best-qualified [and most tonsorially gifted] presidential candidate in all American history.) 

I don't know about you, but if these are the strategies - i.e. speaking - I feel confident that sometime around midnight on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, the United States of America will have officially elected its first woman president.

Copyright ©2016 Kurt F. Stone