The Clintons run short of sales leads

by Jordan Green

When Sen. Hillary Clinton campaigned earlier this month in Mooresville, a piston of the profitable North Carolina auto-racing industry, the populist fervor in the audience made the stock-car racing hall of fame feel like a clandestine meeting of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in the 1930s Arkansas delta.

She came to North Carolina – husband Bill dispatched to multiply the gospel – to mine the economic pain of ordinary people for votes, to prove that she alone could connect with the elusive white, rural working-class demographic. Sen. Barack Obama’s image as an elitist and fears stirred by his controversial former pastor’s sermons, along with Clinton’s new persona as a scrappy survivor, surely helped, but Clinton’s supporters did not turn out in sufficient numbers to help her close the deal.

The Clinton political brand appears to be tainted. After three terms as governor of Arkansas and two terms as commander in chief in which Bill Clinton talked a populist game but delivered results for the corporations, the rakish former president charmed the gymnasium crowds, but it must have sounded a little hollow.

The game has worn on: Arkansas; United States, Part I; United States, Part II.

“You’ve got to make up your mind who’s really on your side,” Hillary Clinton declared in Mooresville on May 3. Then, in a stock passage of her stump speech calibrated to attack student loan companies and simultaneously burnish her common-folks credentials, she would deliver a rare personal anecdote.

“I understand what families are going through because I’ve never lost touch in talking to them,” she’d say. “I come from a middle-class family. My late father did not believe in credit at all. You know, he didn’t borrow a penny. He was always afraid that once you started you didn’t know where it was going to stop. So we never had a credit card. He saved up his money to buy the house, free and clear. I come from a family that believes you do not live beyond your means.”

Meanwhile, as Hillary Clinton carries the family’s political star, her husband – now retired from public office – effectively works the private-sector side, with the result that McClatchy Newspapers reported earlier this month that Bill Clinton earned $16.4 million in 2007. Thanks to the reporting of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, the most recent details come into relief describing how the former president has leveraged his personal prestige as a trading chip with powerful and wealthy friends.

The Journal reported in January that Clinton stood to receive $20 million by cashing out his investments with Yucaipa Global Partnership Fund – a move designed to protect his wife from embarrassing questions about the company’s offshore registration and dealings with a Chinese media and financial monopoly.

Moreover, as The Times has reported, Clinton accompanied a friend, Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra, to Kazakhstan in 2005 to help him gain access to the country’s untapped uranium deposits. The quid pro quo reportedly worked like this: Clinton said flattering things about Kazakhstan President Narsultan Nazarbayev’s human rights record while its reputation was receiving an international drubbing; Nazarbayev gave his blessing to a pact with state-owned Kazatomprom worth tens of millions of dollars that allowed Giustra’s company to develop uranium; and Giustra gave Clinton’s foundation $31.3 million.

Clinton offered an ever-so vague hint of that rarified world of wealth and influence when he charmed a crowd at Glenn High School in Kernersville on May 4 with a story about a hybrid car that gets 100 miles per gallon. He said his wife asked him about the invention “because I do all this energy work all around the world and because I grew up in the car business under a car getting grease all over me when I was five or six years old. That’s back when a real person could still repair their own car. Any rate, I called this fellow. It’s the real deal, and here it is….”

In that folksy sleight of hand, he became one of them again – someone who might relate to the pain and insecurity of an economic transition that has seen Winston-Salem textile company Hanesbrand relocate most of its manufacturing capacity to Latin America and China while state and local governments wooed computer maker Dell with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of corporate incentives.

“You want to bring back manufacturing in America?” he asked.

“Yes,” the crowd thundered.

“Well, good,” the former president replied. “We do need to repeal the provisions in the tax code that encourage people to move jobs overseas.” He made perfunctory mention that “Hillary says there’s more changes we ought to make in NAFTA” – the trade deal he signed in 1993 – and allowed that “we do need more labor and environmental standards, more enforcement.”

The day before in Mooresville the presidential candidate also tapped into that deep well of economic insecurity and anti-Chinese sentiment boiling throughout the Carolinas.

“And we’re going to start standing up to China because China’s taking advantage of us,” Hillary Clinton said. “They manipulate our currency. They counterfeit our goods. They engage in industrial espionage. They don’t follow the rules.”

“Yes,” came the cry from the crowd.

“And they export in our markets lead-based toys, contaminated pet food and polluted pharmaceuticals,” she continued. “It’s time we had a president that said, ‘No more.'”

Hold up.

According to The Times, Loral Space & Communications CEO Bernard Schwartz donated at least $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation in 1999 at a time when federal investigators were trying to determine whether the company improperly provided satellite technology to China, and Loral later agreed to pay a $14 million civil fine after George W. Bush assumed the presidency.

Still later, in an effort to retire significant debts from long-running legal troubles during his time in the White House, the former president joined Yucaipa Global Partnership Fund with California businessman Ronald Burkle, also a donor. The foreign investment partnership is registered in the Cayman Islands, an offshore arrangement typically made to evade US taxes. And a Feb. 18 Securities and Exchange Commission filing by Yucaipa notes that the limited partnership has purchased shares in Xinhua Finance Media Limited, a Shanghai media and finance monopoly with close ties to the Chinese government.

In North Carolina it appears that voters desperate for economic reform saw through the Clinton mirage. How were they to gauge the Clintons’ sincerity? Hillary Clinton’s 2006 Senate financial disclosure form – the latest one available – notes her husband’s numerous honorariums for speeches given to corporate audiences: $200,000 apiece from IBM for an engagement in the Bahamas and from General Motors for an event in New York, and $150,000 each from the International Council of Shopping Centers for its conference in Las Vegas and from investment bank Lehman Brothers for a retreat at Kiawah Island in South Carolina.

He owns that special knack of conversancy with any audience, the ability to assuage their anxieties and validate their struggles. And he is always working to close the sale with us.

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