Now that it's officially summer and we have a whole bunch of presidential candidates running around, it's time for political pundits to engage in one of its favorite pastimes: not going on vacations themselves and, instead, spilling a lot of ink about which locales are and are not acceptable vacation destinations for presidential candidates.
Should the candidates go where they want to go -- rich people beaches! -- or to some shithole cabin in the woods without electricity or potable water? Wouldn't they be "more authentic" and "less elitist" if they spent their annual hot-weather sojourns in the American seaside equivalent of Mogadishu? Would the average American ever forgive them for going someplace nice?
So, the Clintons. A little Beltway insider gossip/common knowledge about the Clintons: They have more money than you. A lot more. Some tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, because various joker corporations and trade associations are willing to pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars to deliver 45-minute speeches. As their combined wealth has grown over the years, the Clintons have taken fancier vacations, renting out comically expensive and expansive beach houses in the Hamptons.
The New York Times kicked off this season of the "will Americans murder this candidate for taking a nice trip?" genre over the weekend with a piece examining "Hillary Clinton's Hamptons Quandary." The "quandary" is that she and her husband enjoy going to the Hamptons, but maybe will not this year, because the spot "seems problematic." Why? Because Clinton is "delivering a populist economic message that the deck is stacked in favor of the wealthiest Americans and that she plans to 'reshuffle the cards.'"
It's not clear how Hillary Clinton's choice of vacation spot would affect her policy platform. Would she renounce her support for universal pre-kindergarten, closing the carried-interest tax loophole, or other "revenue enhancements" targeted at the wealthy after vacationing in the Hamptons? Probably not. Whether she vacations in the Hamptons or at a gas station in Glen Burnie, she's likely to maintain the same "populist economic" policies that she's espousing now. It's possible that she is completely lying about her support for these things, but her choice of leisure destination doesn't show her cards one way or another.
Who is the "real" or "authentic" Hillary Clinton? A very rich person. It is well known that she and her husband are rich. If they tried to play the "optics game" here and selected for their summer getaway a grimy condo in one of those Soviet-style Ocean City high-rises, one of those dumps where a thin glaze of some mysteriously sticky black substance rests atop the shag carpet -- mold? -- no one would buy it. If they went camping in the Ozarks, feasting on rotting possum butt, would this be a political winner? Or would they just get relentlessly mocked for trying to be something they're not?
Rich people aren't going to be able to trick the public into thinking they're not rich, so they might as well vacation where they want. Jeb Bush is welcome to build a $1.3 million "guest house" on his father's Kennebunkport compound, if that's what he's into. (Can I come?)
Judging whether a candidate is "out of touch" with Americans on the basis of their wealth does not have to be the sort of grand mystery that requires examining their vacation itineraries for clues. You just have to look at their policies. Do they support economic policies that might hurt them but would benefit the vast majority of lower- and middle-income people? Mitt Romney's problem was not that he was rich; it's that he was fuck-you rich and supported multitrillion-dollar tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations. The car elevator was, indeed, some striking imagery of his wealth, but it was only a problem because he supported tax cuts for the sort of people who can afford car elevators. He was welcome to vacation wherever he wanted.