Two recent events organized by the investment bank Goldman Sachs featured a special guest. Goldman arranged to have one of the most successful investors in the world make remarks at last week’s AIMS Alternative Investment Conference in Chicago. And at this week’s Builders and Innovators Summit in Marana, Ariz., the same guest responded to questions from Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman’s chair and CEO. I hope the audience took notes.
Where else, after all, can "emerging and seasoned entrepreneurs from a diverse set of industries" hear the story of how a Yale law student turned an investment of time and energy into a marriage to a serial philanderer, a successful career in politics, and a fortune estimated above $100 million? For lessons in how to succeed in business by really trying, in how to manipulate the levers of government, finance, and philanthropy for massive personal gain, there is no better teacher than Hillary Clinton.
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The New York Times reports that Clinton brings in around $200,000 per speech, so in the space of a single week she made enough money to put her in the much-derided top 1 percent of U.S. taxpayers. But in this case I am less interested in her earnings than in the institution that booked her. There was a time, oh about a year ago, when a political figure would not have been able to associate with a symbol of rapacious capitalism such as Goldman Sachs without paying a price. And there was a time, oh about a year ago, when Wall Street had had just about enough of the Democratic Party and the redistributive egalitarianism it represents.
But those days clearly are over. Preparations are well underway for Clinton’s inevitable presidential candidacy: George Soros, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Rahm Emanuel are all on board; David Brock is at his battle-station; a well-placed leak reveals that Senate Democratic women have pledged their allegiance to the former secretary of state. One of Clinton’s few remaining tasks is to win over Wall Street, and out-raise and intimidate potential opponents.
It won’t be much trouble. Never have the Clintons allowed their liberalism to interfere with the ability of the connected to make a buck. This is especially the case when the well-connected individual in question carries the surname "Clinton" or "Rodham." From cow futures to land deals, the Lincoln bedroom, presidential pardons, Teneo, and Greentech automotive, the Clintons and their acolytes understand that all markets are political markets, that all business is transacted within a context of laws and regulations and networks that can be studied, designed, and altered. They don’t demean wealth. They just want to spread it around.
The global investment banks and multinational corporations do not mind. They are comfortable with such an arrangement not only because they can afford the lobbyists and political donations to protect them from harm, but also because their key executives are steeped in the bourgeois liberalism of the postmodern Democratic Party—not the lunch-pail unionism of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), and Ed Schultz, but the rights-based moralism of Wendy Davis, Michael Bloomberg, and Rachel Maddow. What unifies the liberal elite is no longer a critical analysis of capitalism but a cultural disdain for whomever they place on "the wrong side of history." The list is long.
The equanimity with which liberals reconcile wealth and politics is illustrated twice a week in the style section of the New York Times. Recently the "Thursday Styles" section published an excellent profile of Jonathan Levy, a 33-year-old digital marketer who lives in Manhattan "in the five-bedroom apartment where he grew up." Twice a month Levy holds dinner parties "in which he gathers a dozen or so influential strangers to cook together and mingle." Guests include MTV personalities, the Winkelvoss twins, a CBS executive, "publicists and managers of people like the model and actress Brooklyn Decker," hedge funders, comics, and Fern Mallis, "a key figure in New York Fashion Week." At one recent dinner "Kristin White, the former Princess Khaliya Aga Khan and now an angel investor, posed for photographs." Say cheese.
The article is a wonderful read, so well does it immerse you in the world of rich New Yorkers, the sort of people, let us not forget, who attend Goldman Sachs events, obsess over Nate Silver, and who are without a doubt "Ready for Hillary." To the extent that these affluent and successful people discuss politics over dinner at all, just imagine their opinions on, say, abortion, the Tea Party, and the Koch Brothers. Three guesses.
Such is the audience to which Clinton must appeal if she is to win her party’s nomination in 2016. She may have played to the appetites of the "beer track" during the 2008 Democratic primary, but as 2016 approaches she has rediscovered her taste for wine. And her shift to the left has coincided with a similar move on the part of financiers and industrialists, who seem to fear Ted Cruz more than they fear Bill de Blasio. The prospect of conservative populism has engendered class solidarity among the political, financial, and cultural elite.
How does the coalition stick together? In recent years liberals have developed a fantastic conceit by which accumulation is good so long as it is done in moral ways—with morality assessed by one’s degree of allegiance to the program of the Democratic Party. Clinton’s burgeoning alliance with Goldman Sachs is a perfect example. "Friends say [Goldman CEO] Blankfein’s telling them privately that he’s a big supporter of Hillary Clinton for president," reports Charles Gasparino in the New York Post. Of course he is.
Lloyd Blankfein is no dummy. He knows that the quickest way to silence criticism from the media and activist community, the easiest way to absolution for the sins of Goldman Sachs, the most effective way to permeate the government with protégées and allies and supporters of favors and bailouts, is to play footsy with the Democrats. And invite Hillary to the party.