"The deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,” Hillary Clinton has warned us, and she ought to know. Having been “at the top,” or close enough to it, since 1976, when her husband was elected attorney general of Arkansas at age 30—not the biggest job ever, but one with a whole lot of power to play with—she has leveraged every ounce that it held to bring to them ever and ever more money and power, until at this moment, 14 years after leaving the White House, she and Bill sit on a mile-high mountain of both. Their wealth is immense and their power unlimited, at least in their party. The very few viable national candidates left after the two midterm wipeouts that decimated Democratic ranks in the reign of Obama are so afraid to risk the Clintons’ wrath that she is cruising unopposed to the nomination for the first time since no one knows when. How did two penniless kids living in roughly 1,000 square feet in Fayetteville, Arkansas, reach such heights? Let us look back and see.
Our story begins as boy wonder Bill Clinton wins his first election and moves with bride Hillary to the state capital and into a new way of life. Biographers Sally Bedell Smith (For Love of Politics) and Carl Bernstein (A Woman in Charge) seem to agree it was then and there that three things converged: For the first time, Bill was in a position to do things for people; the state was in the middle of a get-rich-quick boomlet; and Hillary, thinking now about starting a family, realized that, given Bill’s disposition and fairly low salary, the family fortunes would be in her hands.
“It was Hillary who decided she wanted to be financially secure, and took the steps to accomplish that,” family friend Betsey Wright told Bernstein. “She had come a long way from her rejection of ‘our prevailing acquisitive corporate life’ that she condemned in her Wellesley commencement address.” Rationalizing shady deals apparently came naturally in “an easy atmosphere of conflicts of interest” in which “everyone does it” was the rule.
“It was a culture in which the moral architecture was weak, and in which everyone assumed that ‘fixing’ was a requirement for getting things done,” as Smith tells us.
The Clintons’ connections helped them enrich themselves in the go-go 1980s, a period they were to denounce as the “greed decade.” . . . In that atmosphere, Bill and Hillary developed a sense of entitlement, an expectation that others would take care of them. They became accustomed to borrowing from banks operated by political friends and accepting favors from individuals and corporations, such as the free use of private airplanes.
By the same sort of happy coincidence that saw a Chicago hospital create a $300,000-per-year job for Michelle Obama when her husband emerged as a comer, Little Rock’s venerable Rose Law Firm hired Hillary Clinton in 1976 after Bill was elected attorney general and made her its first female partner when he became governor. This was the start of a cascade of good tidings that would quickly come her way. On top of her $110,000 Rose salary, Hillary cleared $64,000 yearly for sitting on corporate boards, including those of Wal-Mart and TCBY Enterprises, whose chairman explained her presence on the board as “making sure he was in good grace with the people in power.” The favor of other people with similar motives enabled the couple to live very well. According to Smith, Hillary “put $2,104 into a cellular-phone franchise operated by a policy adviser to the governor and walked away with a profit of $46,000.” But her most notorious coup was her $1,000 investment in cattle futures that in less than a year returned an astounding hundred-fold profit of $100,000, this windfall coming just as Bill was first taking office as governor in 1979.
Forced to try to explain this in 1994, when her past was coming under increased scrutiny, Hillary at first said she had done the trading herself, after her father had taught her to read the stock pages. But she eventually admitted that most of her trades had been made by Jim Blair, a counsel to Tyson Foods, the Arkansas-based conglomerate, and a hot-shot commodities trader, with the assistance of local broker and former Tyson executive Robert (Red) Bone, who seemed to have shielded her from damaging margin calls and thrown other favors her way.