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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Froma Harrop: Wall Street speeches were insightful

By Froma Harrop Creators Syndicate

I’ve dismissed talk of Hillary Clinton’s “secrecy problem” as mere babble in an election year. I thought, for example, that Clinton had no obligation to disclose her mild pneumonia, a temporary ailment she was over in a few days.

Thus, I assumed there was something politically damaging in her discussions with Wall Street bigwigs, for which Goldman Sachs paid $225,000 a shot. Why else would she deem it safer to let our imaginations run wild about their contents than to release the transcripts and let the chips fall where they may?

Now we have the three transcripts. Everyone can read them, and everyone should. What they show is Clinton’s extraordinary understanding of our world – its leaders and their politics, terrorist groups and their vulnerabilities, the interplay of global forces, and the economic well-being of Americans.

Note that Clinton’s political foes are feasting over the exciting fact that the speeches were “leaked.” They’re saying little about what was in them.

One can understand Clinton’s hesitation to release the transcripts during the primaries. Bernie Sanders was making a popular and heated case against the billionaire financiers. Any record of Clinton’s saying nice things to the Wall Street titans would have been twisted out of proportion.

And Clinton did say nice things. She said, “I had great relations and worked so close together after 9/11 to rebuild downtown and a lot of respect for the work you do.”

Then came the pivot: “But I do … think that when we talk about the regulators and the politicians, the economic consequences of bad decisions back in ’08, you know, were devastating, and they had repercussions throughout the world.”

She did suggest that people in the industry could help improve the regulatory system. Even that could be defended on the grounds that only insiders understood the exotic financial instruments that almost brought the house down. (Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan had said he couldn’t make heads or tails of them.)

Some are troubled by the remark that the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms were done for partially political reasons. That should come as no great shock. In later public speeches, Clinton has called for tightening the Dodd-Frank regulations.

No one can find a quid pro quo – a trade of favors – between Clinton and the financial wizards who paid so handsomely for her thoughts. That’s the main thing.

On the contrary, Clinton has long called for ending the “carried interest” tax loophole, which benefits private equity managers. She opposed the Bear Stearns bailout. She’s now calling for a stiff hike in taxes paid by the richest Americans – that is, many of the people in her audience.

Clinton was for letting Puerto Rico restructure its debts, a move opposed by Puerto Rico’s creditors. “We can no longer sit idly by while hedge funds seek to maximize their profits at the island’s expense,” she said in May.

Let’s remember that Clinton was a senator from New York. Financial services rank No. 1 in the state for total payroll. They provide over 160,000 jobs.

Helping hometown employers is why Sanders of Vermont defended the F-35 stealth fighter boondoggle. It’s why Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts agitated for ending the tax on medical devices that helps pay for Obamacare. It’s why anti-government conservatives in the farm belt back government subsidies to farmers.

Clinton has cashed her checks for the Goldman speeches. Donald Trump, meanwhile, continues to maintain extensive business ties with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, according to his son.

Why Clinton insisted on keeping her brilliant Wall Street talks secret will remain an enduring mystery of this campaign. Heck, why didn’t she post them on her website? Beats me.

Froma Harrop is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.

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