A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.
As an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter, I was one of the many Americans pushing Hillary Clinton to release her paid speeches to big banks on Wall Street.
Over the weekend, months after Clinton defeated Sanders, I finally got my wish. WikiLeaks released what they called the "holy grail" of American journalism: transcripts of three paid speeches Clinton gave to Goldman Sachs associates.
Despite recently endorsing Clinton, when the leaks came out, I was overwhelmed with excitement, interest, and evil curiosity. I still wanted my suspicions about her to be true: that she was an agent of the rich, working for Wall Street, lying to us, and telling them her real truth. In fact, WikiLeaks had been citing my coverage of their John Podesta email leaks throughout the week, so I was hoping to be on the forefront of the Clinton paid-speeches coverage as well.
Instead, all I got from reading the transcripts of the speeches, which were really question-and-answer sessions, was how impressively smart, articulate, and genuine Secretary Clinton is. Perhaps most importantly, the speeches showed how closely her "public" and "private" views align — all her positions were essentially identical.
Throughout all three speeches, there wasn't a single "smoking gun" of Wall Street collusion or lies. People were looking for evidence that Clinton was telling Wall Street something different than she was telling the American people. The closest anyone came was comparing Clinton's campaign trail lines (that she'd be "tough on Wall Street") with her paid speeches lines (in which she acknowledges that a thriving Wall Street is incredibly important for the economic health of regular Americans). Generally, though, her point in the Goldman Sachs speeches was the same as it has been on the campaign trail: we need Wall Street regulation, accountability, and transparency for the consumer.
Clinton spoke about changing leadership in China, the threats and nuances of the Middle East, how women's rights were shifting across the world, what needed to happen for Americans to trust banks again, what needed to happen for banks to trust the government again, how she planned to address these issues, and what she'd do to fix the partisan gridlock that's spreading like cancer in our country.
Off the top of her head, she pivoted between tough and complex global questions — many of which have been drowned out by the mudslinging election we've all witnessed — with such tact and understanding that it's impossible not to see how qualified she is to be president.
Responding to three different moderator's questions in three different speeches, Clinton covered everything: she predicted who would win Egypt's presidential election, had the foresight to declare that Assad wouldn't back down and Syria was ripe to turn into a humanitarian crisis, spoke about how too many regulations were bad the same way too few regulations were bad, cited statistics about women's labor participation in Japan, elaborated on the differences between the last two Chinese presidents, and even explained how gridlock partisanship came to be in Congress. And she did it all off the top of her head: no notes, no teleprompter, no Googling. Just the stuff she knows from her decades of experience.
Instead of what many like me thought we'd find, Secretary Clinton advocated for a more transparent Wall Street and a more informed public, explaining that both would help ease the hatred of Wall Street and increase the amount of credit banks were lending to regular Americans, ultimately stimulating growth throughout the country.
Off the cuff, she went into the dynamics of the Sub-Saharan economy and where a certain potential for future tech investment existed. She spoke about the way technology was increasing educational possibilities and the average lifespan of people living in newly formed democracies, and then dove into the risk of cooperation amongst terrorist groups that threatened stability in northern Africa and the Middle East. She acknowledged how China was taking more oil from the Middle East than we were, but emphasized investment and focus on the positives: that America now has sufficient energy resources on our own.
Throughout the three speeches, I was reading and seeing a Hillary Clinton that I've so rarely gotten to see during this campaign: the policy expert, the international behemoth, the woman who has had so many meetings with world leaders she can give you a secondhand perspective on any global issue you feel like talking about.
Oddly, these speeches that her team has seemingly done their best to not release to the public actually show a calm, cool, calculating, and even funny candidate that the American people haven't gotten to know (she jokes at one point about letting China claim a "red state" the way they claimed the South China Sea). Sure, she repeats the same corny joke here and there, and tells one or two of the same stories in each of the speeches, but almost the entirety of each conversation is driven by audience and moderator questions, and it's clear she's going "off script," something her opponent has become adored for during this election.
Speaking of her opponent, among a few other predictions, Clinton also seems to warn about the rise of someone like Trump (these speeches are from 2013):
"What I really resent most about the obstructionists is they have such a narrow view of America. They see America in a way that is no longer reflective of the reality of who we are. They're against immigration for reasons that have to do with the past, not the future. They can't figure out how to invest in the future, so they cut everything. You know, laying off, you know, young researchers, closing labs instead of saying, we're better at this than anybody in the world, that's where our money should go. They just have a backward-looking view of America. And they play on people's fears, not on people's hopes, and they have to be rejected. I don't care what they call themselves. I don't care where they're from. They have to be rejected because they are fundamentally un-American. And every effort they make to undermine and obstruct the functioning of the government is meant to send a signal that we can't do anything collectively. You know, that we aren't a community, a nation that shares values.
I mean, America was an invention. It was an intellectual invention, and we have done pretty well for all these years. And these people want to just undermine that very profound sense of who we are. And we can't let them do that."
By keeping the speeches in the dark for so long, the Clinton campaign made a huge mistake. They let people's imaginations draw up something that was never really there. So now that we have the speeches, I'm telling you and everyone I know: you should read them. Every American should read Hillary Clinton'ss Goldman Sachs speeches.
They contain more policy conversation, more in-depth analysis of the current state of politics, more understanding and comprehensive discussions of issues overseas than any debate, any news segment or any Clinton campaign speech I've seen this year. By reading these three speeches, I learned more about where America is than I had in any other one sitting after covering this election for the last year.
Above all else, the speeches contrast her so starkly from her opponent: they show someone who knows the ins and outs of government, who is advocating for a global economy where America leads the way, who is connected to the struggle of the average American and the Wall Street elite, who wants to fix our broken government process with policy and not rhetoric, who is pro-immigration, and keenly aware of the fact that we are connected to the rest of the world whether we want to be or not.
Towards the end of the final speech WikiLeaks released, an audience member asks Clinton how we can "reframe" the conversations about America to move away from fear and threat, and start talking again about the hope and the good in America.
"That still is the American character," Clinton says. "It's in our DNA. We are a generous, hopeful, optimistic, confident people … I mean, a lot of the people I meet with and talk to are excited about the future. They want to make a contribution, whether it's, you know, in business or in some kind of nonprofit. There's an enormous amount of pent-up excitement and anticipation. But a lot of people are worried that there's another shoe that's going to drop. That somehow our government, our culture is going to not reflect that sense of forward movement. So yes, we do have to get back to telling the American story, and telling it to ourselves first and foremost. That's why immigration reform is so important … So it still is the case that more people want to come here more than anywhere else in the world. People still, despite all of the problems of the last decade, see through it and see the underlying reality of what a life in America can offer them and their children."