Undeclared-yet-probable presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton found herself in hot water recently after declaring that her and husband Bill were “dead broke” at the end of his presidential term. While pundits have jumped to cry, “OMG SHE’S LYING!!!” that’s not my objection to her claim. From my perspective, I doubt that Clinton thought she was lying, but that does illustrate just how little she understands about what it means to be “dead broke.”
Although her family may have had outstanding debts at that moment, they were arguably some of the most famous people in the world and started cashing in on six-figure speaking engagements quickly. Moreover, lenders still gave the couple money to purchase a nearly $3 million home because of their future earning potential. In other words, the Clintons may have technically been in debt, but they never had to stress about how they would pay for frivolities, let alone necessities, and they certainly never lived a day where they weren’t actively leading the life of members of the 1%.
Her comment was not an isolated incident, either. This past weekend, while trying to do damage control for her earlier comment, Clinton literally laughed off the notion that the public would perceive her to be rich, saying, “We pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names.”
Just because Clinton doesn’t qualify for the most extreme tax brackets possible doesn’t alter her status of being squarely in the 1%. In what fantasy world is someone with a multi-million net worth not “truly well off”? More importantly, how can someone who is tasked with representing the interests of 50 million Americans who live below the poverty line truly be of help when she’s so out of touch about financial matters to start?
Clinton may not want to “name names” of fellow rich politicians, but it’s a worthwhile exercise: Mitt Romney (who famously suggested that poor people borrow money from their parents, as if that’s an option for families in poverty), John McCain, John Kerry, George W. Bush, and Al Gore. Not coincidentally, they’ve all been presidential candidates. In that sense, it’s not fair to single out Clinton as an unprecedentedly rich candidate. Our elections are generally races between the very rich and the even richer.
Political parties generally enlist wealthy candidates, in part, for practical reasons. They can afford to run expensive campaigns, plus they have rich friends and colleagues who can assist. Another reason is America’s skewed method for measuring success. A person’s success is almost entirely determined by how much money he or she has accumulated, as if to say that people who haven’t capitalized on the capitalist system are failures.
We’ve noticed the wealth gap widening in this country, and it’s no mystery why: our elected officials are at the top and make decisions that continue to benefit their colleagues at the top. For crying out loud, more than half of the people in U.S. Congress are millionaires – it’s no wonder social benefits are so frequently cut. In addition to believing they’ve earned and are entitled to their own status, these legislators can’t even begin to empathize with the hardships poor Americans face on a daily basis.
No matter how well-intentioned Clinton is about helping Americans living in poverty, someone who buys a $3 million home while calling herself “dead broke” does not seem to grasp how fortunate she is and always has been. Meaningful reform for the poor is implausible at the hands of the rich people we select to take office. Addressing inequality in the United States begins when we start to choose a different type of candidate.
Photo Credit: marcn