For those of you who know me, you know I’m really not very political, so this certainly will be an unusual column. It’s also one that may sound a bit like a partisan political or maybe even a sexist rant, but I assure you I’d render the same commentary regardless of which side of the aisle someone sits or which gender someone happens to be. It’s just that in this case, my subject happens to be both a Democrat and a woman.
For years, both Democrats and Republicans have taken shots at one another over this whole business of being out of touch with those whose votes put them in office. Some of you may remember at the Democratic Party Convention back in 1988 it was then-Texas Ag Commissioner Jim Hightower who borrowed a line I remember former Dallas Cowboy football coach Barry Switzer once using to denigrate a fellow coach he felt came from a privileged background. Referring to the first George Bush who assumed the presidency, Hightower channeling his inner Switzer, said, “Some people are born on third base and think they hit a triple,” his way of implying that the old skydiver was way too out of touch with many of the rest of us.
And, it was just a couple of years ago when Democrats went to great lengths to comment on Mitt Romney’s off-shore accounts and multiple houses, one of which had an elevator for his cars, as some sort of proof that he just couldn’t relate to the plight of the common man and woman.
So, (and I’m guessing what may have been her motivation because I really can’t get inside the noggin of one of the most accomplished, polarizing and publicized women of our time, Hillary Clinton, a potential, and, in my opinion, likely candidate in our next presidential election) to present herself as one who could relate to the financial hardships of others, she told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in a TV interview that she and hubby, Bill, were “dead broke” and in debt when they left their digs on Pennsylvania Avenue at the turn of the century.
However, according to an article in the Washington Post by Philip Bump titled “‘Dead Broke’: a deep dive into the Clintons’ finances,” while it was true with legal fees involving the investigations of the infamous dual scandals of Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky that the Clintons owed more than they had when they left office, they also recovered with mind-boggling speed.
In the first year out of office, Bill made $13 million in public-speaking fees and Hill’s advance of a memoir of her years as first lady was another $2.5 million, which wasn’t a bad start to tearing into a debt. Toss in a presidential pension of around a couple of hundred thousand a year for living expenses and Hillary’s salary as the new senator from the Empire State, and things were turning around in a New York minute by the end of 2001. By 2004, the debt was totally erased, according to Bump. Since then, estimates have been placed that the couple have jointly earned more than $200 million giving speeches.
While I gave my speeches in front of 32 years’ worth of my English classes at a much lower rate, theirs were given, according to reports, at around a couple of hundred thousand per speech.
Wow, in an age when so many live paycheck to paycheck and young people carry student loan debt for years and years as they try to plan for their futures, I’m frankly pretty amazed that our former secretary of state would even mention the hard times she and Bill endured for such a short time. I also found her exact words about their plight spoken to Sawyer interesting: “We came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt. We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for [daughter] Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.”
Now, to refer to the time when they arrived in Washington as part of the “broke” times when, as it would turn out, the next eight years would be filled with every living expense covered while living in opulent surroundings waited on by an attentive staff leaves me pretty much scratching my head. And, so does the reference to the plural “houses” when so many can’t afford the singular version of her chosen noun.
I’m not sure about you, but I don’t think a likely future candidate for the highest office in the land who refers to a brief moment in time when money was a problem generates a whole lot of empathy from the many who leave the house each day with lunch pail in hand hoping a major unexpected expense doesn’t befall them before the next payday.
So, Hillary, take some advice from a small-town freelancer and tell us when you finally declare, not about your temporary hard times, but rather about what you can do to help alleviate those whose hard times have endured far, far longer than yours did.
Trust me when I say, for millions of people, those whose votes you will likely seek, suffice it to say, your dead broke was not their dead broke.