Hillary Clinton's 'dead broke' claim

Hillary Clinton speaks in Maryland on 6 May, 2014. Hillary Clinton says she and her husband "worked hard for everything we got in our lives"

Politicians often attempt to show that they understand the economic struggles of the average person by comparing their personal experiences with those of the people whose votes they are seeking.

Abraham Lincoln's story of being born in a log cabin is but one classic example of the practice.

Bill "Man from Hope" Clinton could also pull it off. When he ran for president in 1992, he was a governor of a small Southern state, not too far removed from youthful struggles to make ends meet.

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We came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt”

End Quote Hillary Clinton Former US Secretary of State

In 2014 his wife, Hillary Clinton - now a former first lady, senator and secretary of state - may have a harder time doing so.

In an interview with Diane Sawyer that aired Monday night, Ms Clinton was asked to explain accepting six-figure speaking fees after leaving the White House in 2001.

"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 Chelsea's education. You know, it was not easy."

She continued:

Bill has worked really hard, and it's been amazing to me. He's worked very hard. First of all, we had to pay off all our debts. You know, you had to make double the money because of, obviously, taxes, and then pay off the debts and get us houses and take care of family members.

While many Americans have struggled to pay their mortgage since the 2008 economic crash, the number who have faced difficulty affording their "houses" (plural) dwindles considerably.

Start Quote

Hillary Clinton misremembers events so they fit into her own personal heroic narrative”

End Quote Jim Geraghty The National Review

Add to that the big-money earning potential that the country's pre-eminent power couple had as they exited the White House, and Ms Clinton's tale of facing hard times - even if they were, in fact $10m (£6m) in debt - is unlikely to resonate with the US public.

Republicans smelled an opportunity - a Clinton complaining about taxes, no less! - and were quick to strike. They shared pictures of her million-dollar homes, and noted the six-figure speaking fees and mega-book deal Mr Clinton received shortly after leaving office.

"Bill and Hillary were so broke they had to light a fire with the $15 million advance he got for his book," tweets Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz.

Wealthy politicians who attempt to connect with the economic struggles of the common person often open themselves up to ridicule. Republicans relentlessly mocked 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for his elitist vacations.

Democrats returned the favour in 2012, as Mitt Romney caught flack for his offshore bank account and multiple houses, including one in California with an elevator for his cars.

Bill and Hillary Clinton wave from Air Force One on 7 January, 2001. Bill and Hillary Clinton were $10m (£6m) in debt when they left the White House in 2001

One of the most memorable lines at the 1988 Democratic National Convention was fiery Texas populist Jim Hightower's jab about how President George HW Bush was "born on third base and thought he hit a triple".

"It's so fun watching the two parties radically change positions every four years on whether it's bad to have a super-rich presidential nominee," tweets the Intercept's Glenn Greenwald.

On Tuesday morning, Ms Clinton tried to explain her statement, saying that she appreciates "how hard life is for many Americans today".

"Bill and I were obviously blessed," she said. "We worked hard for everything we got in our lives and we have continued to work hard, and we've been blessed in the last 14 years."

The mini-tempest surrounding Ms Clinton's remarks plays into some criticism of her during the 2008 presidential run that she was too willing to stretch the truth in seeking the sympathies of her audiences.

"Hillary Clinton misremembers events so they fit into her own personal heroic narrative, not as they actually were," writes the National Review's Jim Geraghty. "Lots of people do this, particularly politicians, but this is a dangerous habit for a leader to have."

A perception of wealth and elitism have not been a proven line of attack for damaging Ms Clinton's standing among Americans to date - and it will likely take more gaffes like this for it to become a point of weakness.

For the moment, Ms Clinton is riding high in the polls - and the rollout of her new book, which begins this week, has been seen as an important step in laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign.

Consequently, her opponents will do what they can to knock her off message and blunt the positive, wall-to-wall press coverage a book tour often brings.

Unforced errors such this one make such a task much easier.



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  • Comment number 158.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    In the heyday of Pharma, bribes to doctors were rampant. But damned accountants and auditors! No more trips to Pago Pago (bring your wife), or exchanges of cash in bags.
    Enter sham contracts, a term popularized in the WSJ investigation of Siemens. Money paid for a service but much more than it is worth.
    Neocon junketeering put Blair on the Rich List, Same for Clintons. These are still bribes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    I would say that if I owed $6million, I was broke! OK, they earned massively to repay those funds, but I'm glad it was them and not me. The creditors would be lucky to have $14 back by now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    153. Exactly. What she said was correct. All you have to do is watch the interview and know the facts. Dislike her if you wish, but pretending what she said wasn't accurate is stupid

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    When the Clinton's said they are broke, they are not comparing themselves to the average Joe. Republicans cannot make an issue of the Clinton's wealth or speaking fees because the same republicans often accused democrats of pitting the poor against the rich. They also accused democrats of anti-capitalism. Real or perceived, democrats tend to care more about the poor than republicans do.

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    Comment number 153.

    From what I have read, the Clintons were essentially insolvent when they left the Whitehouse. He was president and a governor and she a lawyer. Relative to their earning power they were in dire straights. I find nothing disingenuous in her statement that they were "dead broke." Mrs. Clinton re-entered public service not the corporate world.. Republican pundits are the ones "misremembering."

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    Comment number 152.

    Again, I would never,ever vote for either of the Clintons, but asking about paid speaking engagements was a silly question.All politicians do the same.Equally silly was Mrs Clinton's response.

  • Comment number 151.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 150.

    This is a lame attempt to compare herself with struggling populace. Won't work! Congressional Officers and staff have become some of the most lucrative business opportunities in the last 20 years. You don't run for political office to serve, you run to get rich quick by taking lobby money and scratching your buddies back. There are more Democratic Millionaires in office than Republicans! Fact!

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    Comment number 149.

    Don't tell me she 'mis-remembered' again?

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    Comment number 148.

    This disclaimer should precede any story about the Clintons. "The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event." Along with their mantra (chanted frequently throughout the day I am sure) that the end justifies the means. Always. Forever. Amen.

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    Comment number 147.

    134. Chris A -- Losing the primary is not losing an election. Joe Lieberman Senator from Connecticut lost the Democratic primary - his workers got enough signatures to put him on the general election ballot as an Independent - he won the general election and chose to mostly align himself with the democrats.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Oops ... a bit like the Blairs really, both of whom have made milliions since he left office, and conveniently forget why that is.

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    Comment number 145.

    Well she was "dead broke": dead broke of moral values.

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    Comment number 144.

    Well, you can't run your own finances like you ran the country, or you'll end up broke. Oh, yes, so will the USA.

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    Comment number 143.

    I can just imagine he Bill and Hillary's conversation-

    "Hillary dear, I've just checked the bank balance"
    "and, what is it Bill?"
    "Well it's not good, we're down to our last couple of million. And, you know, I'm gonna be signing-on the dole soon."
    "Jee, Bill we're dead-broke!"
    "we sure are honey, we sure are...."

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    Comment number 142.

    141 140 and others. That's just rubbish. They did not have several houses when leaving office. Technically speaking they were insolvent. They were the poorest presidential couple to leave the white house stretching back at least as far as Kennedy. Yes they've made a lot money since. So what.

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    Comment number 141.

    "Nothing wrong with Hillary that isn't geometrically and infinitely worse with all other politicians"

    I think her victim narrative is more finely tuned than the vast majority politicians. Her whining about terrible hardhsips endured while buying houses is a sign she may be starting to believe her own manipulation.

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    Comment number 140.

    'It's the plural of 'houses' - a fantastically clear demonstration of how politicians are completely detached from the reality of the rest of us.

    They end up thinking that having more than 1 house to live in is normal...'

    It is often a requirement of the job to split time between a constituency and the seat of government. A second home may be cheaper than hotel charges.

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    Comment number 139.

    @138. Rudigar "she has always been a strong advocate of universal health care in the US"

    Not quite true. She was a strong advocate, her attempts failed, then she changed her view (among other topics) when she ran for the Democratic nomination. When it all comes down to it, she achieves very little of what she sets out to do.


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