We have been following the bizarre struggle of Hillary Clinton to claim that she and Bill were “dead broke” after leaving the White House. Independent reviewers like Politifact have shredded the claim and the Clintons have become the fodder for commentators and comedians over the controversy. The Clintons made over $12 million in the first year after leaving the White House and they have made over $100 million from speaking fees and different events. CNN documented that Clinton earned $106 million by making speeches from the end of his presidency through January 2013. Hillary Clinton has pulled in $200,000 a speech and was criticized for receiving $500,000 in one week from Goldman Sachs . Yet, the Clintons have been doubling down on the claim like a bad gambler. Bill Clinton was brought out to vouch for Hillary that the statement is “factually true.” That resulted in a new round of mockery. We have discussed the controversy in terms of the interesting dynamic of American politics where exceptionally wealthy candidates struggle to identify with Americans struggling financially. The Clintons however will not accept that the pitch is simply not working. This week Hillary is again claiming to have been impoverished in a new interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel – a claim that even Germans find just as hard to swallow.
Hillary told the magazine that the couple was worried about not being able to afford college for their daughter and pay for a simple mortgage.The claim is based on legal debts that are common in Washington. It is well known in Washington that these debts to Democratic law firms is funny money and that these firms would have closed shop rather than pursue the Clintons for payment. The debts, as is always the case, was quickly paid off by Clinton supporters, lobbyists, and others interested in helping the powerful couple. It was debt on paper alone and both Clintons were looking at massive windfalls after leaving the White House.
However, Hillary told Der Spiegel: “Well, when we came out of the White House, we were deeply in debt because of all the legal bills that we owed because of the relentless persecution of my husband and myself, and he had to work unbelievably hard to pay off every single penny of every debt we owed. And we did.” When the magazine points out the fortune amassed by the Clintons from friends and lobbyists, Hillary responds “We are very grateful for where we are today. But if you were to go back and look at the amount of money that we owed, we couldn’t even get a mortgage on a house by ourselves. In our system he had to make double what he needed in order just to pay off the debt, and then to finance a house and continue to pay for our daughter’s education.”
The claim that they couple had “to work unbelievably hard” is not likely to sit well with many Americans holding two or three jobs to take food on the table. Being flown around in private jets and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a speech (or a million a speech for Bill Clinton) is not viewed by most people as working unbelievably hard. The common definition of hard work does not include speaking to adoring crowds and sycophantic lobbyists. I regularly give speeches around the county (for a tad less than $250,000 a pop!), but I would never claim to be working hard. My grandfather worked hard. He was a coal miner. That is hard work.
What is interesting is that the rest of the interview is quite impressive, showing Clinton’s intellect and knowledge. I remain fascinated by the desire to claim to have been a struggling couple after leaving the White House as a political necessity.