Hillary Clinton isn’t rich. She’s you.
The Clintons, who are so fond of reminding voters that former President Bill Clinton left behind a budget surplus, were not so particular about their personal finances in the late 1990s. If you forgot that little historical detail, Hillary Clinton is happy to remind you that she, too, has “struggled” and knows what “dead broke” feels like.
“If you — you have no reason to remember, but we came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt,” Clinton told ABC’s Diane Sawyer after being confronted with the fact that she makes a ridiculous amount of money on the speaking circuit.
“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 added.
“First of all, we had to pay off all our debts,” Clinton continued, “which was, you know, he 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.”
That’s an interesting answer. Sawyer’s question was not, “You’re making an absurd amount of money, why don’t you apologize?” It was, “You’re making an absurd amount of money, why would you ever want to stop just to run for president?”
But Clinton’s defensive response made more sense when Sawyer asked a follow-up question. “Do you think Americans will understand five times the median income in this country for one speech?” Sawyer asked.
“Let me put it this way,” Clinton answered. “I thought making speeches for money was a much better thing than getting connected with any one group or company, as so many people who leave public life do.”
Take that, Elizabeth Warren!
This answer reflects a world of insecurities plaguing the nascent Clinton campaign, which has made some rather transparent overtures to progressive voters who are concerned about American income inequality.
Clinton was clearly prepared to play defense on questions relating to her personal finances. It is interesting that her first defense centers on the family’s 15-year-old legal fees. It is true that the Clintons’ copious debts forced the former first family to make some humiliating compromises after leaving office, including but not limited to borrowing money from fundraiser-turned-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe in order to purchase a New York home ahead of Clinton’s 2000 U.S. Senate bid.
But the Clinton’s long ago overcame this adversity. While many of her speeches are unpaid, those who do pay for the privilege of learning from Hillary’s wisdom are not stingy about it. As of March, since leaving her post at the State Department, Clinton made close to $5 million in speaking fees. She also secured an $8 million advance for her book. Together with her husband, the Clintons made $109 million in the past 7 years.
All that income isn’t sitting well with some. “Clinton’s decision to pocket six-figure sums from Big Finance heavyweights and other corporate players might tarnish her public image, says Russ Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist,” wrote Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll. “Baker notes that Clinton’s coziness with Wall Street could come back to bite her in a Democratic primary, especially at a time when populist figures such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are ascendant within her Democratic Party.”
It remains to be seen if doubts about Clinton’s commitment to the progressive cause can be quashed by reminding voters that she once had to accept a $1.35 million loan from McAuliffe.