Bill Clinton: Why doesn't anyone believe we were poor?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has had a rough time of it ever since she asserted that both she and her husband were “dead broke” and “struggled” after leaving the White House in 2001. “A few weeks before they left the White House, the Clintons were able to muster a cash down payment of $855,000 and secure a $1.995 million mortgage,” Politifact observed. “This hardly fits the common meaning of ‘dead broke.’”

Clinton might have taken the public backlash over this minor gaffe in stride, but she didn’t. Speaking with The Guardian over the weekend, Clinton again reasserted her credentials on the issue of income inequality. “They don’t see me as part of the problem,” she insisted of those concerned with the growing income gap in the United States. “Because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we’ve done it through dint of hard work.”

This statement, too, roiled even Clinton allies who were forced by pangs of conscience to note that the Clintons have been taking advantage of financial planning strategies that only the wealthiest Americans use to avoid paying their full freight (a tax burden they believe others should pay, by the way).

You could be forgiven for thinking the Clintons are thin-skinned because, speaking to Meet the Press host David Gregory recently, former President Bill Clinton came to his wife’s defense and asserted that it was factually accurate that his family was financially broken in the wake of his impeachment.

“It is factually true that we were several million dollars in debt,” Clinton said. “Everybody no assumes that what happened in the intervening years was automatic. I’m shocked by what’s happened. I’m shocked that people still want me to come give talks.”

“She’s not out of touch,” Clinton added of his wife.

He would not go so far as to say criticism of his wife’s comments has been unfair, but he did say that the focus of the public debate should be on his wife’s favored policies and not her identity.

“I think I had the lowest net worth of any American president in the 20th Century when I took office,” he offered, unsolicited. The former president closed by saying that the “real issue” facing presidential aspirants should be whether you are out of touch because you are rich, not simply your current net worth.

The instinct among Democratic politicians to one-up each other by inaccurately asserting a claim to poverty is an inexplicable one. They are sacrificing authenticity for the sake of appealing to the Democratic primary electorate. However, as demonstrated by a variety of the most successful politicians that party has ever produced, the Democratic electorate is apparently sincerely interested in just who the poorest in their ranks is.