Hillary Clinton and the Poverty Facade

Hillary Clinton wants you to think she’s just an average Joe. Well, actually, a little less than average. She wants you to think she’s downright impoverished. After a notable gaffe when she said that she and Bill were “dead broke” when they left the White House (a bald faced lie), Clinton, instead of doing the sensible thing and walking back her comments, doubled down on her poverty gambit.

In a recent interview, Clinton took pains to characterize herself as “not truly well off.” In fact, Hillary is estimated to be worth more than $50 million. Using data from the Federal Reserve’s 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances (no more recent data on net worth was available), the New York Times estimated that the threshold for the top one percent of Americans is a net worth of about $8.4 million. Hillary Clinton is worth six times that amount, and yet she claims she’s not “well off”? Who does she think she’s kidding?

The more interesting question than why Clinton thinks she can get away with such nonsense, is why she feels the need to try? Why do politicians consistently engage in these meaningless “my family is poorer than your family” contests? It’s reminiscent of the ridiculous rap battles in which artists argue over who had the more disadvantaged upbringing. What is the purpose in such transparent one-upmanship?

It has to do with the unspoken assumption all too common in modern politics that success is somehow shameful. In fact, this assumption forms the crux of progressive ideology. The rich must have become that way by lying, cheating, and stealing, so it is okay to take their wealth and give it to the poor, their victims. It would be impossible for Hillary to acknowledge her wealth without also painting herself as the kind of villain she has made a career railing against, hence the facade of poverty.

The left is not the only group prone to this kind of thinking. It badly hurt Mitt Romney in 2008 and 2012, when he refused to apologize for his success. The American dream was once to come from nothing, work hard, and become fabulously successful. Now the liberal American dream is to come from nothing and stay there, relying on the generous hand of government to keep your head above water.

Americans used to celebrate success. Now we demonize it. It’s become a pervasive cultural attitude that is doing real harm. When children in the inner cities are mocked for wanting to move out and make something of themselves, there is little hope of helping to alleviate the cycle of poverty and dependency.

When cultural norms demand that multi-millionaire politicians flatly lie about living in poverty in order to get elected, perhaps it’s time to reexamine our assumptions, pick up that old, dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged and remind ourselves that achievement–and yes, even wealth–are not things to condemn. As long as we demonize the rich, we will never be able to see the folly of redistribution clearly for what it is.