Hillary Clinton, even with Bubba's help, just can't get her "poor me" routine straight. Bonnie and Clod are eager for everyone to think of them as "po' folks," but reality keeps messing with their tales of what it feels like to be a pauper.
Hillary stepped into this nonsense when she told Diane Sawyer of ABC News that she and Bubba were "dead broke" when they left the White House on that cold January day in 2001. They were desperate for a place to sleep when the moving van left 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with all their furniture, clothes and Hillary's skillet and cooking pots.
They were down to living on Bubba's $200,000 annual pension, lifetime government health care and a considerable platoon of Secret Service bodyguards to keep evildoers at bay and the wolves from the door. The bodyguards would surely have sprung for a fried egg and a cup of coffee if the pension check was late arriving.
But Hillary's clarifications and explanations kept misfiring, which was not at all good for selling the former first lady's new book. After only a week it fell out of Amazon's Top Ten. Bubba was recruited to help retrieve the day. Appearing at a do-good conference the other day in Denver, he defended her "ties to middle-income Americans" and insisted that for all her immense new riches "she's not out of touch" and is still an advocate for "po' folks" just like herself.
Bubba insisted to David Gregory, the moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press" who was there as the former president's straight man, that making an issue of Hillary's bumbling attempts to play at poor is "the wrong debate." People should be talking about how to address "the demise of the American dream." He concedes the obvious, that she didn't "give the most adept answer" to the softball questions about their personal wealth. "You can say, 'OK, I gotta clean that up.' And she did."
Then Hillary got up only to stammer and stumble again. "Upward mobility really does take a village," she said, reprising the title of the wrong book. (You could almost hear her publisher's flack groan.) "It's no coincidence that places where we still see mobility in America are communities with vibrant middle classes." This was news that po' folks in the mean streets of Harlem and the dreary hills and hollows of West Virginia could use if they would only hire an agent and start making 25-minute speeches for $200,000 a pop.
Bubba tried to paper over the mess. "It's factually true that we were several million dollars in debt," he said, but he neglected to say that angry bankers were not there to repossess the bedroom furniture. Nor did he remember to say that at the end of 2012, the Clintons were worth "between $5.2 million and $25.5 million," not including houses in suburban New York and Washington in two of the poshest ZIP codes in America. Their two accounts at JPMorgan are estimated to be worth as much as $50 million. This even invited a needle from Vice President Joe Biden, a prospective rival in grime for 2016, who insisted — falsely, as it turned out — that "I don't own a single stock or bond."
Bubba can take considerable pride in his thrift, if thrift is what got a good ol' boy from Hot Springs to the neighborhoods of Warren Buffett and the Koch brothers. Bubba and Hillary set out to do good and have done well, but they've made careers of trying to paint as villains the conservatives and Republicans who have done well, too. Americans, God love 'em, don't resent the good fortunes of others. But Americans are utterly contemptuous of hypocrites. Bubba knows better. Hillary is still learning.