Every time I think I’ve discovered the limit of political gall, someone proves me wrong, and this week it was Bill Clinton. Asked about his habit of giving speeches in exchange for huge payments, he told NBC News, “I gotta pay our bills!” Excuse me, but if your bills can only be met with a steady flow of six-figure checks, maybe you should look into a new cell phone plan.
For years, presidential contenders from both major parties have been selling this fairy tale: Shucks, we’re just normal folks struggling to cover expenses, get the Taurus to last until the kids are out of trade school and make it to Walmart by closing time — like you!
And it’s patently untrue. Running for president, almost without exception, is the business of multimillionaires. Let’s start with Hillary Clinton, the spouse of the former president whose wallet seems so moth-eaten these days. Although a peek at her bank book is hard to come by (like her emails), even the most modest estimate puts her net worth over $15 million — deep within the “one percent” Dems love to attack.
On the Republican side, the former Hewlett Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina, has an estimated worth of $80 million. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson is believed to have millions. So is Mike Huckabee. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are further down the list but still in the seven-figure range. Only when you get to Marco Rubio and the independent Bernie Sanders do you hover below the half-million mark.
Here is another way of looking at it: If eight average Americans tried to earn as much money as these eight candidates already have in their pockets, they’d have to work for more than 300 years combined.
So if you’re unfortunate enough to be in your local diner, and you get roped into one of those “sitting with the candidate over coffee” photo ops, make sure the campaign picks up the check. And order some pie. Believe me, for all their tales of woe, each and every one of them can afford it.
Tom Foreman is a CNN correspondent and author of the upcoming book “My Year of Running Dangerously: A dad, a daughter, and a ridiculous plan.”