Skip to main content

Hillary Clinton, money changes everything

By Carol Costello
updated 2:19 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hillary Clinton said she pays ordinary income tax and made money through hard work
  • Carol Costello says when the Clintons are worth $100 million, it's hard for Americans to relate
  • Costello: It's rare for wealthy politicians to admit they aren't in touch with middle class
  • Rich politicians need to concede that "money changes everything," Costello says

Editor's note: Carol Costello anchors the 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN's "Newsroom" each weekday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Cyndi Lauper is one fabulous and fun sage. The girl had it goin' on way back in 1984 when she sang "Money Changes Everything." It does. Oh, I hear you. Everybody knows that.

But not so fast.

Fresh off her "we were dead broke" when we left the White House gaffe, Hillary Clinton told the British newspaper The Guardian that people in the middle class "don't see me as part of the problem." Why? Because, she says, when it comes to income inequality, "we [Bill and I] pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off ... and we've done it through dint of hard work."

Carol Costello
Carol Costello

The Clintons do come from humble backgrounds and they did work hard back to get to where they are, but Clinton's hard work today is in the eye of the beholder. Writing a speech then delivering it for $200,000 takes some brain work, but it's a lot easier than digging ditches. Or rushing home after an eight-hour shift at Walmart to cook dinner, take care of the kids, do the laundry and then do it all again six hours later.

Let's face it, when you and your beloved are worth $100 million, most Americans find it difficult to relate to your past "hard work" when you now have the luxury of drivers, maids, Secret Service and a mansion in Chappaqua, New York.

The Guardian reporter observed in his article that laughing appears to be Clinton's "way of acknowledging pain." Perhaps she realized her inelegance on some level, because she let out a burst of laughter after her response.

As Lauper said, money changes everything. Wouldn't it have been grand if Clinton had said, "I worked hard, yes, but I've been blessed for so many years. I can't say I totally understand your life, but having been there once, I promise you, I'll try."

But, it's a rare wealthy politician or millionaire who will admit they don't "get" the middle class or the working poor. What other explanation is there for Mitt Romney's comments during his 2012 presidential run about 47% of Americans?

"All right, there are 47% who are with [President Obama]," Romney said, "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them. ...These are people who pay no income tax. ... My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) was so awesomely right when he said in the movie, "Trading Places," "The best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people."

Take Sting. The rock legend is worth a mint, but he, too, came from modest means. He so desperately wants his kids to know what it's like to have a "work ethic" that he expects them to earn their own money. In other words, don't count on a giant inheritance from mom and dad.

Clinton's 'truly well off' comment
Clinton on gay marriage at CNN Townhall

It's worthy exercise, except you can't change entitled people by simply withholding cash. Alfred Lubrano, an award-winning journalist and author of "Limbo," said Sting's exercise is "doomed to fail."

"When you grow up in a white collar home, kids have absorbed so many lessons of being entitled. It's no one's fault; it's simply how it works," Lubrano said. In other words, Sting's kids will never know what it's like to be "seen and not heard." They're used to having a place at the table, not working for one.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, says if the wealthy really want to understand those with more modest means, they should resurrect Sen. Bob Graham's 100 "Workdays."

Back in 1977, when Graham was running for governor of Florida, he told voters he would "experience the lives of ordinary Floridians firsthand by working their jobs." In order to accomplish that, as Graham's website put it, he worked 100 days laboring at everything from "changing bedpans and cleaning invalids in a nursing home to wielding blowtorches as a steel worker and going without sleep as a long-haul trucker."

Graham told me, "I learned a lot of intangibles. I learned by actually doing something as opposed to learning by listening to a lecture or reading it in a book." Not only that, Graham said, he learned "a lot about what government does that doesn't make sense in the real world."

Wow! Perhaps millionaire politicians should give Graham's workdays a try. Or at least get a grip on their talking points.

Joe Biden did -- yes, our vice president. He told a group of people at the Summit on Working Families: "Sometimes we talk about this stuff, about struggle. My struggle -- my God, compared to where I grew up and the way people are trying to go through things -- but here is the point I want to make -- I have been really, really fortunate."

Did our VP just admit that money does change everything?

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT