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 2:12 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
updated 5:24 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
updated 7:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
updated 7:50 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 7:00 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
updated 4:31 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT