COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE HAWKINS

Personal wealth and presidential qualifications

Presumably looking to establish her cred with voters, Hillary Clinton has said she and her husband, Bill, were “dead broke” when the couple left the White House in 2001.

Later, she took a baby step away from that claim when it became apparent her comments reflected a brief period when the former president wasn’t pulling down $400,000 a year in taxpayer-supplied wages and she had not yet received a reported multimillion-dollar advance on a book published in 2003.

Though it may have been an effort to identify with the common folk, if it were true, it is more an indictment than anything else. How could we consider trusting her to run the huge economic mass that is the United States if she can’t keep it together on $400,000 a year?

I doubt either Hillary or Bill — who quickly came to her support by saying they were certainly short of cash when his term of president was over — has any idea what it is like to be dead broke. While they may have been part of the middle class at one point before their political success, it doesn’t seem likely either of them was ever “dead broke.”

I’ve been low on dough a time or two. During the year before I joined the Navy I decided Miami Beach might be interesting. The only way I could get there from New Jersey, where I was staying with my aunt and working part time as a retail clerk, was to sign on to drive someone’s car to Hollywood, Fla. I was advanced just enough money to cover the gas and when I delivered the vehicle I received an additional $20. That was it.

I didn’t think I was dead broke, though I might have qualified. Instead, I found a job as a pool boy and then I shagged cars for a rental company. My final job before I reported to a Navy training center was in a beach hotel as what then was called a bellhop. In the interim I hocked my watch for food and lodging money, located a $21-a-week room, which I shared with two other men and where we watched the roaches for entertainment.

But I wasn’t dead broke. Had I thought so, I might have used that claim to panhandle for change. But then I wasn’t setting up a run for president of the United States.

Maybe Clinton believes being dead broke is a qualification to be president. Could be she thinks it is a requisite to identify with people whose social and economic situation is different than her own, thinking that is essential if one aspires to occupy the most powerful office in the land, and until recently, the world.

Though liberals apparently think so, they should know being dead broke isn’t a prequalifier. It is, however, a common type of challenge for political posturing. One such criticism was of a previous presidential aspirant. He was guilty of not knowing the grocery store price of milk.

That sort of thing isn’t important to me or, I suspect, most voters. The lack of knowledge about milk prices didn’t keep that particular candidate from winning his election.

I don’t know the price of milk. I suspect only about a quarter of this country’s population, the quarter that actually does the grocery shopping has that number in mind.

It would be better if the people who want to lead from the Oval Office what is left of the free world believe that this country is worthy, not mediocre. Candidates for president, announced or not, should understand that government does not create many jobs other than those occupied by people who dine at the public trough.

And when people who report to you and are on the ground at the embassies and other foreign offices and stations say more security is needed, more security might actually be a good idea.

Being dead broke or exceptionally rich is not a measure of a candidate’s worthiness for public office. If Clinton decides to run for president, and few have doubts about her potential candidacy, it should take more than being part of the economically challenged populace to qualify her in voters’ minds.


Hawkins is retired after 35 years as a construction industry association manager. He was a broadcast reporter and news anchor in Denver. As a Navy officer, he saw action in Vietnam in the River Assault Squadrons and is the recipient of a Silver Star and Purple Heart.

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