Fact Check: First Lady's Fairy Tale of Financial Struggle (Opinion)
First Lady Michelle Obama’s pitch to voters last night relied on the premise that she and her husband understand what it is to struggle to make ends meet. She spoke movingly about their early years--about how a young Barack Obama drove a car that was “rusted out" and found his furniture “in a dumpster,” how they both came from families that had to “scrape by.” Her fairy tale--however well-delivered--was one great, big, colorful lie.
Both Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama began their adult lives with a leg up on the rest of America. They attended elite schools: Michelle went to Whitney Young, the public magnet school for Chicago’s upper class, while Barack attended Punahou, the private prep school for the top stratum of Hawaiian society. They were accepted to Ivy League schools despite undistinguished credentials, and both attended Harvard Law School.
“[B]elieve it or not, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage,” Michelle said. That sounds like a raw deal--but in fact reflects their fortunate circumstances. They had both just graduated from a very expensive law school, and their combined income from cushy law firm jobs dwarfed the repayments. Barack also soon enjoyed a second salary from the University of Chicago.
They had expensive tastes, reflected in the $277,500 two-bedroom condo they bought in 1993--a high price even by today’s standards. Several years later, they moved into their $1.65 million mansion in Hyde Park--with the help of fraudster Tony Rezko. Barack often told a story of hardship on the campaign trail in 2008 about having his credit card declined--once. The fact that he thought this counted as real hardship speaks volumes.
As her husband moved onto the national political stage, Michelle Obama began to enjoy a lavish lifestyle at taxpayer expense, directly and indirectly. When Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate, he obtained a $1 million earmark for the University of Chicago Hospital--and his wife’s salary as Vice President for Community Affairs jumped from $121,910 to $316,962. Her job: pushing poor, uninsured patients to other hospitals.
As First Lady, Michelle Obama has lived high on the hog while the rest of the country has suffered through an extraordinary recession. In 2010, she and her entourage decamped to Spain for a lavish vacation. That summer, the Obamas encouraged Americans to visit the Gulf coast after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which threatened tourism in the region. They promptly jetted off to Maine for their own summer holiday.
This summer, the Obamas skipped their usual summer trip to the wealthy playground of Martha’s Vineyard--months after Michelle and her daughters had enjoyed an expensive winter skiing trip in Aspen. And, of course, there are the frequent pilgrimages to Hawaii, Some of their family’s comfort, of course, comes from private income, principally Barack Obama’s book sales--yet even that wealth is a spin-off of Obama’s political career.
If, as the Democrats eagerly pointing out, Mitt Romney enjoyed the privilege of private wealth, the Obamas have enjoyed privilege funded by public money and public life. And until entering the national spotlight, they gave little to charity, contributing instead to a church that preached racial grievance. “[T]ruth matters,” Michelle Obama told the nation last night. That, too, is a lie--because so far, she has evaded it without consequence.