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Can poor Americans really relate to wealthy politicians?

Published: Wednesday, June 11 2014 11:10 p.m. MDT

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton applauds during introductions before addressing the World Bank Group's report "Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity" at World Bank headquarters in Washington, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. Hillary Clinton said she was broke when her husband left the White House. And that has raised some questions about whether Americans relate to wealthy politicians.

Cliff Owen, Associated Press

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Hillary Clinton said she and her family were dirt-broke when her husband left the White House.

But that’s raised some interesting questions about how Americans relate to politicians, especially when it comes to wealth.

On her cross-country book tour — in which she is promoting her “Hard Choices” memoir, Clinton was interviewed by ABC, which aired the segment on Monday. In a preview of the interview, Clinton revealed that her family was “dead-broke” by the time they left office, struggling to balance mortgage payments, legal fees and general life, The Washington Post reported.

“We came out of the White House not only dead-broke but in debt,” Clinton said, according to The Post. “We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.”

This has raised concern among politicians that Clinton isn’t in touch with everyday society, according to USA Today.

“Despite a six-figure taxpayer-funded income and a book deal worth $8 million, it’s laughable to think that Bill and Hillary Clinton left the White House broke,” said RNC spokesman Jahan Wilcox, according to USA Today. “It’s clear nobody could be more out of touch than Hillary Clinton.”

But Clinton later clarified these comments, saying that she wasn’t necessarily in the same situations as many Americans find themselves in a post-Recession world, USA Today reported.

“Let me just clarify. … I fully appreciate how hard life is so for many Americans today,” Clinton said in the ABC interview, according to USA Today. “It’s an issue I’ve worked on and cared about my entire adult life.”

But Wilcox’s comments aren’t all that farfetched. Though he is a politician, Wilcox hits on this theme that’s been circulating the Internet in recent weeks about how relatable politicians are to the public.

Stacy Lamy of Guardian Voice wrote Monday that politicians actually need to experience poverty to understand today’s society. And that’s part of the reason that trying to stop poverty hasn’t been successful, Lamy wrote.

Lamy also explained that about half of all Congress members are millionaires. So asking them to try to relate to those who have little to no money just doesn’t make a great impact on the United States, she wrote.

“If those who had lived on the frontline of poverty entered the political arena, perhaps the fundraising and glad-handing would not have such a prominent place in politics,” Lamy wrote. “Perhaps then the wealthy would not have the only voice that is heard. In order for poverty to ever truly be dealt with in a real way, politicians will have to experience it for themselves.”

And it’s a similar thought presented in Stephen Lurie’s in his latest article for The Atlantic. Politicians aren’t engaging enough with the impoverished that they’re making policies for, Lurie wrote.

“Consequently, America’s political elite is often woefully out of touch with economic reality for those living in poverty — or even those struggling to stay out of it,” Lurie wrote.

So what’s the solution? How do politicians find the right balance between creating policy and getting in touch with the people they’re trying to help?

For Lurie, it’s as simple as visiting and talking to the poor.

“If taking food-stamp challenges, trying public housing and engaging with the poorest Americans doesn’t sound brilliant or terribly original, that’s fine,” Lurie wrote. “Encouraging a regime of experiential immersions is difficult to propose, hard to implement and even harder to ensure success. But at this point, visiting the bodega and considering the plums might be the best chance left.”

Email: hscribner@deseretdigital.com

Twitter: @herbscribner

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