For starters, key demographics of voters perceive President Obama as a man who spends lavishly on his family and himself, according to focus groups convened by the organization Resurgent Republic.
“Our spring focus groups with Obama Independents undecided today primarily focused on the economy, Obama’s job performance, economic fairness arguments, taxes, energy, and health care,” said Luke Frans of Resurgent Republic. “Concern over Obama vacations wasn’t a topic we probed, but that also is somewhat interesting since these comments were unprompted. It didn’t come up in all of our groups, but it was mentioned several times among the working-class groups we conducted. This issue doesn’t carry the same level of concern as the desire for quality, family-supporting jobs. But it’s noteworthy since these comments came from working-class swing voters, not strong Republicans.”
The first year of tax returns that the Obamas have disclosed is from 2000, and it shows a joint total income of $240,726. (Adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, that would be roughly $321,646 today.) Surprisingly, the family’s personal finances in that year were evidently so troubled that Obama had his credit card rejected at the Hertz rent-a-car counter. Obama has told this story several times to emphasize that not long ago, he was “broke.”
In the following three years, the Obamas’ income ranged from about $275,000 in 2001 (roughly $357,000 in today’s dollars) to a low of $207,647 in 2004 (about $253,000 in today’s dollars). In 2004, Obama’s autobiography, Dreams from My Father, became a national bestseller and the couple’s income jumped to $1.7 million.
Michelle Obama, campaigning in Pennsylvania in 2008, shared this surprising anecdote, as described by a Chicago Tribune reporter:
Michelle Obama is pretending to take a call, thumb and pinkie finger up to her face, telling how she and her husband used to get calls from loan debt agents not that long ago.
“I remember those days clearly, sweating to get that mail,” she said. “That collection agency, the loan debt people calling you telling you that you’ve got a few more days before you’re in trouble.”