The Campaign Spot

How Did the Obamas Accumulate That Debt Again?

Recall how both Obamas, emphasizing their modest roots, periodically tell us that they are only a few years out of debt. Here’s a typical example from when Obama was campaigning in Van Nuys, California:

Obama told the gathering that he no longer had credit card debt, but that was not always the case. “Five years ago, before I had spoken at the convention, before my book sales took off, etc., we were in same situation,” he said.
“My wife and I borrowed to go to college and law school because we don’t come from wealthy families. When I got out of law school and we got married, our combined student loan debt was higher than our mortgage,” Obama said. “And so it took us 10 years to pay that off, which meant that we couldn’t save.”

Or Michelle Obama, campaigning in Pennsylvania:

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.”

David Mendell’s Obama: From Promise To Power, page 144:

He and Michelle were living a middle- to upper-middle-class, white collar existence, going home to a spacious town house in Hyde Park and employing a caregiver to help with child care. But despite their combined incomes, which topped $250,000 a year, Obama had personal debt. He had maxed out his credit card, partly on campaign expenses, and the couple were both repaying student loans from Harvard.

Lots of Americans have student loans; lots of Americans have more debt on their credit card than they would like.
But not many Americans make a decision to challenge an incumbent member of the House of Representatives.
Obama took a fairly significant financial gamble, taking on credit card debt to finance his effort against longtime Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush in 2000. Obama’s friends and colleagues in the state legislature had urged him not to challenge Rush. Obama was 38, and had been in the state legislature for four years; Rush was a five-term incumbent with 90 percent name recognition.
Obama has said several times that challenging Rush was the wrong race at the wrong time. But perhaps as the Obamas tell of their financial hardships, they could at least mention that part of their tough times was driven by an unwise decision on the candidate’s part, a decision few Americans will ever make.

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