To combat allegations of elitism, Obama has tried to remind people of his working-class upbringing and early-life struggles — which apparently continued long into adulthood. Obama has written, in Dreams From My Father, of growing up with a young, single mother who, he claims, “had to use food stamps at one point.” What the Obamas ate often included classic average-Joe food like “pot roasts and potatoes and Jell-O molds.” Though he now makes a pretty good living, Obama isn’t so far removed from the money problems familiar to blue-collar families. He only recently paid off his student loans, and Michelle Obama has claimed that the couple even had debt collectors calling on them not too long ago. “I remember those days clearly, sweating to get that mail,” she liked to tell crowds in Pennsylvania, before the 2008 Democratic primary. “That collection agency, the loan debt people calling you, telling you that you’ve got a few more days before you’re in trouble.” (Though when the Chicago Tribune requested proof to substantiate the story, the Obamas were unable to immediately locate any documentation.) Of course, Obama also has real credibility on account of his early career as a community organizer, helping poor families in the projects of Chicago.
Romney: Summer Jobs, Slummin’ It in College
Romney is, on the surface, about as starched white-collar as they come — he has that certain “I was born wearing a business suit” swagger, and was already wearing a blazer and tie as a Stanford freshman. The son of a Detroit auto company president and future three-time Michigan governor, Romney always lived in the ritzier corners of Motor City, attended the elite Cranbrook School, and eventually landed at Harvard before launching his rocket-ship career at Bain Capital, where he made several hundred million dollars of his own along the way. Family friends included Sargent Shriver and J. Willard Marriott, a fellow Mormon and scion of the eponymous hotel chain. Romney’s father, on the other hand, never graduated college and worked as a plasterer before ending up in the auto business. In No Apology, Romney claims his father subsisted on potatoes for an entire year. (Romney’s grandparents, displaced from their Mormon colony in Mexico, struggled through the Depression, going broke several times.) All that said, Romney seems to have a talent for thrifty living. While in France, he lived on about $600 a month, sleeping on “cast-off mattresses,” according to the Times, sharing a toilet and shower dorm-style with the other missionaries. After returning to the States, and marrying Ann Davies, the newlywed Romneys lived in a $75-a-month basement apartment with concrete floors while at Brigham Young University, and to save money Romney would drive to a local creamery to get milk more cheaply than at the supermarket. Sometimes, reports Newsmax, instead of buying snacks at the overpriced cinema concessions, Romney would eat ice cream or popcorn at home and then head out to the movies. More recently, when running for the Massachusetts governorship, he even played the “blue-collar worker for a day” publicity stunt, one day as a garbage collector, another cooking sausages at Fenway Park, even laying asphalt. He even volunteered in an emergency room one day, not to mention stacking bales of hay at a farm. The hardest one-day job he ever did, he wrote in No Apology, was working as a child-care assistant.