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.

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