Quora Question: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama: Who's 'Made' It?

Hillary Clinton wrapped herself in Barack Obama's mantle at the Democratic Presidential Debate in Charleston, South Carolina on January 17. Above, Secretary of State Clinton listens President Obama speak during a meeting with members of his cabinet at the White House in Washington on November 28, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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Answer from Brad Porter, Political watcher and writer:

Out of Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton, who has the best "rags to riches" story? What an interesting question. I have to admit I never thought of any of them in that way. But I do think there is a correct answer here. None of them were ever in rags, exactly, so I take the question to mean something like "who had to go the farthest?" or even "who is the most self-made?"

Very obviously, you can eliminate one right off the bat.

Donald Trump

Trump (left) with siblings.

Trump, age 29, with his father, NYC real estate mogul Fred Trump, in 1975.

It's sort of interesting to me that a bizarre "self-made success story" mythology has surrounded Trump—which of course he himself has suggested and cultivated. In truth, he was a child of privilege. His father, Fred Trump, had amassed many millions in New York real estate over the course of his own career, was one of the most significant NYC real estate developers of the 20th century, and by the time Donald came along the family was a well-heeled member of the New York elite, sort of a post-1960 version of the Roosevelts or Rockefellers. His upbringing was not all that different than, say, Mitt Romney's, or George W. Bush's, or Al Gore's, in that he wanted for nothing, spent his childhood cared for by staff and attending private academies for other monied children, was given every opportunity money could buy, and ultimately inherited / was handed an empire before his 30th birthday.

I take nothing away from him for it. He took that empire and ran with it, and by the 80s he had become synonymous with ostentatious wealth. But, the truth is, when he started his career, he had a lifetime of connections, a known brand in his last name, an already humming corporation (more than one in fact), and millions of dollars to essentially play around with. From the day he turned 18, he was playing with house money.

"Scion" is the word you would normally use.

There is an interesting biography there, as to how he was able to use his inherited capital and influence to build on and later arguably surpass his father's success—how many times he failed pretty miserably but always had a cushion to try again, and how ultimately he took the name ID that was important to his father and turned it into celebrity. He's had an interesting life, and has earned much of his success.

But rags to riches? There is nothing about his life that even remotely touches that narrative.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton (second from left) with father, brother, and mother.

Clinton, age 27, as an attorney for the University of Arkansas' legal aid clinic in 1975.

Hillary Clinton's origin is only remarkable for how unremarkable it was. She was born into a middle class household in Chicago, went to public schools all her life, but was also the sort who got a reputation early as being very smart and ambitious. You remember the sort of cute nerdy girl in middle school who you interacted with but seemed to have her sights set further? That was Hillary Clinton. By the time she was in high school, she was clearly smarter than most everyone else, was always nice to everybody but sort of hard to relate to, and was always the president of whatever club she was in.

I myself come from a white middle class upbringing, who went to public schools all my life but was always a "smart one," and I knew at least a dozen Hillary Clintons.

Like many of them, she graduated high in her class, and went to a liberal arts college. There, she did well in her studies, and also spent a lot of time on social causes (this being the 60s). She fit in well at Wellesley.

And, of course, she came of age right in the dead center of the Baby Boomer 60s. She was enveloped in an environment that is both archetypal and at the same time hard to relate to today. The country was boiling with social conscience and she was as swept up as anybody. She agitated for racial equality. She protested the Vietnam War. She probably didn't burn her bra exactly, but she was right there for that time period.

When she graduated in 1969, she was the student speaker at commencement, and you can still find that speech here. She went to law school, met her husband, entered practice, chose a more socially activist kind of law, her husband's political career began to take off, they wound up in Arkansas, and you know the rest.

The only other thing worth mentioning here: she started as a very ambitious person, usually the smartest person in the room, but spent much of her midlife as the wife of a politician, and then, down that road, the wife of a rather disgraced politician whose public disgraces were very personal to her.

Very few political wives become successful politicians in their own right—you can probably count them on one hand. And of those that do, very, very few went through such a degree of public tribulation as did Hillary Clinton.

In fact, it's really ironic that, right now, her most trusted adviser is Huma Abedin, wife of Anthony Weiner. If there is literally anybody in America who could understand what Hillary went through, it is Huma, right now. If Huma becomes the Democratic nominee for president in 2028, then you'll have a pretty good parallel for what Hillary Clinton's trajectory has been.

Rags to riches? No, not really—but a very interesting story nonetheless and, if anything, she probably doesn't get enough credit for what she's built out of basically being a very smart middle class white girl and then later a noname politician's wife embroiled in scandal for her entire first act as a public figure. To go on and achieve what she has coming from her background and later public life is unprecedented.

Barack Obama

Obama (right) with his grandfather, mother and sister.​

Obama, age 14, with his mother in 1975.

Now here is where I am at a loss.

Or rather, where I can't describe the childhood and journey of Barack Obama any better than he did in his two books on the subject.

But the short version is: he was born to a white mother and a black, African father, in 1961. She was kind of a hippy; he was fairly absent and ultimately totally so. After having this baby in Hawaii, they split up not too long after, and she married an Indonesian she barely knew; they went abroad. They wound up back in Hawaii, in the loving embrace of her parents, from Kansas, who were determined to build a family and a childhood for Barack. He went to school in Hawaii, sort of a shiftless guy, but by the time he was 18 he was on his way to college then New York City and then Chicago as a civics-minded young lawyer, and then became involved with the University of Chicago, where he vaulted into respectability, began teaching, and later began a political career that just kept going up. You know the rest.

Financially, Obama was never poor. His early years were probably dicier than Trump's or Clinton's, but he had the good fortune to have been born to a maternal family that loved and accepted him and were perfectly fine supporting him as any middle class parent would. Like Clinton, he entered later schooling as a very smart, high-achieving guy from a perfectly middle-of-the-road background, got his act together, started knocking on doors, and the rest is history.

But here's the thing.

Hillary Clinton was a middle class white girl who came of age in the 60s, went to a liberal arts college, got the activism bug, and then entered politics.

Donald Trump was a young scion who inherited tremendous wealth, never wanted for anything, and then ultimately spent his life trying to live up to his father's fortune and legacy.

Both of those things are pretty well-worn cliches. To be perfectly honest, while Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both singular figures, their backgrounds are kind of a dime a dozen. Rich kid takes over his father's business and then tries to build his influence beyond what his father ever dreamed? Smart middle class white girl dreams of one day being president?

Those stories, I've heard.

But Barack Obama's?

It is so singular, so unique, that it boggles my mind to think of how he got from his start to his finish.

Just a few photos:

Something you might notice in them is - he is always different than everybody else.

He has spent his life as a non-Hawaiian in Hawaii. As a Christian with a Muslim name. As a half-black dude in white society. As a half-white dude in black society. And so on and so forth.

This is a man who, unlike most of us, had absolutely no script to follow. He had absolutely no figures whose behavior he could model. He "belonged" to no group at all. Even in my crappiest days, I was still a white middle class man who could hang out with other white middle class men—I always intuitively had a place, an in-group. Look at those photos - Barack Obama has literally never, at any point in his life, been able to "blend in." He has never been able to follow the rutted paths. He has always, always, had to make his own way and be a person who has no analogue, no archetype.

He has never been able to rely on being the black guy, or the white guy, or the poor guy, or the rich guy, or the Christian guy, or the muslim guy, and on and on and on.

He has only, ever, been able to be Barack Obama.

He literally set the mold for his entire life, himself.

Out of Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton, who has the best "rags to riches" story?

Although not really rags to riches, they all have great stories.

But of the three, I think, Obama has one of the most singular and interesting biographies of any presidential candidate ever.

He does not just have the best rags to riches story of the three, he has one of the most unique—and uniquely American—stories of any person to ever hold the office.

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Quora Question: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama: Who's 'Made' It? | Opinion