Rich Man, Common Man: The Matter of Money in Elections

mitt romney cartoonI don’t begrudge anyone his wealth. Money affords us the freedom to enjoy experiences, the security to live comfortably, and the chance to be generous. Money is not inherently evil. What money drives people to do can certainly elicit evil behavior and spawn questionable judgement. I do not judge people by the size of their bank account but rather by the size of their heart (and brain). I believe money makes us rich in a multitude of ways.

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Our presidential candidates seem to get richer and richer as the years go by. No longer do they represent the “common man.” The current candidates represent the top 1 percent of income earners in Americas. One lousy percent. Mitt Romney, if elected, would be the wealthiest president of our time (second only to John F. Kennedy, whose family fortune is estimated to have been worth $1 billion in today’s dollars). Romney's net worth is in the $200 million range, a figure I cannot begin to fathom. He earned his money (however sketchy it might have been in the finance world has yet to be determined), and like I said, I don’t begrudge him that. I might be a tish more cynical about his wealth if he were a duke or a trustafarian whose daddy paid his way. Then again, there is that issue of his tax rate ...

A candidate’s net worth alone would not sway my vote. What I would gauge are how the candidate got the money -- earned, inherited, gambled? And how the candidate uses it -- does he pay his fair share of taxes, does he donate to charitable causes, does he hoard money, does he flaunt his riches? What matters is a candidate’s behavior, mindset, and outlook. Simply having money does not make a candidate a good or bad choice.

What concerns me more than how much our presidential candidates are worth is the simple fact that a regular middle class person cannot feasibly run for office. Will your employer grant you time off from work to hit the campaign trail? Do you have the cash flow to support your family while campaigning? Are your coffers cush enough to give your campaign a loan? The obscene display of wealth in contemporary politics is yet another stake in the class divide. You can argue that our presidents have all been rich men with land holdings, businesses, law practices, and the like. Most entered office wealthy, yet none left office destitute. Apparently presidential politics is a golden meal ticket. The paradigm is different today as our country sees the largest income, education, and class gap among its citizens.

I was astounded to see the net worths of all American presidents from Washington to Obama. The adage “you need money to make money” holds true even in civil service; you need money to make change.

This post is part of a weekly conversation with our 5 Moms Matter 2012 political bloggers. Read the original question and find links to all their responses here: Does a Candidate's Personal Wealth Matter?


Image via Brendan Mruk/Wikimedia Commons

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