No American President Has Ever Come From Wall Street, and Mitt Romney Will Not Be the First

Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, 44 men have been elected to serve in the highest office of the land. The Oval Office has seen men who, in previous lives, have worked on farms, acted in films, fought cases in court, and even earned a living as a tailor. Yet, there has never once been a banker, nor financier of any kind, in the White House. 

In 2012, Americans will not elect Mitt Romney as the first Wall Street president. Americans' perceptions of Wall Street are negative; the characters within the industry do not represent the qualities Americans seek when electing a President.

While we see examples of politicians and government officials at all other levels who have used the revolving door between the private and public sector successfully, this has never worked in pursuit of the presidency. Indeed, no United States president (save the West Wing’s President Bartlett) has ever earned a degree in economics. Setting aside any judgement on this, given our current economic situation, it is an interesting lens through which to examine how Americans choose their president.

Why has no U.S. president come from a sector that has, until recently, been touted for ensuring its own prosperity and profit? The mass public cannot easily relate to the industry. The sums of money made by those on Wall Street, Mitt Romney not excluded, far exceed anything that average Americans can imagine. It is a stretch, therefore, to believe that such a candidate could truly represent them, especially given Romney’s recent comments about the very poor

Another aspect of Wall Street, the perception that it is run on backroom and covert deals, contradicts the public's desire for Washington transparency. Politicians themselves constantly distinguish between "Wall Street and Main Street," which doesn't help the public's disdain for candidates from the financial sector. 

It all boils down to this: trust. With blame for the current state of the economy lying heavily on the shoulders of the very Wall Street Mitt Romney came from, the American people are going to find it hard to not only trust, but to elect a man who is from the heart of this system.   

Romney faces a string of problems if he is to be elected in November. His opponents are launching attack ads focusing on issues such as his history of flip-flopping, his “liberal” record as governor of Massachusetts, and, most recently (honed in on by Santorum),  the issue of “Romneycare.” Although there have been criticisms of his income, we have yet to see a keen focus on the pure statistic that the American people have never before elected a Wall-Streeter president – and Romney is unlikely to be the first.

No president has ever been re-elected with an unemployment rate as high as it is now — a fact which many Obama sceptics are focusing on. But no financier has ever been elected to the Oval Office. With Romney likely to be the GOP nominee in 2012, regardless of the outcome, we are guaranteed a precedent-setting election.

Photo Credit: nmfbihop

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Sophie Fry

Sophie, a native Londoner, is currently an undergraduate at Harvard University studying Government and English. On campus, she does extensive work at the Institute of Politics and the Kennedy School of Government, and has previously worked at companies such as the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

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