Let me let you in on a little secret – Mitt Romney is a wealthy man. Mitt Romney is a very wealthy man. Let me let you in on another little secret, Barack Obama is also a pretty wealthy man, albeit not as wealthy as the former, but most would describe the latter as pretty well-off.
Lately, there have been a lot of criticisms aimed at both candidates due to their wealth and their wealthy friends. Democrats have tried to cast Mitt Romney as a super-wealthy mogul who is out-of-touch with common Americans, and Republicans have recently fought back by criticizing President Obama for advertising a swanky Manhattan dinner between himself, Sarah Jessica Parker, and other A-list celebrities (as an incentive to donate to his campaign) as an example of how the president is actually the one out-of-touch. It has often been said that all is fair in love and politics but is attacking a candidate’s wealth a fair line of questioning? Does a candidate’s wealth (or lack thereof) have any indication of how he will be as president? Does wealth even matter? I would argue no – voters need/should look at other attributes in a candidate’s character in order to properly determine who should sit in the Oval Office.
When you stop to think, it makes logical sense that most politicians are wealthy persons. Most of them are highly educated – many are Ivy League alumni – most have advanced degrees (usually a law degree), many come from prosperous or at least middle class backgrounds, they typically have access to advanced financial information (especially members of Congress), and most modern campaigns require the candidate to have a substantial amount of money in order to run a viable campaign. With this is mind, it really should not come as a surprise to anyone that most of our elected officials are wealthy.
But does it matter? While there is a temptation in American politics to elect the most personable candidate or the one who can “feel our pain” or the one we “would like to have a beer with,” politicians, by their very position, are sort of removed from the fray.
No matter how many times a politician would like to tell you he’s a normal guy or, he isn’t really telling the truth. President Carter tried to use an “everyman” persona and the public respected him for that. But Carter quickly found his lack of ties to the Washington establishment hurt his overall legislative agenda. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was practically run out of town on a rail for her perceived ignorance. Who among us did not snicker when she couldn’t name a Supreme Court case, other than Roe v. Wade, that she did not approve? But the honest fact is most voters could not name another Supreme Court case either. Some would argue that politicians with a more modest background or bank account would be better in tune with the problems most voters are having with everyday life. But this would imply that Herbert Hoover, born an impoverished orphan, would have been better able to handle the Great Depression than FDR, a scion of a wealthy New York family.
We need to have politicians who are incredibly bright and sophisticated because they have to address complex domestic and international issues. If a consequence of this is that our system will usually yield wealthy political figures, that’s ok. In the grand scheme of things, Romney’s knowledge of the price of milk or Obama’s friends won’t change people’s lives – their policies will, and that should be the focus of our political curiosities and inquisitions.