It appears Al Gore is now “Romney-rich.” That was the phrase used in a piece earlier this week by Bloomberg News, and repeated in an extensive New York magazine profile of the former vice president. Gore, according to Bloomberg, now has a personal net worth of around $200 million, money gleaned from the recent sale of his Current TV network, as well as his various investments since leaving public life. By comparison, the piece said, Gore’s net worth at the time of his 2000 presidential bid was less than $2 million.
Do Gore’s new riches matter, in the way that Romney’s did? I wouldn’t say so. When Romney ran for president, he used his business career as his primary qualification, so his money and how he made it became an issue in the campaign. Gore’s newfound ultra-wealth has come about long after he left politics.
In the unlikely event that Gore ever seeks public office again, the press and his opponents will likely pore through everything from Gore’s green energy investments to his Apple and Google windfalls to his selling his TV network to an oil-producing Gulf state. The Apple angle, in fact, has already been (unsuccessfully) pursued.
This issue of politicians and their wealth is both loaded and rich with hypocrisies in both directions. Complaining that politicians are rich and out of touch is kind of like complaining that NFL owners are rich and out of touch. Yes, they certainly are, but becoming a serious presidential candidate or owner of the Eagles isn’t something that’s available to just about any non-rich, non-out-of-touch individuals.
The way America’s political system is set up, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, if you want to run for president (or even governor or senator), you either must have a great deal of money yourself, or you must know lots of people with a great deal of money who are willing to donate some of it to you. And in a post-Citizen’s United world, this problem is getting worse over time and not better.
Republicans are quick to cry “class warfare” in any instance in which the wealthy are being criticized or any type of effort is made to further tax the rich. They’re willing to make an exception, however, for anyone who’s a liberal—especially Democratic politicians and Hollywood types. When people critical of policies that are bad for millionaires who are themselves millionaires, in the conservative telling, they are guilty of rank hypocrisy—and therefore, it’s perfectly fine to resent that type of rich guy, and wage class warfare in the other direction.
In this worldview, the Koch Brothers are heroic job creators, but Alec Baldwin, Barbra Streisand and Nancy Pelosi are dangerous, greedy fat cats who the little guy should feel free to loathe. It’s the only time the word “millionaire” is spouted with utter disgust by Fox News anchors.
Then there’s Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas” thesis, about which I’ve written before: The theory goes that Republican politicians regularly con less-well-off voters into “voting against their own self-interest” by dangling social conservative messages, and then pivoting to economic policies once they get into office. The weakness in that theory is that there are also very rich people who vote Democratic, therefore enabling higher taxes on their own incomes. Have they been “conned”? Are they “voting against their own self-interest” as well?
The truth is, if you’re on the record as saying that all personal incomes should be equal and no American should have any more money than anyone else, while you yourself have a net worth in the billions, then yes, you’re guilty of hypocrisy. But if you’re a rich liberal who favors an increase of a couple of percentage points in the marginal tax rate—and are perfectly willing to pay it—then no, you’re not a hypocrite at all. I don’t believe Al Gore, Barack Obama or Warren Buffett has ever proposed the former.
And besides, isn’t a rich person who cares about the poor preferable to a rich person who doesn’t care about the poor?
Al Gore’s story, post-2000, is compelling mostly due to the highs and lows: He lost the presidency, but gained a Nobel Peace Prize and an Academy Award. He split from his wife, but is now wealthy beyond his wildest imagination. He did more than any American to spread information about the climate crisis, but little actual progress has been made on that issue. And while he got in the ground floor of Google, his bid to become a media mogul fizzled out.
Gore, for the past decade-plus, has been a very rich private citizen, making his fortune almost entirely in the private sector. You would think those who praise free markets and job creation would at last find a way to appreciate him.