Mitt Romney’s $10,000 Bet Doesn’t Matter
Mitt Romney is rich. Who cares?
I mean, I get it: I’m supposed to care, especially after Romney stuck his hand out to Rick Perry at Saturday night’s Republican candidate debate and tried to make a $10,000 bet with the Texan. The response was a full flowering of what might be called “class warfare”: The Democratic National Committee chastised Romney for his “out-of-touch” ways, Huffington Post huffed, and Tweeters everywhere piled on.
Don’t get me wrong: $10,000 isn’t exactly chump change in my household. I couldn’t make that kind of bet with Romney, and some of you reading this would at least be hesitant to do so. But you know who has the kind of money to make that bet?
Rick Perry. He’s rich too. Same for Newt Gingrich. And John Huntsman. And Ron Paul. And Michele Bachmann. Even local boy Rick Santorum is rich–ish, to say the least. There wasn’t anybody on stage at the debate who doesn’t qualify as wealthy by most people’s standards.
Oh, and for the record, Democrats aren’t exactly poor. Barack Obama has a net worth of more than $1 million. Hillary Clinton doesn’t need the work. Joe Biden is the closest any of them come to being poor—and he isn’t.
Any one of them could take Mitt Romney’s $10,000 bet.
A working class hero is something to be. Unless you want to be president. The truth is that power and money go hand-in-hand, so by the time you’ve acquired enough of one to be a serious contender for the presidency, it’s most likely that you have a little bit of the other as well.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing for equality-loving liberals like myself. The two most-beloved Democratic presidents of the 20th century—John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt—were both heirs to huge fortunes. FDR was even considered a bit of a class traitor, thanks to his New Deal initiatives. So being rich and wanting to be president isn’t, in and of itself, contemptible.
There are two just two things that should matter. First: How a candidate made their money. Romney built his own company, which is good, but that company made its money by buying other companies and firing their workers, which is bad. That’s probably better than Newt, though, who recklessly lent his name and reputation out for hire. And Perry? How does a guy who’s been in elective office for 20 years make that kind of fortune, anyway?
The second, more critical question is this: How do these guys plan to govern? This is where Romney, Perry, and the rest of the Republican gang should be embarrassed. They want to cut taxes on the rich—even though the rich are already doing pretty well—and cut entitlement programs that serve the rest of us.
The fact that our presidential candidates are rich isn’t a big deal. The fact that Mitt Romney wants to make a $10,000 bet isn’t a big deal. The fact that Romney and Newt and Perry all the rest of them want to govern the country on behalf of the rich—that’s the big deal. The fact that they want to do so at a time of skyrocketing income inequality is a big deal.
Instead of having a forthright discussion about those issues, though, we’re forced to sit through a kind of minstrel show where rich candidate after rich candidate after rich candidate pretends to be a “regular guy” with the “common touch.” And it has nothing to do with whether or not that candidate would be a good president.
In 2004, George W. Bush beat John Kerry for the presidency because the latter was portrayed as a rich, windsurfing dilettante, while Bush was the guy you’d want to have beer with. The next four years saw Hurricane Katrina, the nadir of our Iraq experience, and the implosion of the economy. It’s unlikely Kerry would’ve been a worse president. But it’s also unlikely we’ve learned our lesson.
So no, I don’t care that Mitt Romney is rich. It’s OK with me if he makes the occasional $10,000 bet. There are plenty of good reasons he shouldn’t be president. His net worth isn’t one of them.