There has been a lot of talk – too much in my view – about Mitt Romney’s riches. Indeed, I half expect Ann Richards to rise from the dead and talk about how Romney was born with a gold spoon in his mouth (since he’s probably too “elitist” for silver) and eats the fruit of the poor’s labor with it to amass even greater wealth. CNN is suggesting that Republican voters think Romney is “too rich” (which I don’t think is possible to objectively define or cast judgement upon as long as it was legally and morally earned).
I really don’t care how rich politicians are unless their wealth was earned in a way that suggests something problematic about their character which could be reflected in their use of power. For example, “bad” wealth would be money gained as a product of rent-seeking behavior or other morally dubious or fraudulent acts.
In Romney’s case, I haven’t heard about anything that suggests this. Indeed, quite the opposite as he took responsibility for making tough business decisions that affected many people but that were often growth-enhancing. That suggests something positive about his ability to lead as President.
What I care about most in a candidate for national office is his/her commitment to the Constitution and the extent to which he/she believes in and will be guided by a political philosophy dedicated to securing individual liberty and a free society. Unfortunately, there are few (none?) that can fully meet this standard. But it is a useful standard of judgement. It tells me I should prefer Barry Goldwater to Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan to Jimmy Carter, Mitch Daniels to Newt Gingrich, and so on and so forth. Are those men perfect, no. But there is still a meaningful choice along those dimensions for the American public as a whole.
More importantly, I think there is something crucial that seems to be escaping public attention through all of this talk of how rich Romney is. Specifically, former community organizer and current President, Barack Obama is also very, very wealthy. The Obamas adjusted gross income for 2010 alone was $1,728,096. Their 2009 AGI was $ 5,505,409. In 2008, it was $2,656,902. Not exactly 99% right? And that is just for a three-year period. Worse, is that his wealth has largely been the product of his political life (see where he stood – especially before his DNC speech in 2004 – in this 2007 piece). So if we are going to cast aspersions about someone’s wealth, I’m pretty sure we should pay more attention to the fact that politics pays – just ask Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich!