Come On, People! Poor Men Do Not Become President

-By Warner Todd Huston

I have to say, I am getting a bit sick and tired of this nonsensical lament about how rotten it is that those running for president are “rich” people. Stop it right now, America. The fact is that we’ve never really had a poor man as president so talking about it as if it is news that rich people often seek the presidency is stupid. Not only that, but today it is impossible for a poor or even middle class man to run for president anyway, so get this populist silliness out of your minds right this instant.

The latest in this onslaught of populist foolishness is the New York Times (unsurprisingly) with an article full of serious tones on how hard it is going to be for two Harvard educated, Richie-Riches like Obama and Romney to win over those “blue collar Americans.”

“Both are Harvard-educated millionaires,” The Times begins sonorously. “Both have been criticized as elitist and technocratic. Both have struggled to handle the populist anger coursing through politics.”

Of course, much of that anger is fostered by the Old Media constantly harping on that “anger” by writing daily stories indulging themes of class warfare as if it is some sort of legitimate political discussion in this, a capitalist-based society.

The worst part about this line of discussion is that it seems to suppose that it is all somehow “news” that rich people run for president. Not only have rich people always been the most common candidates for the White House, but the simple fact of the matter is we’ve never had a dirt poor president. Further, it is virtually impossible that we could — especially today.

So, let’s just get over this silly discussion, shall we?

Now, we have had several presidents that weren’t in the upper quintile of America’s rich, to be sure. But we’ve never had a president that could be classified as without financial support when he took office. We also haven’t even had a president who could have been considered lower class or even middle class when he started his campaign.

Certainly not every president was a millionaire (even adjusted for the economics of his day), but the largest portion were very rich. And those that weren’t extremely rich in their day (like Lincoln, for instance) were still far richer than the average American (like Lincoln, for instance). Additionally, those that weren’t themselves rich had the sort of lives that running for office did not negatively impinge on their own personal livelihood.

Let’s take Woodrow Wilson, for instance. He was not wealthy, mind you, but he also had few living expenses to worry about. As president of Princeton and Governor of New Jersey he was given a place to live. When he became president he then had the White House to live in. He had a series of books from which he mad not inconsiderable sums and he was paid in a higher income bracket for his work than the average American of his day. The lowest one could consider Wilson is upper middle class, but his support system of colleges and government positions often removed from him the need to pay mortgages and other living expenses.

Calvin Coolidge was also not a rich man. But his father was and this helped Calvin early in life go to college and become an attorney. He made a nice living from his writing and owned some nice real estate free and clear of debt. He was also at the least upper middle class if not well off.

You see, even our poorest presidents still owned land and businesses and were far from penury while in office The worst of the lot seems to have been McKinley and Grant. McKinley once went bankrupt during the depression of 1893 and Grant’s finances were in bad shape until, at the end of his life, he wrote the well-received autobiography that made he and his family a tidy sum.

But let’s ask how a poor or even middle class person could run for president?

How many of you can afford to drop whatever it is you do for a living to go traipsing about the country for two or three years or more in order to run a nation-wide campaign for the White House? How many middle class (or poor) people can afford to stop making a living to campaign and can afford to stop worrying about their mortgage, their school loans, their water bill, their car insurance — in short how many middle class folks can afford to run for office and forget about their own personal and family expenses back home so that they can spend enough time on the campaign trail to build a voter base big enough to allow them to win both the primaries and a general election?

Let’s also not forget that if someone else come in to help the candidate’s family and pay their expenses while he runs for office, everyone would be crying about how that candidate was bought by whom ever it was that paid his bills while he ran. Plus, it’s illegal anyway!

We need to remember that our presidents have usually been leading national figures, anyway. Rarely do people become leading national figures from the depths of the poor house! Usually they are people that have attained some high station in life and America’s presidents have nearly all been someone of national renown. Our presidents were not notorious, but notable and success breeds riches in most cases. Let’s face it, people that rise to the heights of national prominence usually have more than a few shekels to rub together! They can afford to run for president and nearly all of our presidents were in that fortunate situation.

And today? Today it takes even more money to run for president because campaign finance laws are so Byzantine that self-funders are the first ones that have the capability to step up to the plate. And thanks to whiners like John McCain, we’ve set up a system were rich people are nearly the only ones that can afford to run for president!

Also consider this: do we want a person that couldn’t even make enough money for his family to be secure while he runs for office to become our president? Do we want a guy that can’t even succeed at that minimum rate of success living in the White House and guiding our nation?

Here is another thing to consider. Our founders meant the world of politics to be one of public service. To do that one must have already made his nut in life and had found himself with enough time on his hands and money in the bank to serve the country instead of serving himself.

Do we want people that need to grub for money to be president? Wouldn’t we be just as afraid that such a person would scramble to enrich himself while in office so that once out of office he had enough to live on? Wouldn’t this invite corruption?

Lastly, why is it so bad to want the best, brightest and most successful people to be our leaders? There was a day when being successful was something people admired. But that was before the media decided that capitalism was evil and rich people had to be both pilloried and plundered at the same time (and the logical end game of that meme is personified in the anti-capitalist, anti-success, anti-American Barack Obama).

The whole point here is to ask only this question: if you don’t want evil rich people to run for president, who can run for president and how do you expect them to do it?

So, come on, people. Stop this incessant whining about rich people running for office. It really is a stupid thing to focus on.


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  • A good argument for public financing.

  • ...unless the source of their wealth is writing books. One does not become rich being an adjunct professor and state senator/community organizer alone.

    Aquinas, and, of course, the person to which I am referring is the poster child for why public financing limits do not work.

    "but the simple fact of the matter is we've never had a dirt poor president." That's about on the same level as Edith Bunker saying "I didn't know that Abraham Lincoln was Jewish." It might have been the 1800s, but we had a few then. You do mention Lincoln, but maybe becoming a circuit lawyer got him out of the log cabin poorhouse. Probably not by much, though.

    The only thing that can be said (and what I learned in political science classes) is that only the political elites can become President. Again, if you can explain how a state senator who got a free ride into a U.S. Senate seat could do that, that would show some analysis. And, at least being a U.S. Senator gave him the two years to do nothing other than politic.

  • The only people who care if the next president has two Franklins to rub together -- or a billion of them-- are those arching for a "fundamental change in the US social order.

    I know of few outside of those wanting to join religious orders who are determined to be middle class and slide down hill liking it.

    Public financing of elections will give us the same results as public financing of schools. "Hey, if running for office is free, it can't be worth much."

  • I am very confused by this post. At first I thought it was ironic, but apparently not.

    So, if you are being serious, - While it can't be denied that many Presidential candidates are "monied", it doesn't mean that the general populous can't be tired of it, and therefore moan about it. (If they do.)

    1. They (we) moan because there's a concern that such candidates have no real concept of the average American life and the problems that go with it. Not only do they (rich candidates) have people toadying around them night and day, and giving them favors (whether legal or not) but they often live at a level of comfort which protects them from the problems of regular folk. It doesn't mean they are bad people, with no sense of public service, but it does mean that we question their ability to put themselves in their constituents' shoes.
    2. You don't have to have a solution to moan about something. If people are upset by something, perhaps voicing it will bring about a solution?
    3. What about Bill Clinton and Obama? (I bring them up because I wasn't in the country for the "poor" presidents before them.) No one can say Clinton was rich, and even when he was Governor of Arkansas, and Hillary brought home the bacon, they weren't exactly the 1%. Ditto Obama. Yes Michele earned a nice salary, but before he published his books (on the strength of his Presidency run, and later) they could hardly have been classed as "monied".

    I recognize and agree, that without massive campaign coffers, it's almost impossible to beat your opponents these days. That goes right down to local politics BTW. But to say that all Presidential candidates are "rich" when they come to the campaign trail is not really accurate. As we all know, they rely on friends and wannabee friends to donate to their campaign funds. Some of them top those funds up with personal and family money, but not all of them do. If you have a great fund-raising mechanism, like Obama did first time round, you can raise squillions without having to dip into your own 401k.

  • In reply to Expat in Chicago:

    I was very confused by your comment Expat. At first I thought it was a sort of satire making fun of the hate-the-rich kind of stupidity I was talking about in the post. But now I think you were serious.

  • However, people who haven't been BORN INTO wealth have run for and won the presidency... THAT's the issue. W. and Romney (and perhaps you) will never have an empathetic perspective on what 99% of us are dealing with because you never had the chance to work through it. And that's a problem. It's a really big problem at a time like this.

    You're going to lose again, by the way. Enjoy that.

  • In reply to Dan Bradley:

    I'm sorry that "thinking" thing is too hard for you, Danny. What does "born into wealth" mean when assessing a president? Precisely nothing. Do you hate FDR? (born into wealth). How about JFK (yep, born into wealth). Do you hate James Madison and... well, I could go on but these may be people you've never heard of.

    Secondly (and I've said that if Mitt is the candidate he cannot beat Obama) I am not the one losing if Obama is reelected. America is.

  • In reply to Dan Bradley:

    Dan --

    The idea that a person who has no direct experience with something cannot be empathetic is a false premise. There is reason and there is logic, which most humans are blessed with, if they choose to use it.

    Those who bang on drums and rail against the so-called 1% rarely use reason or logic or even observation, but rather want to belong to a tribe that has an easy false idol to worship.

    In this case, the false idol is that the world would be paradise if all were equal. Obama is pushing that idol in front of an increasingly ignorant public, that have become true believers in the idea that what's my neighbors is mine, and it's mine even if it has to be taken by force (eminent domain, progressive taxing, etc..).

    Obama will win.

    Romeny is McCain 2, but with better hair.

    Obama's empathy lies with those who want utopia. And I'll say his ear gets bent by Michelle Obama, who appears to be more radical than him (who thought that possible?).

    Like all utopias, this will end badly. The national Kool-Aid will go down harshly and do irreversible damage.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Exactly right, Richard. I mean, if no one is allowed to have an opinion on something unless they've experienced it then this would mean murder is OK, rape is OK, theft is OK... after all, if you've never been raped, how could you have an opinion against it?

  • Or maybe just stop the whining.

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