-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.