Mitt Romney is “finished.” “Kaput.” “Stick a fork in him.”
Just ask all those Obama supporters — the ones dying for Republicans to nominate Newt Gingrich to challenge the president next fall. They will be more than happy to tell you how Romney “blew it” last week when he offered rival Rick Perry a $10,000 bet during a debate.
How “out of touch!”
What “callous” disregard for money!
“Doesn’t he know that we are in a recession?”
“Romney can’t possibly win now.”
But reports of Romney’s political death are greatly exaggerated.
To be sure, Romney’s wager makes clear that the former Massachusetts governor has money to spare — and lots of it.
Is anyone really surprised? Mitt Romney is rich. That’s not exactly a secret.
Apparently, however, some people believe that this is something of which Romney should feel deeply ashamed. And this sentiment tells us just about everything we need to know about today’s ideological divide.
On the one hand, there are folks who view wealth as something to which every American can aspire — if not in this generation, then certainly in the next. In America, a janitor’s son or a factory worker’s daughter can grow up and become a surgeon, a lawyer or (dare I say it?) a venture capitalist.
Even without the benefit of a formal education, an ambitious young person can invent something new, suddenly finding himself fabulously wealthy. And if that doesn’t work out, there’s always reality TV, where enterprising exhibitionists can get rich off our collective prurient interest. In America, we have complete social and economic mobility.
On the other hand, there are those (mostly liberals) who view all wealth (regardless of how it was obtained) as a sign of moral depravity. The fact that Romney acquired his wealth through hard work and smart decision-making is irrelevant. So, too, is Romney’s reported frugality and financial modesty. To this group, wealth is inherently sinful.
This, of course, explains the liberal obsession with raising taxes as a matter of “fairness.”
Liberals know full well that there is no tax increase large enough to pull this country out of debt — only serious entitlement reform can do that. Yet, they insist upon “raising taxes on the wealthy.”
Why? To “level” the field, punish the rich, and socially engineer some false notion of “equality.”
From this perspective, wealth is considered a political liability — an indication that one is indifferent to the needs of the poor and the working class.
But is it?
Most American presidents have been so-called “1-percenters.” Andrew Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt were particularly wealthy. Yet they were regarded as men who understood the struggles of ordinary Americans.
In the past, political classwarfare has backfired. In 1988, Ann Richards mocked George H.W. Bush for being “born with a silver foot in his mouth” (a reference both to Bush’s inherited wealth and his clumsy, patrician syntax). Democrats reveled in the caricature. But Americans didn’t resent Bush for having been born into privilege. And Republicans had the last laugh when Bush handily beat the more “middle class” Mike Dukakis at the polls.
In 1992, the elder Bush lost re-election, not because of his personal wealth, but in large measure because he reneged on his campaign promise never to raise taxes.
So, what are we to make of Romney’s personal wealth?
The question, raised by the $10,000 wager, is not whether Romney is “too rich to be president” or whether he is “out of touch with ordinary Americans” (he’s not). It’s whether Americans today view wealth as aspirational or immoral. In 2012, that’s the $10,000 question.