Wealth, Presidents, and Being 'Out of Touch'

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney delivers a speech ahead of the State of the Union presidential address at National Gypsum Company in Tampa, Florida, January 24, 2012. (Getty)

Although his father was the first candidate to release their tax returns, the impetus for Massachussetts governor Mitt Romney making his financial life public — and the rallying cry of Gingrich-boosting Super PACs — is the assertion that Romney is too rich and therefore too out of touch to be president. Throughout the decades, Americans have elected very wealthy men to the White House without any fanfare. Yet with record rates of unemployment that many are experiencing over a period of years, the issue of class in the U.S. has gained a new significance.

William Barrett is senior editor at Forbes and has written extensively about the bank accounts of the American presidents.

Pamela Haag went from being middle class to extremely wealthy six years ago after her husband struck it big in commodities, and has very distinct opinions about class in America.


William Barrett and Pamela Haag

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [12]

christine freitas from Randolph

What I would like to know is 'how many jobs did Mitt create with all his wealth?'

Jan. 26 2012 06:00 PM

"Why this conflict in the American mind"?

Because the media puts it there when it suits their political agenda....kind of like now.

We are supposed to hate a rich person who made money in the private sector but cheer the President
who got rich and lives a life of luxury from promoting himself and from the government coffers which he strives to expand.
Romney was generous with his money and Obama is generous with other people's money.

Jan. 26 2012 10:10 AM
John Herge from Denver, CO

I believe Presidential candidates can be and should have a high level of personal wealth. Hopefully, much of this wealth should be self-made and personally managed - demonstrating fiscal responsibility.

To be president, whether wealthy or not, requires a lot of preparation and grooming. We've seen candidates that have failed because they have not been able to connect with the American people AND demonstrate a commanding appreciation for what is required to lead this great nation as the leading power in the World.

That's where character, integrity, values and leadership plays a huge role in a successful bid for the job.

No amount of personal wealth can buy that!

Jan. 26 2012 09:32 AM
Jim Irwin from Detroit MI

I'm a Democrat from Detroit and no friend of Mitt Romney, but how is his money any different from JFK's? I remember only two photos of JFK when he wasn't in a suit -- on a golf course and on his yacht. At one point the richest man in the country was George Washington; good thing he's not a GOP presidential candidate now. This debate has gotten tiresome.

Jan. 26 2012 09:26 AM
Lora from Farmingdale, NY

This is a very interesting topic! In resonse to Richard above, I think things have changed a lot even since Ford and Clinton ---- that's more than 20 years ago already (who would believe it?). Money is essential to run for any office, and most of the people who are representing us (I should put that in quotes) are wealthy. It's a qualifier today, more than it ever has been. Those who don't have the resources don't even try. And as for why this topic is even aired, hats off to Occupy Wall Street!

Jan. 26 2012 09:14 AM
Gudrun Frady from New York

I think Romney's personal wealth is much much more than around @200.000.000.
If he makes $20.000.000. a year that must be a huge lie. Do the math.....

Jan. 26 2012 09:00 AM
Mike from Utah

The Rich today "isolate themselves" from average Americans. They put themselves in a "lofty perch" but not all, President Obama was not Rich, when he was in college going to the library in New York to stay warm.
Romney is a "Rich Kid". He very rarely rubs shoulders with the poor.
During WWII and while we had the draft, Rich kids intermingled with the poor. I worked for a CEO who was a B-17 bomber pilot in WWII. His military service, forced by WWII, gave him appreciation of the human spirit and the contribution of everyone on his plane and later on his Fortune 500 company he managed.
When he died and a Wall Street "Rich kid" took over, we, the employees lost our defined benefit pensions. The new CEO became one of the Richest 400 in America with more wealth than 150 million and was applauded by Wall Street as a 'Self made man". He was a clever thief, primarily defined benefit pensions.
But, he did nothing Illegal, the 1981 law allowed access to the "Old money deferred compensatioin" of the employees. Congress and interpretation of the law allowed the demise of 100,000 DB plans over 20 years.
Romney made his fortune from those Defined Benefit deferred Compensation plans and other assets, while employees lost their jobs and their future retirement.
We have way too many of the Forbes 400, 65% who made the list last year from "moving money" and not making anything.
Out country is not served well by having "money men" running the Country. I think, our country will be harmed if a "Wall Street Banker" sits in the White House.
We have had 30 years, since Donald Reagan in 1981, done so much damage to the financial foundation of our country that was built on hard work, sacrifice, and building, not by moving money around.
Mitt Romney will not be good for our country in the White House or any other "Banker" of the last 30 years.

Jan. 26 2012 08:47 AM
ray from Brooklyn, NY

For me, it's not so much the fact that Romney is rich now, but the fact that he was born a millionaire. He has NEVER had to worry about receiving a pink slip, this is why he is out of touch.

Jan. 26 2012 08:32 AM

I don't recall this level of concern about candidates' wealth from media elites, when Ted Kennedy and John Kerry were running for President. The difference between Kennedy's (inheritance) and Kerry's (marriage) wealth is that Mitt Romney earned his millions.

Jan. 26 2012 08:31 AM
William P. Barrett

In response to "Richard from Princeton" I believe I said that no one had been elected president who was truly poor. I don't believe I said, as Richard suggests, that every president was rich.

Jan. 26 2012 07:52 AM
Richard from Princeton

Your guest was not correct. Many presidents were NOT rich when they were elected. Ford, Clinton, Obama, Truman, Grant, Wilson, Garfield, Andrew Johnson, Lincoln, and Buchanan are in this class. See http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/05/the-net-worth-of-the-us-presidents-from-washington-to-obama/57020/#slide1 in the Atlantic. Some, like Obama, Ford, and Clinton became wealthy during and after their presidency due to book, speaking fees, and other ventures. Garfield died penniless. Grant went bankrupt. It took a short amount of time to debunk your guest's assertion (which you bought into without doing any basic journalism and research before your show). You can do better than this working for a public radio show.

Jan. 26 2012 07:11 AM

Sure Romney is out of touch. But so is the entire political class. It's easy to target only the extremely wealthy politicians but we need to realize that most of them are pretty well off and few of them know how most Americans live. Just yesterday Michelle Obama said, “When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home." This statement shows no awareness of the poor nutritional choices Americans make at home every day. It's a statement that sounds like Obama thinks every American parent is preparing healthy, organic and local meals when in reality most Americans either have to or chose to eat just as poorly at home.

Jan. 26 2012 06:41 AM

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