If I were obscene stupid rich, the first thing I would do is buy a puppy for every person in America, and I would even pay to build nice kennels to breed more puppies, if necessary. That way, if I ever wanted to run for President of the United States, I could point to the puppies and say, “Heyyy, where’d you get that cute dog?”
Rich people have a few advantages when it comes to running for political office, money mostly. There is also a side effect related to money that is useful if you run for office. If you’re rich, you can be famous if you want to be. You don’t have to do anything in particular, and in fact you can do nothing and stupid things at the same time, and you become even more famous (Paris! I’m talking to you.)
So you’re thinking, well, but a rich ditz like that would never run for political office. No, not seriously, but…remember Donald Trump? He’s obviously the Paris Hilton of the business world, but as soon as he said he was running for President, he was being interviewed, he was on TV, he was written about in editorials. We must be a profoundly dumbass country. And the reason he was taken at least somewhat seriously was because he is obscene stupid rich.
At the same time, there can be some drawbacks to being vastly rich and running for political office. Americans have an ambivalent relationship with the rich. We envy them, as any sane person would, although in our current political discourse you’re not supposed to admit that, because another part of our political discourse is to pretend any one of us could someday get rich. Yeah, that is sooo fucking likely. But—and here’s the problem—we don’t want those rich bastards acting like they’re better than us. Just because we have to stop and slap our kids in Walmart and they can do it in one of their mansions, they’re no better than us.
These attitudes that I’m exaggerating (a little) are actually a potential problem for a rich political candidate if they’re not careful. In our current election, Romney is having to fight against these attitudes, and the Obama campaign is trying to use them against Romney. Take this exchange from the last debate between Obama and Romney:
Romney: “Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?”
Obama: “I don’t have to look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours, so it doesn’t take as long.”
Obama’s answer doesn’t really make any sense, except as part of the broader rhetorical strategy of reminding people “look at this rich guy” (and it’s not like Obama is poor). In fairness, let’s acknowledge that Romney seems to get up in the morning and voluntarily put on a T shirt with a bulls eye on it. Notice that example above. Who brought up the pension question?
For most of the time he has been running, Romney has been dealing, not very well, with this rhetorical motif that someone so rich can’t possibly know what it’s like for us poor schmucks who have to take our kids to Walmart. This motif actually runs deep in American politics. Andrew Jackson was elected in 1828 and later called “the people’s President” in part from a reputation of representing the plain common man. And there was Abe Lincoln and that famous business about being born in a log cabin.
This motif of common man vs. privileged rich was used against Romney by fellow Republicans during the primaries, most especially by Newt Gingrich. Of course by this point in the campaign people who support Romney probably forget that Republicans used these arguments against him, and now it’s just that awful Obama the socialist who hates the rich.
In fact, a rich person could probably be quite a good president, and it would have nothing to do with affluence. Thomas Jefferson wasn’t exactly poor either, and he was a Founding Father, a phrase that brings Republicans to their knees these days. And one of our most popular presidents was Franklin Roosevelt, another rich guy.
Nobody who gets to be President is poor by the time they get there. Maybe they used to be poor once upon a time. Maybe there was a time when they too would go to the grocery store and put things back on the shelf after looking at the price. At any rate, we want to think the person who will have so much power knows what our lives are like. When Romney said that 47% of Americans are just trying to take from the system and won’t take responsibility for themselves, he didn’t know we’d find out. It was a cold blooded thing to say, and even moreso because it was so strangely misinformed. It also would have been an amazingly stupid thing to say, if he had realized we would find out, but he thought it was private.
After Romney handed Obama that sword to stab him with, Obama didn’t even bring the sword with him to the first debate, but he did refer to that quote at the second debate. Romney knew he needed to come back from contemptuously dismissing half the country, and during the debate he said, “I care about 100% of the American people. I want 100% of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future. I care about our kids.”
Because he was working to counter the 47% number that had been in the news so much, rather than use the word “all” which would be much more natural, he rather awkwardly said “100% of the American people”. Because he was trying to undo the 47% mistake, he even repeated the number 100, and then went on to describe the wonderful things he wishes for all the American people: a bright and prosperous future. He even cares about the kids.
Plans to buy them all a puppy.