Friday, August 29, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

How important is a presidential candidate's wealth to voters?

Gallery: How important is a presidential candidate's wealth to voters?

Money, money, money

Some people got to have it

Hey, Hey, Hey some people really need it

So crooned the O'Jays in their 1973 hit "For the Love of Money," written by Philadelphia songwriters Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff and Anthony Jackson.

The question this presidential election and one that has been asked through the ages is, Does our president have to have it?

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's net worth is estimated at $220 million. His wealth repels and attracts voters and dominates media coverage. But Romney would hardly be the first prosperous president.

George Washington, who crusaded against royalty, was worth $525 million in 2010 dollars, according to the website 24/7 Wall Street. Thomas Jefferson, who represented the common man, was worth $212 million, and Theodore Roosevelt, the first president to work for the people, $125 million.

"From Washington through Andrew Jackson, with the exception of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, the wealth came from land, slaves, the value of buildings, and crops," said Randall Miller, professor of history at St. Joseph's University.

The wealth of the latter presidents, like Roosevelt, came from published works and family inheritance, among other sources, Miller said.

Transition to today and an online article by Associated Press writer Lauren Radomski, who says Mitt Romney "would be among the richest presidents in American history if elected - probably in the top four."

One reason for the wealth issue surfacing this year is due to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

"Occupy has managed to shift the debate from concern about the deficit to income and equality," said Adam Udell, an Advanced Placement Government and Politics teacher at Octorara High School.

People are now more concerned about how they can thrive in the current state of the economy, Udell said.

"The sense of middle-class people is that the system is unfair and rigged against them," Miller said. "There is the small print that nobody can understand, but will snare you, and many people resent the sense of trickery that comes from obscure and unintelligible legalese that allows banks, companies, governments, and others in positions of power to take your money by a sleight of hand rather than an open transaction."

But should wealth consume people? If Americans have only occasionally regarded candidates' wealth in the past, what are they looking for in a president?

Said Udell: "In the United States we want, I believe, unfortunately, to some extent, a king. And when I say a king, we don't want a tyrannical ruler, but we want someone who projects grandeur and people's sentimental love of the United States. Americans want that symbolic figurehead, someone who is above the fray. They also want someone with the common touch."

So, does money matter?

"Wealth isn't that you have it. It's how did you get it and what are you doing with it?" Miller said.

"Romney is not only wealthy but perceived as someone who got his wealth through inheritance and didn't work hard to get it," Miller said.

Though just because Romney resides in the upper class does not mean he is only looking out for the rich.

"I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there," Romney said in an interview with CNN earlier this year. "If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich; they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling, and I'll continue to take that message across the nation."

Money is not always the answer in politics. Consider Ross Perot, a Texas billionaire, and Steve Forbes, a multimillionaire and current CEO and editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine. Both of these men ran for president, but were unsuccessful.

Maybe people should be focused on ideas and on candidates' characteristics rather than on inheritance and dollar signs.

In a poll of 37 Octorara High School seniors in an AP Government and Politics class, the most recurring desirable traits in a president were good leadership; strong speaking skills; being strong in beliefs, honest, and trustworthy; and concern for the well-being of the United States.

According to a Democratic participant in the survey, the wealth of a candidate should not matter "unless he lets it define his political views."

Said a Republican participant, "If they are the best person for the job, then income shouldn't matter."

More than half of America's presidents were multimillionaires, but they were still elected. But rolling in riches did not work out for candidates Perot and Forbes. This only goes to show that money is not always the key to the presidency.

So, Romney's fortune: detriment or benefit? Maybe American citizens will just have to look at his policies after all.

Meghan Miller OCTORARA HIGH SCHOOL
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