Who’s Afraid of Wealthy Candidates?
Even low-down Harry Reid is living high on the hog — like most big-name politicians.

Mitt Romney campaigns in Evansville, Ind., August 4, 2012.


Mona Charen

Scurrilous would be a step up for Harry Reid. If he were a Republican . . . you know the drill. The word McCarthyite would be on everyone’s lips, and the thoroughly contemptible accusation — based (ha!) on an anonymous “investor” who supposedly phoned Reid — would be the story of the day. Reid’s fetid slander, and not Mr. Romney’s response, would preoccupy everyone interested in politics.

For Romney to release his tax returns now would seem to reward this sort of disgraceful tactic. And yet, it may be worth doing anyway.

Romney has resisted releasing more than two years’ worth of tax returns, presumably because he knows that an army of Democratic operatives would pore over them, plucking out details and holding them between tweezers for all to see. “Look, Romney has holdings in companies doing business in [fill in the blank] the Philippines, Russia, China, South Africa, Singapore. Did you know that you can be arrested for spitting on the street in Singapore? Romney has described Russia as ‘our number-one adversary’ in the world, and yet he had stock in company X that sold widgets to St. Petersburg’s water authority! What a hypocrite. What a traitor.”

For a few days, there is no doubt, we’d hear nothing but repetitions about Romney’s great wealth, including in-depth examinations of his various holdings, whatever they are, and a lurid emphasis on anything — such as expensive dressage horses — that screams money. That much is a given.

But the recent dustup over Romney’s Swiss bank account illustrates the limits of this sort of strategy for Democrats. Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz unloaded on Romney, saying he needed to release his tax returns “so we can see why he’s invested in Swiss bank accounts and accounts in the Cayman Islands.” For good measure, she added, “And you know, we also need to know why does — what is the allure of investments out of the country?”

Wasserman Schultz’s indignation rang hollow when The Weekly Standard discovered that through her 401(k), she had investments in foreign drug companies, Swiss banks, and the state bank of India. Just as Wasserman Schultz was hoisted, so others will be. Lots of people have diversified portfolios.

Also, there is a limit to how long even our dutiful, Democratic-leaning, lapdog press can persist with the Romney-is-still-rich meme. After a few days, even ankle-biting journalists will feel constrained to change topics.

Even if they don’t, there is no reason to believe that voters will hold Romney’s wealth against him. Americans don’t envy the rich; they aspire to become rich themselves. Class envy has limited appeal. Among recent prominent American politicians, it’s challenging to find a single one who is not a millionaire. Harry Reid has a net worth estimated at between $2.6 million and $5 million. Nancy Pelosi recently lost $8 million, bringing her net worth down to $26.4 million. John Boehner is said to have $1.7 million.

Hillary Clinton, one of the most popular political figures in the country, is worth about $85 million. No one objected to her wealth when she ran in 2008, and no one suggests it would be a handicap in the future.

Ross Perot made history in 1992 and 1996, getting more votes than any third-party candidate in history. Voters didn’t resent his status as a billionaire; they admired it.

Al Gore could have picked up the tab when dining with the Clintons. His net worth clocks in at about $100 million. But he could have asked John Kerry to do likewise, as Kerry’s fortune is about $240 million.

Darrell Issa and Arnold Schwarzenegger are wealthy men, which hasn’t hurt their careers in politics. Teddy Kennedy, Mark Warner, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, Herb Kohl, Rick Scott, Jay Rockefeller, Jon Corzine, and George W. Bush are (or were while alive) all multimillionaires. And let’s not forget the man who seems to be mayor of New York for life, and who is often mentioned (by the credulous) as a possible national candidate, Michael Bloomberg, whose estimated net worth is $22 billion.

Romney’s fortune puts him at the higher end of recent presidential candidates, north of Al Gore but south of John Kerry. Unlike many in Washington, Romney made money in the private sector, not by political leverage. Some voters, however, may conclude that Romney’s reluctance to release his tax returns suggests that he’s hiding something. To allay their suspicions, it’s worth releasing the returns. Yes, Romney is rich — and also charitable and clean. All are pluses in American politics.

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2012 Creators Syndicate, Inc.