Politics & Policy

Rich Democrats

Voters deserve less media focus on the candidates’ personal wealth.

Top Democrats do not just disagree with Republican nominee Mitt Romney. They consider him a loaded, multiple-house-owning son of privilege unfamiliar with the common man.

At last week’s running-mates’ debate, Vice President Joe Biden suggested that Romney is “going to continue to focus on taking care of only the very wealthy.”

“Mitt Romney just doesn’t get it,” San Antonio mayor Julian Castro told the Democratic National Convention in September. “He just has no idea how good he’s had it.”

Writing for The Daily Beast, veteran Democratic campaign strategist Robert Shrum called Romney “awkwardly oblivious to the concerns of everyday life and reflexively committed to comforting the comfortable.” 

But big bucks are a problem only for Republican presidential candidates. Among liberal politicians, activists, and journalists, rich Democrats who run for president are just like the cable guy.

The Media Research Center (MRC) discovered that, between January and April, ABC’s and CBS’s evening news shows covered Romney’s affluence 13 times more than that of Senator John Kerry (D., Mass.) during the analogous period in 2004, when he challenged President G. W. Bush. (MRC found no equivalent mention of Kerry’s finances on NBC Nightly News.) Never mind that Kerry is far wealthier than Romney. Massachusetts’s senior senator — who avoided $507,500 in Bay State taxes by mooring his 76-foot yacht, the Isabel, in Rhode Island — personally has $240 million, according to Forbes magazine, and his ketchup-heiress wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, controls another $500 million to $1 billion — including a private jet called The Flying Squirrel. Thus, the 2004 Democratic nominee’s household contains at least $740 million, more than triple Romney’s reported net worth of $230 million.

Regardless, Kerry is a man of the people. “From trapshooting to windsurfing to cycling,” CBS’s Byron Pitts said on July 23, 2004, “this New England patrician is doing his best to be an average guy.”

Meanwhile, ABC News last February called Romney a “wealthy businessman out of touch” with regular folks. He gets scarce credit for making his own fortune rather than relying on his father’s auto-industry money. Instead, Romney donated that entire inheritance to Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management. Romney’s critics have lampooned his jet ski and the proposed car elevator at his vacation home in La Jolla, Calif. NBC’s Brian Williams has called Romney’s riches “unimaginable.” Liberals even mocked Ann Romney’s horse Rafalca in the London Olympics’ dressage competition — even after she revealed that she pursued equestrianism to alleviate her multiple sclerosis!

“Attacking Romney’s wealth has been one of the major ways the media have covered this campaign,” says MRC’s Dan Gainor. “It’s all just another way to depict Romney as out of touch and different from the rest of us. I wonder how many reporters realize that Obama is also a millionaire.”

Gainor correctly identifies this double standard. Obama reputedly is just a regular Joe who struggled to the top and yet remains rank-and-file. Actually, Obama is a product of Hawaii’s exclusive Punahou Academy. He graduated from Columbia University, edited the Harvard Law Review, and taught at the University of Chicago Law School. Obama scored $441,369 in book royalties last year. His 2011 joint tax return showed adjusted gross income of $789,674 (down from $1,795,614 in 2010). This is nearly twelve times the median AGI of $66,566 for couples filing jointly in 2009, as the latest IRS data indicate. Time magazine estimates that Obama has $5 million.

Unemployment remained trapped above 8 percent for 43 consecutive months after Obama’s inauguration (dipping to 7.8 percent only last month). Nonetheless, Obama thrice has summered in Martha’s Vineyard, one of America’s poshest playgrounds. Unlike Jimmy Carter, who enrolled his daughter Amy in government school, Obama sends his two girls to Sidwell Friends, Washington’s most elite private school. He also has golfed at least 104 times while president. Regardless, Obama’s cheerleaders remain eerily silent about his upscale ways, preferring instead to ridicule Romney as some sort of British lord, right out of Downton Abbey.

Obama and his campaign website have slammed Romney for placing money in companies in China and the Grand Caymans. At Tuesday night’s presidential debate at Hofstra University, Obama said that “Governor Romney invested in companies that were pioneers of outsourcing to China and is currently investing in countries — in — in companies that are building surveillance equipment for China to spy on its own folks.”

Romney responded by asking Obama if he checks his pension fund.

Obama replied: “I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours.”

If Obama looked for a while at his pension, he would learn that he has between $50,000 and $100,000 in the State of Illinois General Assembly Defined Benefit Pension Plan. The Illinois State Board of Investment, which manages this fund, has pumped $2 billion of this money into foreign companies, including at least 59 enterprises in the People’s Republic of China — some of them state-owned businesses. Among these companies: Air China, Angang Steel Co., China Blue Chemical, China Coal Energy Co., China Oilfield Services, and China Pharmaceutical Group. Obama’s pension also is invested in a private-equity fund called Advent International. It is based in the Grand Caymans.

Obama’s small-size-doesn’t-matter argument is rather puny. While Romney’s blind trust (which, by definition, he does not control) may have more money in Chinese and Grand Caymans assets, Obama’s claim to being just a little bit pregnant does not inoculate him from having a small Chinese bun in the oven. (And one from the Caymans, too.)

President Obama is just the latest Democrat to get away with being rich. Consider these other multi-millionaire “men of the people.”

‐John F. Kennedy was America’s richest president, ever. Last February 9’s Time magazine measured every chief executive’s wealth. In 2010 dollars, JFK had $1 billion to his name, nearly double George Washington’s $525 million, and far more than the $60 million belonging to FDR, a liberal neo-deity and father of the New Deal. JFK’s youth, vigor, and wit remain ballyhooed. His billionaire status is a non-issue, as is its source: his father’s alleged Prohibition-era rum-running.

‐Lyndon Baines Johnson had $98 million. Not bad for a former schoolteacher. Liberals fondly remember LBJ’s Great Society, Medicare, and Food Stamps but forget about his lucrative cattle ranch and broadcasting properties. Among them: KTBC-TV in Austin, Texas, and eventually six radio stations, including KLBJ-AM and -FM.

‐The late Senator Edward Moore Kennedy (D., Mass.) failed to swipe the 1980 presidential nomination from Jimmy Carter (who had $7 million, Time calculates) and never became the Democratic standard-bearer. Nevertheless, Teddy still embodies liberal empathy and generosity (with taxpayer money) toward “the little guy.” Missing from this narrative is any mention of the family bootlegging fortune, which contributed to his $45 million, OpenSecrets.org’s midrange estimate of his net worth. To Kennedy’s pals on the Left, his occasionally being photographed aboard his 50-foot yacht, Mya, demonstrated his virility, not his plutocracy.

Romney has taken a much tougher beating than other Republicans.

Ronald Reagan had $13 million, Time reports. However, Democrats criticized his conservatism, not his cash, though Nancy Reagan got hammered for favoring fine china and luxurious gowns. She did win over the press somewhat when she satirized herself by singing “Secondhand Clothes,” to the tune of “Secondhand Rose,” at the March 1982 Gridiron Dinner. Few if any such slings and arrows were aimed at Teresa Heinz Kerry, Lady Bird Johnson, or Jackie Kennedy, who was revered as the quintessence of feminine elegance until her untimely death at age 64.

George H. W. Bush suffered a joint strike on his $23 million and his malapropisms: “Poor George,” former governor Ann Richards (D., Texas) famously said in 1992. “He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

This endless obsession with Romney’s bank account is part of Team Obama’s relentless class warfare. Voters deserve much less focus on Mitt Romney’s and Barack Obama’s multi-millions and many more ideas for restoring vibrant economic growth — so every American can grow wealthier.

— Deroy Murdock is a Fox News contributor, a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service, and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.

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