The Corner

Unlike in 2012, in 2016 Americans Need a Rich President with a Sense of Noblesse Oblige

Over at Yahoo Politics, Matt Bai has written a deeply strange piece in which he criticizes Bernie Sanders for railing against “out of touch” politicians. The headline: “Hillary Clinton’s not like the rest of us? Good!” A sample of the argument:

In an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood this week, Sanders assailed the party’s presumed nominee, Hillary Clinton, for having accumulated the kind of wealth that can “isolate you from the reality of the world.” He said she probably spent hundreds of dollars on dinner rather than eating “in restaurants like this.”

Senator Sanders made this comment while sitting in what CNBC described as a “bistro near the Capitol,” which doesn’t exactly sound like Applebee’s, but you get the point: Clinton is out of touch with regular Americans because she doesn’t buy used cars or stockpile CVS coupons or save up for Disneyland like the rest of us do.

To which I would only ask: why on God’s earth would we want a president like us?

. . .

If you’re asking me to choose between the self-made man or woman with resentments and identity issues, on one hand, and some arrogant oligarch who serves no financial master and is compelled to seek office mostly by some patronizing sense of altruism on the other (Michael Bloomberg, New York’s former mayor, comes to mind), then I’ll take out-of-touch every time, and so should you.

One has to wonder where this sort of argument was back in 2012. As far as I can remember, it was almost never made by the press in favor of Mitt Romney, and it was sure as hell not made by Clinton’s Democratic party, which went on and on and on about Romney’s wealth and detachment and car-elevator and and magical cancer-giving abilities. Why, one has to wonder, is it suddenly important that our leaders have a sense of noblesse oblige?

That question is rhetorical.

Perhaps the weirdest part of Bai’s argument is the contention that Marco Rubio may be unqualified for office because he is . . . making sacrifices:

You want to know who’s not an out-of-touch multimillionaire? Marco Rubio. Last year, apparently, Rubio, who makes more than $200,000 per year and sends four children to private school, cashed in more than $68,000 in retirement accounts because he needed to buy a $3,000 refrigerator and replace his air conditioning.

I get it. This is precisely the kind of thing the rest of us might do if we really, really wanted that sweet side-by-side with the crushed-ice dispenser. But if you think cashing in your IRAs to spruce up the kitchen is a sound financial decision, I’m not sure I want you tinkering around with the Social Security Administration, you know what I mean?

Actually, no. I don’t. For a start, the criticism seems to be highly selective. If we’re going to start knocking people for making odd financial decisions in their private lives, why not start with the “dead broke” Clintons’ electing to borrow money from their friends in order to buy a couple of multimillion-dollar houses — while they had outstanding and unpredictable legal bills pending? Was that responsible? Does it not somehow indicate a preference for, say, deficit spending? If not, why not?

As for Rubio’s supposedly unsound decision: Well, a) it wasn’t actually all that weird, and b) it was not really about “sweet side-by-sides.” Money, remember, is fungible. By all accounts, the Rubio family looked at their various assets and their income, and decided that they wanted to spend a good chunk of them on their children’s education. (The Left calls this “investing in the future.”) But they also needed a new fridge and a new air-conditioning unit. And so, in order to pay for all of these things, the family cashed in some of their retirement accounts. The Left is always telling us that it’s important to elect people to office who understand and sympathize with how ordinary people live. Well, newsflash: This is how ordinary people live. The idea that this behavior would disqualify those ordinary people from weighing in on matters of public policy is extraordinary. How far we have come from Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain.”

Bai writes that, in America:

we have this obsession in our politics with what we’re always calling the Horatio Alger story, even though, truth be told, most Americans under 60 wouldn’t know Horatio Alger from Alger Hiss. Basically, it means we think our presidents should be self-made, “everyday Americans,” to use the language of the Clinton campaign.

Only in certain years, Matt. Only in certain years.

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