If you’re wealthy because of your success in business, you’re pretty much an untouchable these days, a member of a maligned social caste in Barack Obama’s America of “transformative change.” Mitt Romney is so rich many wonder if he’s as fully human as the rest of us.
That’s why in the days before her speech at the Republican National Convention, Ann Romney was tasked by the media high foreheads with “humanizing” the inherent rich-guy inhumanity of her husband. She did pretty well, but it might not be enough. Plus she looked too good, requiring further penance.
After all, she and her husband are worth something like $200 million. That kind of money requires a whole lot of expiation, if indeed redemption is even possible. Perhaps in an attempt to seem more like a regular person, in a recent interview Mitt confessed that he was wearing a shirt from Costco, where the Romneys love to shop. And we learned that the squads of offspring and grand-offspring that populate their summer vacation place do their own chores without benefit of hired help — just like us common folk.
The rich seemed a lot more human before the Obama-induced backlash against success. When Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933 in the depths of the Great Depression, about 25% of Americans were jobless. Financial collapse had devastated the nation and the formerly employed had become “hobos.” But nobody asked why they should vote for a man worth $60 million when they were dead broke or how this obscenely wealthy patrician could possibly “relate” to his fellow Americans who were standing in bread lines wearing tattered clothes.
Roosevelt was elected for an unprecedented four terms, but he could never have been elected today. He would have been mocked and attacked as irredeemably evil, combining as he did the worst of the repugnant stigmata of the rich: an inherited fortune, a privileged upbringing and a Wall Street job. Not only was he wealthy, he was the crustiest of upper crust aristocrat with an ancestor who had served in the American Revolution. Not only did he come from a long line of vulture capitalists, but his maternal grandfather had built the family fortune by preying on people of color, trading in Chinese opium! And when he was just a teen, his father gave him a sailboat!
Clearly, Roosevelt and his family would be puzzled by Barack Obama’s off-teleprompter remark that, “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”
Also bewildered would be FDR’s close chum and political ally, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. So fond of amassing wealth was Joe Kennedy that he broke the law to pile up as much filthy lucre as he could, building a large bootlegging empire during Prohibition. But before that, JFK’s dad amassed a large fortune as — horror of horrors — a stock market and commodity investor with a Wall Street firm. Well-connected, he enthusiastically engaged in insider information and market manipulation tactics that were legal at the time but later outlawed. No surprise, he became the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
When his son, Democrat John F. Kennedy, ran for president, nobody asked how a man with a $1 billion fortune could possibly know anything about the money struggles of everyday Americans. (It seems that unlike Romney, JFK didn’t gift his inheritance to charity.) Nobody asked about the illicit means by which his family achieved their wealth. They admired the hard work and smarts that created that wealth, even if larded by some questionable methodology.