Putting Romney’s wealth in context

Updated
 

The Associated Press had an interesting item the other day, noting just how wealthy Mitt Romney really is. Consider this tidbit: “Add up the wealth of the last eight presidents, from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. Then double that number. Now you’re in Romney territory.”

For most working families, this is a level of wealth that’s hard to relate to. Romney took in more wealth in a day in 2010 – without actually having a job – than most Americans earn in a year. Romney would be in the top 1% based solely on the income he receives in one week.

The next question, of course, is whether this realization has any electoral implications. Marc Fisher considered the question in a good piece today.

As Romney has discovered, some wealthy politicians win acceptance from people who are just scraping by, while others get tagged as hopelessly out of touch.

The most important tool wealthy politicians have relied on to win over the public is pure force of personality – and that often includes a gift for self-deprecating humor.

Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt both came from big money, yet the presidents’ larger-than-life affability and celebrity won them admiration across class lines. Kennedy came to elective politics with a dramatic backstory as a war hero that canceled out most suspicions that he might be a rich dandy.

Romney, however, despite several attempts to reshape his message, remains awkward in his discussions about money.

“Awkward” is an exceedingly polite way of putting it.

Romney recently said making over $374,000 in speaking fees is “not very much” money. It followed Romney suggesting elected office is only for the rich, clumsily talking about his fondness for being able to fire people, demanding that talk of economic justice be limited to “quiet rooms,” accusing those who care about income inequality of “envy,” daring Rick Perry to accept a $10,000 bet, joking about being “unemployed,” arguing that those who slip into poverty are still middle class, and suggesting that Americans should somehow feel sorry for poor banks.

As Jon Chait put it recently, the Republican frontrunner “has come to be defined, through a recurring series of off-the-cuff gaffes, as a callous, out-of-touch rich man.”

The problem isn’t that Romney is extremely wealthy. It’s hard to imagine a significant number of voters saying, “I’m uncomfortable voting for a rich guy.”

The problem is how Romney acquired his vast wealth (a vulture-capitalist firm), his frequent gaffes on the subject, and his policy agenda (which includes more tax breaks for the wealthy).

Putting Romney's wealth in context

Updated