The Politics of the Wager

The big news coming out of this past weekend’s Republican debate was Mitt Romney’s mistake.  Goaded into an exchange with Rick Perry over his record, Romney challenged him to a bet.  Take a look:

Oops.  The effect of this somewhat bizarre flub has further cemented the image of Romney as an out-of-touch, rich, white male.  I agree.  What could possess a person to bet that much money so casually?  Sure, from time to time I jokingly bet someone $10, but even then I hope I don’t have to pay.

Popular criticism of Romney on this point is well-deserved.  But when I thought about it more, I considered that none of the people running for president are really average Americans, at least financially speaking.  According to The Wall Street Journal, the average American net worth in 2010 was “about $182,000 a person—though the average is pulled up by a small group of the very wealthy.”

We're looking at you, McDuck!

The Republican candidates’ net worth (according to Fox Business):

  • Mitt Romney leads the pack with $190-250 million.
  • John Huntsman is worth $16-71 million.
  • Newt Gingrich has at least $6.7 million.
  • Ron Paul comes in at $2.5-5 million.
  • Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann each have between $800,000 and $2.8 million.

Not one to be left out, President Obama’s net worth is arond $7.3 million.  So no one’s really hurting here.  While Mitt Romney far exceeds the pack in terms of personal wealth, each of the candidates could be considered outside of the mainstream.  The least rich of them (Rick Santorum) is worth more than four times the average American.

This is, I think, the new status quo.  Running for office takes money, and no one for whom $10,000 is a prohibitive amount of money could hope to afford the journey.  Besides that, people in our society who are qualified to be president will likely be highly successful individuals…with wealth to match it.  So, unlike some, I’m not furious that our politicians  are outside the norm when it comes to net worth.  It think the bigger and more important question is, though: do they understand what it is like to NOT be rich?  This is something Bill Clinton (to name just one example) conveyed very well.  The fact that Mitt Romney seems somewhat tone deaf on this point is disconcerting for a lot of people.

How this will play out for the Republicans?  We’ll see in the next few months…

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4 comments on “The Politics of the Wager

  1. Jordan says:

    Another great blog entry.

    Just a thought, though: I agree that the amount of Romney’s bet was pretty thoughtless; a lot of people (myself included) don’t have $10,000 to wantonly toss around. On the other hand, if a man whose net worth is in the hundreds of millions placed a $10 bet, it would be comical, i.e., inspire no confidence whatsoever. The amount of Romney’s bet would presumably inspire more confidence in his certainty that he will win the bet.

    I don’t think the amount of the bet is the biggest problem. The fact that any presidential candidate would LITERALLY gamble about a political issue on national television DOES. (I’m not a Perry fan, but I think his response was very savvy.) Why don’t we start choosing our presidents by having them pay some amount amount of money to guess the number of jelly beans that would fit in the White House, too? Closest guess wins. Come on…I would like to see a cut-off for the psychological age of our candidates as well as (or instead of) the chronological age.

  2. Jordan says:

    I need to stop thinking about this, because the more I think about it, the angrier I get. While both men have a net worth far above average, Romney has a lot more money than Perry. Because $10,000 would mean a lot more to Perry than Romney, this “flub” could easily be read as, “Shut up. I’m richer than you.” Yes, Romney, let’s give more credence to the idea that presidents buy their office…

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, Jordan…sorry to have infuriated you though!

  4. Andy Wong says:

    On one of your side points, I remember some comedian commenting that he didn’t understand why people didn’t like presidential candidates that were “elitist” but wanted someone they could relate to. He said he really didn’t want a president he could relate to because he wanted someone actually smart in office.

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