After waiting much too long, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney finally released his tax returns from 2010 to the present revealing (to the shock of no one) that he’s really, really rich. The press pored over the returns and found the kind of explosive nuggets of information that will hurt Romney come general election time.
You see, the issue isn’t that Romney is rich, everyone knows and accepts that fact. The problem is that he’s the wrong kind of rich guy.
Just about anyone who has ever run for president in the last 50 years was born wealthy and quite a few candidates even earned considerable money on top of that. Reagan, Kennedy, Bush Americans have never had a problem with voting for rich presidential candidates. Look at any recent list of most admired Americans and the top 10 is always filled with incredibly wealthy businessmen and women like Donald Trump, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey.
Americans like rich people because we are led to believe that in this country everyone has a chance to be rich. It’s what we respect most. You notice there aren’t any game shows out there where the champion wins a free education, or better healthcare or a spiritual advisor. No: they win money. However, there are certain types of rich people that Americans like, and Mitt Romney as of right now doesn’t fit into any of those categories.
Southern/Texan Rich Guy
Americans find those rootin’ tootin’ southern drawl big hat wearing rich oil barons to be adorable. Ross, Perot, George W. Bush cleaning brush and wearing cowboy boots, that one guy from the Simpsons – they all fit the bill. The reason that Americans are fine with those types of rich people is because they seem authentic. They wear funny hats and eat barbecue ribs. They tell war stories and keep live grenades on their desks just to show you how tough they are. No one begrudges a man worth a billion dollars if he can also drink you under the table.
The Renaissance Rich Guy
He’s won championships from his game face alone. His mother has a tattoo on her arm that says “Son” he is: The most interesting rich guy in the world. Super – Duper – Uber wealthy people that spend their time doing amazing things are perfectly okay in America as well. Most people are only barely aware of how Sir Richard Branson got rich: his empire, the Virgin Group, has created airlines, mobile phones and at one point soft drinks – but these products are better known in Europe than the United States.
But, who cares about how rich he is when he rides motorcycles, hangs out with celebrities and flies spaceships for fun? No one resents people like Branson, or Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban because while they spend their money conspicuously, they spend it on things that everyone dreams of owning and they seem to have fun while doing it. Who wouldn’t buy a private island to water ski with friends or buy a professional sports team if you had the extra billions laying around?
The Inventor / Practical Genius Rich Guy
Way back in the 1990’s Dave Thomas was bandied around in some press circles as a possible running mate for Ross Perot. Why? Because Thomas was the benevolent looking old guy that started the Wendy’s chain of restaurants. The other type of rich person that Americans love is the rich person who creates something that we’ve all heard of or use. Bill Gates has influenced the life of every American: if he ran for governor of California he’d win without so much as showing up at a debate (and he could probably hack the voting machines to ensure a victory).
John Schnatter, creator of Papa John’s could have any job he wanted in American politics not to mention corner the college vote (Free Pizza with voter registration card!). Americans love a rich person who made something that we can all touch, feel or taste. This brings us to the last type of rich person America loves.
The Benevolent Mysterious Rich Person
Unless you are significantly more informed than a 5th grader, most adult Americans can’t remember exactly what the Carnegie family, the Pew family or a whole host of other powerful families in America actually did to get rich. But it doesn’t matter, their money is spread so far and wide into so many charitable holes in our nation’s safety net, that we love them unconditionally. The Ford Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts; no one cares what tax rate these families pay because there are a million children’s hospital wings, college scholarships and giant check signings across the nation that show us how they have spent their money giving back. If you’ve got a library, museum or college named after you, most Americans think your wealth is okay. Conspicuous wealth is fine when it’s charitably spent.
Now let’s take another look at Mitt Romney’s version of rich …
He’s not from the South – which would give him automatic authenticity. In fact, he’s from New England which the entire nation views as the birthplace of culture and class snobbery.
He’s not a renaissance man – Romney has no exciting or eclectic hobbies like sky-diving, he never ran a sports team like George W. Bush. He spent his money like a regular person on clothes, food, houses and educating his kids, so there’s nothing sexy or inspiring about that. Mitt Romney hasn’t MADE anything that regular people can put their fingers on. Bain Capital didn’t CREATE diddly squat, the company simply improved or destroyed companies that already existed. No one is going to believe he is singularly responsible for the success of STAPLES and, if anything, he’s better known for killing KB Toys.
Finally, the Romney family doesn’t have a wide national and conspicuous reputation for charitable giving. Of course Romney gives millions to charity but there aren’t a lot of pictures floating around of him signing over a giant sized check to a bunch of multi-ethnic orphans in wheelchairs either.
Mitt Romney just isn’t the kind of rich that Americans can connect with. Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have more money that 99% of voters as well, but unlike Romney they don’t have a penchant for saying things like: ‘Ted Kennedy had to take out a second mortgage on his house to beat me in a Senate campaign’. If the former Governor is going to beat this definition and put himself into contention for the top job in November he better start learning more about the types of acceptable rich people in American politics. Remember Mitt, it’s never too late to go sky-diving with Richard Branson.