I’ll admit, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s efforts to convince Americans (in advance of Hillary’s inevitable campaign for the White House) that they’re just down-homey regular folks like the rest of us, struggling to get by, have been humorous. Each commands a speaking fee for any given event that is in the six figures and multiples of the average American household income. A book advance nets them millions. Even their daughter, Chelsea Clinton, is able to command a salary that works out to be tens of thousands of dollars per minute of actual work product.
“I was curious if I could care about [money] on some fundamental level, and I couldn’t,” the Clinton child said of $600,000 salary for producing the occasional fluff piece for NBC. “That wasn’t the metric of success I wanted in my life.”
Good for her, I suppose, but not caring about money is the luxury of the truly rich and entitled. For the rest of us, earning a living to pay for needs and wants is a daily concern.
But criticizing uber-rich political celebrities for trying to shape themselves into heroes of the proletariat is easy pickings (even if the target is usually Republican).
Here’s a harder question: Why are we so obsessed with our politicians being common? As though mediocrity was some sort of an inherently good trait?
That’s not a new phenomena. “[W]e have developed a cult of the common man,” Herbert Hoover warned in 1948.
“Let us remember that the great human advances have not been brought about by mediocre men and women. They were brought about by distinctly uncommon men and women with vital sparks of leadership. Many of these great leaders were, it is true, of humble origin, but that was not their greatness.”
Whatever we may think of Hoover, there is truth in those words.
Wealth, generally speaking, is a measure of success. Success is, generally speaking, a product of intelligence, skill and hard work. Aren’t those qualities we should want in a leader?
Which isn’t to say that all rich people share those qualities. Many (and I’m thinking of certain personalities that star in the reality television genre, as an example) do not have those qualities, nor are they fit for leadership in public office.
Nor am I endorsing plutocracy, or even another Clinton presidency.
But I am criticizing this impulse by politicians to posture themselves as something other than wildly financially successful, which in turn is aimed at slaking the public’s thirst for “common man” and “for the folks” narratives.
We need to know the character of those who would wield the awesome power of government, and their personal stories up to and including their finances are a part of that. For instance, I’m skeptical of someone who amassed a personal fortune as a public servant. I think less of that sort of success than, say, someone who got rich because they started a business or invented something.
As a general rule, though, wealth shouldn’t be held against those who would wield political power. Those who say otherwise are pandering to the worst sort of political theatrics. Particularly conservatives.
While the conservative movement may be experiencing a a turn toward populism of late, that doesn’t mean we need to embrace full-on class warfare.