While campaigning in Michigan last week, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a crowd about the cars he owns.
"I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck," he said. "Ann drives, a couple of Cadillacs, actually."
It was an uncomfortable reminder--at least for his staff--that he's a multi-multi millionaire. But as the Boston Globe noted--he's in some pretty lofty company.
All of the other remaining candidates have earned at least a million dollars--and one of them will challenge President Barack Obama--who has also made millions from his book royalties.
Does their wealth matter?
"Rich people have a harder time connecting with others, showing less empathy to the extent of dehumanizing those who are different from them," Britt Peterson wrote in the Boston Globe. "They are less charitable and generous. They are less likely to help someone in trouble. And they are more likely to defend an unfair status quo. If you think you'd behave differently in their place, meanwhile, you're probably wrong: These aren't just inherited traits, but developed ones. Money, in other words, changes who you are."
Kerri Miller will be talking with Adam Waytz, management and organization professor at Northwestern University. Allan Lichtman, American University history professor, will also join the discussion.
Video: Romney's wife drives a couple Cadillacs
Video: Why it matters that our politicians are rich
Does a candidate's wealth tell you anything about their character or competence? Do you think the rich REALLY ARE different--and not able to relate to average Americans?
Mitt Romney's comments clearly show the gap between his mentality and that of most amaericans. His gaffes, like being "not concerned" about the plights of the very poor and being able to afford a "couple of cadillacs", portay the image that he is not sympathetic with the situation of the citezens he is seeking to represent.
I don't recall this topic when JFKerry was running for president.
It depends on how the person earned their wealth and their personal story.
For Mitt Romney, he has two issues to overcome: (1) he came from a wealthy and powerful family i.e access to resources and connections, and (2) the manner in which he made his money does not sit well with lots of folks i.e. Wall Street wealth.
Huh, they have not mentioned Romney yet. Just "politicians".
Yes, the wealthy are really different. They don't know that the average yearly income of the bottom 90% of Americans earn $31,244. They spend more than this on the clothes budget.
I resent being thought of as "less than" because I am poor.
Does anyone really want an average person as president? Someone who makes $32k? I don't think so.
How the candidate became wealthy is of importance. I have less confidence/more concern in a candidate who is a millionaire and has only worked in government service as opposed to a candidate who is wealthy from inheritance or made money in business.
With the amount of negativity I see going around both online and on our televisions, especially during this election season, I'm disappointed that both callers and one of the guests in particular cannot have this discussion without bringing a condescending and aggressive attitude.
No matter what our politicians' backgrounds have been, by the time they get into office, they are virtually all rich. I don't think Lichtman can make his case that anecdotal evidence says wealth doesn't play a role because we really haven't had a poor president.
Kerri's guest Adam Waytz.
Vulture capitalism is not a good quality. I will not vote who make money off the backs of the working men/women.
Bilbo: I take issue with what you mean by "average." what does one's income have to do with anything? I am currently in law school and one of my professors who went to Harvard Law now works for legal aid making an annual salary not much more than 32k a year. Does that make her less intelligent or capable than her peers who went into corporate law who are now making nearly 10x what she does? The same analogy applies to politicians.
If one compares the 2 wealthy politically minded men of George works and Donald Trump, one could make the case that character and goals are the more important factors determining behavior.
It seems like making money from a book influences you in a much different way from making money through investments.
FDR was insensitive until he struggled with polio. His longtime associate, Frances Perkins, said that he was a typically callow fellow until he underwent his own struggles.
Kerri's guest Allan Lichtman.
Are there gender differences here? I wonder how much influence Eleanor had on Roosevelt's empathy.
If power amplifies your qualities, doesn't seeking power say something about those qualities in the first place? Do compassionate people seek power as much as selfish people?
spraska: Who cares about intelligence? Do you want the top scientist in the country to be president? I doubt it. I doubt your law professor has the tools to get through a campaign.
Does Allan Lichtman have good points?
Are you average? Would you be a good candidate for President?
Dr. Lichtman is making this conversation very hard to listen to. Why so rude?
Does Allan Lichtman have good points?
I can't tell; his hostile, antagonistic tone is not only a "big turn-off" but suggests to me that he's swayed more by personal values and bias than by objective information.
Wealthy POLITICIANS vs. wealthy ppl in general seems to be an issue here.
This story is all about ripping Romney. Some people start with: rich republicans are bad, rich democrats are good. And then they try to come up with reasons.
@Julie. Good point!
Dr. Lichtman is very rude and being kind of a jerk. Like the way the interviewer is keeping him at bay. I don't think this discussion was suppose to be hostile.
Look, I think it is fundamentally wrong to judge/vote politicians based on wealthy! I am from Africa, by all measure, African presidents come to power poor and were born in extreme poverty, once in power they dont care at all about their power citizens. The bottom line: Character matters, rich or poor.
Like any group, the rich include good and bad, empathetic and uncaring. Like any person, each of the GOP candidates is a mixture of good and bad, caring and uncaring.
I think Mr Lichtman does have good points, much as I hate to say so.
@spraska I agree with you. Although I wouldn't want a leader with, say, "average" intelligence, having an average income is not a reflection of character or moral standing.
Someone who chooses to do good work at a smaller income is more of leader to me than someone who chases money and money alone.
One cannot really compare "real people" to politicians anyway.
If a politician is wealthy but can recognize their priviledge, then I have no judgement to pass on them. I do judge politicians who talk about America being a contry made up of "haves and soon-to-haves" as if we should all just pull a little harder on those bootstraps and we'll be rich, too.
Well, Lichtman apparently has a great abundance of ego and arrogance. As a professor of a prestigious school, it's surprising he is such an adversarial participant. It makes him appear vitriolic, rather than willing to examine the argument from many angles--as one would hope from an educator.
Are we ever going to have a national candidate who ISN'T wealthy?
I wonder how being in the public forum affects a politician's behavior. Are some politicians willing to be more generous knowing the public is judging them on their decisions vs. how they would behave without that public judgement.
Maybe the rich people were just trying to protect children from obesity and diabetes in that study?
In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.
I may agree with Lichtman that wealth may not indicate a politician's desire to help poor and middle class people, but it may indicate how effective they will be in carrying out that desire. If you haven't been poor, you will struggle to understand poverty well enough to come up with solutions that actually work.
Maybe it's people's moral values not wealth that govern how they will act.
Thanks for the pics, Stephanie. That explains it!
It seems we are more influenced by people around us and their values vs. our wealth. So if the expectations of our friends deem sympathy for others and giving back as important than we are more likely to follow that lead.
Character matters, and part of character is being able to understand and sympathize with anothers point of view. The wealth of a candidate only matters if it affects their ability to be compassionate
Richard Nixon grew up poor. I bet everyone loved his compassion.
Bilbo: Your point indicated that no one would want a president who only made an average salary - as if salary was indicative of their ability to govern. If that isn't what you meant, please clarify. And yes, I think intelligence is a very important quality to have in a president.
Could we just do a complete battery of psychological measurements, if we really want to know what these people are like? Would that be enough to satisfy requirements for validity?
it seems like lots of politicians aspiring to the presidency, especially new ones, get very wealthy very quickly.
Are people in this wealth adjustment phase at risk of changing values and personalities?
This story is more about power than wealth, but Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon came from very similar backgrounds, and yet those experiences resulted in two very very different men.
Had to laugh at the comment about wealthy drivers being more willing to to break the law while driving.
It matches my own observations where the more expensive the car, the less likely the drivers are to use their turn signals or brake for pedestrians. My husband and I always comment on expensive cars with no turn signals!
Let's not forget that compared to the rest of the world, we in the US are extremely wealthy. How far does our own empathy reach?
How about the politicians who become rich in office. Plus being for programs that supposedly help the poor, doesnt mean their policies actually help the poor.
If wealth does not affect the character, competence or behavior of ultra-rich presidents, why is it that so many cater to the desires of their cronies rather than the needs of the public?
Wealth expectations, in the myth of the failing American Dream, may show something that can be studied and definitely does have an effect on our politics.
Romney can say he's not ashamed of being rich because of the values held by his followers.
It's always about appreciation of one's place. It's terrible thing for someone to be born on 3rd base and spend their lives thinking they hit a triple.
No, I don't think they are different. But they have very different circumstances.
For example, if you grow up in poverty, you know poverty but not monetary wealth. Pres. Obama grew up with a multi-cultural background -so his understanding of multiculturalism is broader than someone who grew up, say 100% anything - polish, german, hmong.
What anyone's experience tells us about them is that their experiences have flavored their perspective. Societly we have created lots of institutions to support certain kinds of behavior, from private schools, to private clubs - those institutions are meant to foster a climate of whatever the values that created them is. Remember how G. Bush 1 had no idea of the price of milk... why would he, he never had to buy it himself.
Representative Issa R-CA. @$422,000,000 in personal wealth. That affects how I view his positiions.
I would like to hear the issue of ruthlessness on the way up followed by philanthropy once you get there. As far as I am concerned so many wealthy people give primarily to make themselves look kind, not because they are truly compassionate.
salary is an indication of their ability to get things done. Maybe Adam Waytz could point you to a study.
By bother inferring, lets just give them an mmpi or other psychological measurement, would that be good enough to satisfy validity for understanding these people?
@KerriMPR Other side of political wealth & perspective coin: Has President Obama ever had job with a for-profit entity?
@KerriMPR kids raised in same fam w/same morals/ethics & financial sitch often end up w/vastly diff character, compassion, entitlement.
@kerrimpr Mark Dayton richest governor in modern MN history AND most liberal gov of last 40 yrs. Is that meaningful?
Is the income gap really the fault of the wealthy or could it be that those who are not wealthy just didn't try hard enough.
Many wealthy people started with nothing and got there because they worked very hard - did they do something wrong?
You should follow up this program by bringing in some epidemiologists who explore the relationship between income/wealth disparities and poor public health indicators. The greater the disparities, the greater the rate of chronic illness, infant mortality, etc. en.wikipedia.org
Most negative governance issues attendant to wealth in American politics has to do with the overwhelming evisceration of accountability by "Citizens United" (sic.)
It's not Romney's money that bothers me as much as how he made it.
We need jobs now and he got richer breaking up companies and selling them off ala Gorden Gecko.
Romney didn't chose to be born into a wealthy family any more than someone choses their race or sexual preference. Its hypocritical to judge him because of how he came into his wealth.
One thing I have noticed as to rich people is their garage sale prices.
We go to a lot of garage sales looking for deals and decided we might do better in Edina near the lake. We were shocked at how they had things priced. They even think they're junk is better than other peoples.
Why is it that in only the rich are involved in high end politics?
Average people cannot afford the time nor the money it takes to become involved. How would it be possible that the rich are able to relate to the average American?
A huge share of the nation's economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent.
That disparitity is not just because of hard work, but because the rules were rewritten to allow more of the wealth to be skimmed from the workers.
Studies have shown there is no relation between intelligence and wealth, same goes for effort.
Where there IS a difference is morals. If you go to downtown MPLS and look at 10 homeless people compared to the top 10 MN CEOs, you will find more sociopaths in the CEO group than you will in the homeless group.
I was very glad to hear this discussion being aired on MPR. As Kipling intimated, you're a more admirable person "If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings, nor lose the common touch" IMO people who grew up as a member of what for lack of less loaded terminology I'm going to have to call "the ruling class" start at a disadvantage on both fronts. My take is that a prerequisite for a person of privileged upbringing to have the character and competence to lead a government "of the people, by the people and for the people", is that that person must be inclusive in his definition of who "the people" are, exactly, regardless of the case (i.e. genitive, dative or ablative) in which it is used.