I Understand Why Mitt Romney’s Detractors Want to Paint Him as an Elitist

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 8, 2012

Really, I do. But it is more than a little ridiculous to claim that George Romney’s advice to his son means that “[o]nly those who already have considerable wealth” ought to get involved in politics.

Here is the thing about life in politics: For a lot of people, such a life can end up being transitory. And it can end up being transitory because a politician might lose an election that ends up leaving him/her unemployed. If that happens, the ex-politician’s family is left facing a mountain of bills–not including the ex-politician’s campaign debt, which another financial obligation that a defeated candidate has to deal with, in addition to finding another job–and as a consequence, the ex-politician’s family’s financial situation suffers. Of course, maybe this would not have occurred if from the outset, the ex-politician didn’t take a non-political, private sector job that might have been more stable, with a more stable income–and a potentially higher one–attached.

I am not writing this to say that we ought to feel sorry for politicians, but they are real people, and like us, they have real concerns. They have to make sure to feed their families, and put a roof over their heads. They have to make sure that the kids have money so that they can attend a good college. And that is kind of hard to do in politics. Even on a congressional salary, politicians have to factor in lots of flights home, the cost of keeping two residences–one in their home districts/states, and another in Washington–and all of the other costs incurred by a family, which can deplete the savings faster than one might think. And if one is involved in state or city government, unless one is a mayor or a governor, one finds that the salary does not pay all that well to begin with. It’s not for nothing that state senator Barack Obama had to also work as constitutional law lecturer Barack Obama at the University of Chicago, while his wife had to work as well. A salary as a state legislator just wouldn’t cut it for him.

So I find nothing objectionable about George Romney telling his kid that he ought to make sure his financial obligations to his family are met before entering public service. But then, I am trying to look at the situation with some semblance of objectivity, rather than doing as Steve Benen does, and looking at it from the perspective of a Democratic partisan and hack.

  • Demosthenes

    Thank you for saying these things.  I make these points all the time in conversation, and get pooh-poohed as some sort of elitist-defender.  Our country has a vision of politics as public service — and consequently, most people feel that serving is not supposed to be rewarded with extravagant pay.  But then we shouldn’t be surprised when only the wealthiest can realistically afford to pursue it at the highest levels…and even on the intermediate levels.

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