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Michael Maiello's picture

Silver Spoons

I was actually a little embarassed for Talkingpointsmemo when I read its kind of breathless coverage of Obama stating the obvious fact that he "wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth."  TPM's editors seemed to think this was some sort of Oscar Wildean bon mot or Mencken-style broadside worth repeating.

It's a fine thing for Obama to say, though I wish he'd avoid cliche when he does it.  Everybody knows that Obama is self-made and that Romney's dad was a business executive and the former Governor of Michigan. 

This is a country that twice elected a guy who's father was President, head of the CIA, and son to a well-regarded Senator who was heir to a Wall Street fortune so maybe we shouldn't hang our hats too much on, "Romney is rich."  This is a country that loved the Kennedys, where nepotism ran wild for generations.  This is a country where Chelsea Clinton gets a primetime journalism job that many of her better qualified peers would have killed for, and nobody complains until she proves to be really bad at it (and even then, she's not just fired the way a mortal would be fired).

So, Romney responded to Obama's attack by basically saying, "well, my father was self-made," which TPM presents as some sort of major gaffe because, well... I'm not sure why.  It's not a great answer since Obama was talking about Mitt, not his father.  It beats the honest answer that must be going through Mitt's mind, which is that he's made orders of magnitude more money than his father ever did and that other people who have had Mitt's leg up have rarely made such prosperous use of it.  George W. Bush had way more advantages than Mitt did and his business record is an embarrassment of old money bailouts.

Attacking Mitt's wealth makes sense in so far as he can be revealed as an out of touch wannabe technocrat who lacks both core beliefs and empathy and who is so consumed with ambition for power that he's trying to put one over on Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike.

Part of this post is about what's happened to TPM, which seems poised to report every campaign related utterance with the kind of criticism-free enthusiasm that makes me hate campaign time.  But, setting Josh and company aside, this is also about how Obama should handle the wealth issue.  I think he has to be more creative than the "silver spoon," jab.  There's a place for calling Mitt rich and out of touch and there's a place for examining how he got his money, who suffered for it, and how little he's paid in taxes.

But the real good stuff comes not from calling Mitt rich.  It comes from letting Mitt be Mitt and putting him in situations where he lets us know that he's not too concerned about the really poor because we have programs in place to help them.

It's early in the season.  The country isn't paying much attention yet. I'm sure the good stuff is being saved for later.  But let's not get too excited about the weak opening salvos.  Mitt's rich.  We get it.  Now make him explain Paul Ryan's budget in plain English. That's where he'll reveal it himself, which will be far more effective than name calling.

Obama went to a nice prep school in Hawaii. His mother was VP at a bank and his father did have his own store. He certainly didn't have the wealth Romney did, but he wasn't poor. (His father being a Harvard alumni might have helped his entrance chances, though likely his Columbia performance was much more important.)

And Romney certainly did the most with what he had. He graduated dual Harvard JurisPrudence/MBA with good grades. Daddy couldn't help him with consultancy at BCG group, and he must have done a good job for Bain to steal him away 2 years later.

His grandmother was a VP and his grandfather managed a furniture store.

oops, yep.

And this is why he's so great with kitchen table issues.

Harvard Law School doesn't give people an admissions bump because one of their family went to another part of Harvard. In general, law schools seem to give much less weight to legacy preferences than undergraduate admissions does; my impression is that there is little or no preference. But certainly, Harvard Law doesn't care that your dad was a Harvard Poli Sci grad student back in the day.

 

Silver spoons, ha!

We grew up in the fifties with lead spoons; yeah lead spoons and they were made with mercury; yeah mercury and I am sure there were traces of arsenic and even old lace; yeah old lace.

And 12 of my siblings became slobbering mentally deficients working for the repub party and shoveling manure for great corporate horse meat butchers.

It was awful.

But I survived with the grateful dead and great drugs.

And this all reminds me of a song, Silver Spoons and Golden Needles!

Ya brightened my day, Day.

That's all right.

hahahaahah

You are my favorite writer anyway!

What?!

Hey!  I can hear you, you know, Orlando!

Yeah, you can turn a phrase, whatever. I'm less concerned with your ego and more concerned with mine. I thought I was Dick's favorite. Sadness.

Whereas this is what I immediately thought of…

Shades of Richie Rich!

Here is my favorite Silver Threads by the by:

That's where I was going. :)

I agree that Obama and Romney are simply from separate sections of the ruling class. To some degree they represent the different interests of those sub-classes. But in other ways, their policies aren't dictated by their wealth. (Old-money patrician FDR was a great vote for struggling poor folk, and self-made man Herbert Hoover was a rotten one.)

I think the real logic behind this attack is to press on one of Romney's perceived weaknesses: his tendency not simply to be a rich doofus, but to sound like one. Personal wealth won't hurt a candidate, but having a tin ear about your own wealth can, and Romney's ear is about as tinny as they come. George W. Bush grew up a spoiled wealthy brat but mostly comes across as a regular guy. John Kerry grew up moderately less privileged than Bush, but came across as a patrician. Romney makes John Kerry look like a warm natural populist. So Obama's people are going to want to press Romney in that vulnerable spot.

I should also maybe have amended my post with another interpretation, that I don't really buy, from John Dickerson at Slate, which is that Obama was only talking about himself and his wife coming from humble roots, and wasn't saying a word about Romney.  Dickerson's argument is that reporting this comment as an attack is akin to reporting Obama's "lipstick on a pig" reference from 2008 as an attack on Palin.

Just another way of looking at it, for what it's worth.

Yeah, I don't necessarily buy that line either.

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