Last night when I “rescued” a comment caught in our spam filter, I wondered why this critic was so convinced that class warfare rhetoric would propel his candidate back into the Oval Office. Weighing in on my piece about Ann Romney, Joseph wrote:
And it’s a little disingenuous to say that the work of a wealthy SAHM [Stay-at-Home Mom] who never has to worry about health insurance and has to instead manage an army of support staff and decide which Escalade to bring down in the garage elevator… is in ANY way equivalent to that of an uninsured mother who has to worry about where her kids’ next meal might come from and MUST therefore work outside the home.
In response, I made a request of our critic, a request I repeat this morning: “please tell me elections where class warfare has made a difference in favor of those waging the battle.”
Our reader is not the only one to (attempt to) use Mitt Romney’s wealth as a wedge issue against the presumptive Republican nominee. Last week, instead of discussing the images in photos the Romney family released over Easter weekend, the folks at CNN used them to talk about the family’s wealth, asking the photos were “much ado about nothing” or “an example of a candidate who might be tone-deaf to how most of the public actually lives.” Seems the Obama campaign and their allies in the media are the only ones asking those questions.
Democratic strategist Paul Begala echoes this talking point, comparing Romney to Thurston Howell III of Gilligan’s island (dubbing Obama the Professor–a comparison which falls apart when we recall just how resourceful was that usually nameless academic). (Via HotAir headlines.)
And it doesn’t appear than attacking a candidate’s wealth (even if inherited) has been particularly effective in presidential elections.
At perhaps the darkest moment in American economic history, during the Great Depression, Americans elected and embraced a man far more akin to the fictional tycoon than Mr. Romney. FDR lived on a spacious estate on the Hudson, having inherited rather than earned his wealth.
Indeed, of the three Democrats elected president as non-incumbents in the last seventy years of the Twentieth Century, only one, Bill Clinton, was not the scion of a wealth family. And the second of those (John F. Kennedy) defeated a man born in modest circumstances.
None of the losing Republicans of that era, save George H.W. Bush (who lost to Clinton in 1992), had backgrounds significantly more affluent than the Democrats who defeated them. Thomas Dewey was the son of a newspaper owner in a small Michigan city, Nixon was lower middle class, etc., etc.
Perhaps, this rhetoric of class-warfare makes Democrats feel that they don’t have to defend the incumbent’s rhetoric, but there is little evidence that it actually works in winning votes.
ADDENDUM: One candidate who did lose in that era was tagged as an elitist, but not for his wealth, but because he was perceived as an intellectual, that man from Illinois, Adlai Stevenson.
FROM THE COMMENTS: Christopher offers a thoughtful quibble about my title and so helps ask the question I meant to ask:
Now, if the question is, “Has there ever been a time when a legitimately lower class presidential candidate has defeated a legitimately upper class candidate by employing class warfare rhetoric?” than I’m sure I have no idea, but that’s different enough from what you actually asked that I don’t care, either.
Me, I can’t stand this practice of trying to read the tea leaves of a candidate’s past/social class/personality as some sort of guide to what policies they’re going to embrace. Obama’s a constitutional scholar, and he sure doesn’t give a damn about the constitution.
Good points. May have to change the title so it more accurately reflects my meaning.