It seems every election season there is a debate surrounding at least one candidate and their wealth, one candidate and their Ivy League education, which candidate is telling the truth or most of it.  From how they made their money, did they inherit it, to how much they pay, or rather don’t pay, in taxes, to where they put their money; do they have any of it in offshore accounts, to who’s an elitist to who’s morals meet our standards.  This time around it’s no different and singled out is one Mitt Romney, republican presidential candidate, making headlines for flubbing a debate question about releasing his income tax returns, eventually saying he would do so in April, at tax season, when candidates traditionally do so. Earning flack for not doing it now so South Carolina voters can vote fully informed. Further raising eyebrows by disclosing he pays closer to the lowest tax rate than that of most Americans around 15% due to much of his money coming from investments rather than earned income. Analysts wasted no time pointing out he didn’t do himself any favors by also telling media he made some income but not much in speaking fees; not much being 374,000 dollars; opponents quick to jump on Romney as out of touch with poor, struggling people in this country, a cross between Gordon Gekko and Richie Rich. But is the depiction accurate; better yet, how does it differ from any other politician, running for any other office in recent modern history? Mitt Romney may be wealthy, ridiculously so by some standards, but so is everyone else running for office today, right down to the person currently sitting in the White House, also pegged the elitist in the coming election.

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However in this case it’s who specifically is doing the calling out, among his political rivals, that casts suspicion on the finger pointing, coupled with their own actions; Newt Gingrich was one of the first to pounce on Romney’s pronouncement about his taxes using it as a moment to proclaim perhaps it’s time there was a flat tax rate for everyone at 15%. The same Gingrich making thousands in speaking fees himself, the same Gingrich, paid 1.6 million by now defunct  Freddie Mac, the same Gingrich who owed up to half a million dollars to a New York Tiffany’s jewelry store.  Many people would no doubt like to see his tax returns as well, that could very easily house bigger skeletons than the just released Romney returns citing 42 million in income over 2 years, 7 million given to charities or the 14% taxes paid because the income was derived from investments not employment. In fact that skeleton did come, when Gingrich’s contract with Freddie Mac was released showing he was not a historian as he claimed but as a consultant reporting directly to the top government lobbyist for the company; while he insists he was not a lobbyist for the mortgage giant, experts have been quick to point out the expanded definition of lobbying, as it applies to this situation, that includes preparation, research or assistance related to lobbying. Of course Gingrich is far from the first politician to stretch the truth or try to put their truth in the most favorable light; however, it is somewhat insulting to the voters to hear him decry super PACs, like he decries so many other things, while using one no less, go into town halls and say he wants to reform running for public office so the average person can do so, meaning taking the money out of politics, only to find out he’s no different than anyone else to ever run. It is equally insulting to hear his comments on work, food stamps and welfare, teaching the poor to work, get a job, get a better job, was part of a debate line, when he hasn’t held an average job in years, doesn’t remember what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck, if he ever did. 

 Other political hay has been made about Mitt Romney having money in the Cayman Islands, a recently closed Swiss bank account; painting it as a picture of another wealthy someone stashing money away to avoid paying larger taxes. Despite Romney insisting that he pays the same rate there as he would here at home. Further Romney has been open about the tax rate he pays, and until the political and public outcry went forth, was planning to release his tax returns in April like several office runners have done before, according to tradition, something elections are steeped in. Unlike Mr. Gingrich who comes off as a person who thought he’d be clever releasing the contract, to compete with Romney’s disclosure, apparently thinking no one would notice what his job title was or what that meant contrasted with what he said, making it look like he tried to hide it. And don’t think this only applies to front runners right now; it is reasonable to assume Rick Perry’s wealth, allowing him to run for office, came from Texas oil, but no, not quite; make that Texas land. A series of well-placed land deals have provided him the opportunity to go from accumulating modest thousands in annual income to achieving numbers just over the million mark, though analysts strongly suspect his political influence and connections played a part in that.  Herman Cain was successful a motivational speaker doing dozens of speaking engagements having written at least one book and hocking another one while on the campaign trail. Give it another year or so and we will no doubt see a book talking about how race brought down his bid for the White House, not his womanizing ways, wacky tax plan or shaky foreign policy. Dr. Paul, now senator Paul ranks 105 out of 430 something house members in terms of wealth 75% of that coming from investments in real-estate, mining, income estimates in the millions.

People quickly forget, if they ever realized, that these people, political office holders aren’t making their money from typical means, your average 9-5 where they go into an office every day, work construction, push a broom, do accounting, telemarketing; neither do they have the typical investments average American’s participate in surrounding retirement, 401K portfolio investments tied to the stock market, whether we like it or not, something you sign up with via your employer and they make most of the decisions, give you possible stock options and you are at the mercy of the market. Instead public office holders, at least by the time they make a legitimate bid for leader of the free world, have bought land, have invested in real-estate. The only candidates having held anything close to a regular job in recent years are struggling runners like Rick Santorum and John Huntsman in the form of rental properties they of course collected rent from, but likewise had to maintain and be property managers of, translating into some sort of work the American people can identify with. Yet by the time they make it to running for president they have amassed wealth doing consulting work, sitting on a board of directors in Santorum’s case, speaking fees in the cases of both Romney and Gingrich, and a healthy dose of family money for Mr. Huntsman. As per what people have long both suspected and known, these are not just frugal people building a million over a lifetime, clipping coupons, living in what many would consider thread bare ways to buy a house with cash, cars with cash similar to couples featured on the morning shows. These are not people possessing a Dugger work ethic largely doing the work as a family; turning properties over for rent determined to do right by people. These are persons who have found smart, many would say, smart-alecky ways to make money using other people’s money; who have figured out how to make money without really putting in a day’s work physically, intellectually or creatively.    

Again it’s the conversations not being had; candidates are too focused on tax rates, tax returns paid and submitted by their fellow runners to notice not one of them has done anything illegal. At the same time no other politician currently running for office has used this as an opportunity to champion tax code reform, other than the president, so we no longer have a tax system rewarding millionaires, so the wealthiest among us are no longer getting tax subsidies in the form of home mortgage deductions spread across multiple homes, just to name one, and pay their fair share. No one, not even the so called Buffett rule, has put forth the idea that earned income, investment income it should all be taxed at the same percentage; if anything the break given to those generating earned income, as it means they are employed, not even Mr. more Americans need to work.  Instead the only thing said, apart from mudslinging, was the Gingrich suggestion of a flat 15% tax, a known boon for millionaires, billionaires, at minimum keeping their tax rate the same, lock step with republican rhetoric saying give the wealthy tax breaks so they can go create jobs. Forgoing the fact the uber wealthy don’t create jobs small businesses do; hints Obama’s state of the union comments on raising taxes for millionaires to give incentives to small businesses to be able to start in the first place.  Neither has anyone stood up for the average, struggling, disenfranchised American populous and put forth the concept making it illegal to place your money in offshore accounts, Cayman Islands, Swiss banks, whatever, whether you’re running for office or not, whether you’re a politician, the CEO of a mega corporation or a person who just won the lottery. Rather than opening that dialog, top competitors hoping to become our next commander and chief only look down their nose at the ones who do use legal avenues at their disposal for handling their money. And our closest to real work candidates have no shot at the nomination never mind the White House because of their bizarre, unpopular, unhelpful views. Mr. Santorum who believes part of solving social security is increasing our birthrate by disallowing abortions; one could guess on the premise more people would then be paying into it. Mr. Huntsman who wants to end capital gains taxes, virtually translating into the wealthy paying no tax at all, because they have no earned income.  

Once more sidestepping the real conversation was arguably the loudest candidate, former speaker Gingrich calling recent Romney attack ads, questions about his Freddie Mac contract and opposition from the establishment of his own party the last desperate attempt by the old guard to throw everything and the kitchen sink at him, because he intends to change the establishment. Yet, lesser of the two evils though it may be, people should be rooting for the old guard, perhaps republicans rooting for the democratic guard, because the old guard isn’t going to try to put our 11-13 year olds to work first as school cooks and janitors then relax labor laws everywhere so poor children get the short end of the education stick the moment they can earn money for their family. The old guard isn’t mocking desperate people on food stamps and talking about teaching poor people to work, as if they don’t know how, insulting minorities asserting they should demand paychecks instead. While ironically pushing grandiose, ridiculous ideas about putting a colony on the moon by his second term, no plan on how to pay for it though, as too many struggle to get by. Neither are they confusing food stamps with other programs trying to lump stipends for the disabled and mentally ill in the same category as welfare, also known as something to be gotten rid of ASAP.  Or his latest, what could almost be called racial epithet, in calling Spanish the language of the ghetto, parallel to pushing English as the national language of government; one could suppose in an effort to save a few dollars printing important documents in native tongues of immigrants. Because we wouldn’t want them to understand a citizenship exam or a driving test to get a job, before they could speak perfect English. Likewise off the table by establishment republicans upending Medicare Medicaid and social security for current or future generations, making working people, who’ve saved all they can all their lives, nervous. Nor is it just long serving members of politics and the Republican Party who do not want Gingrich as the GOP nominee, see it as a blight on the prospects of the party; many freshman along with woman law makers oppose him fearing he could damage the chances of republicans vying for lower offices across the country with his off the wall ideas.

Similarly are the long standing rhetorical claims president Obama is an elitist; all of the participants in the GOP primary are college educated, at nationally known institutions,  most holding MA’s, PHD’s or specialty degrees in law or medicine, people who, though they may have come from humble beginnings, have assuredly risen above them to notoriety and wealth. Fact is Joe plumber, now a symbol of working America, his tax bracket has never made it to the White House democrat, republican, independent or member of a lesser fringe party; none of them quit traditional day jobs to run for the highest office in the land. Leaving people with choices that are all essentially from the same pile wealthy, well-educated and yes pegged as out of touch with people who work themselves to the bone to get by, people worried about retirement or so busy just trying to survive they can’t think that far ahead. So as American’s we then have to choose who is right for us; the people who think billionaires create jobs ergo let’s give them more tax breaks, or the guy currently holding that sacred office who says, liar though he may be, trying to get reelected though he may be, people like himself making 250,000 a year or more should pay more in taxes. We have to decide do we want a leader of the free world unwilling to give up on clean, renewable energy, just because one company failed, a leader who says no harming the environment in small localities for self-reliant energy sources or those who want more drilling, more hydrofracking sans consequences. The question becomes do we want a commander and chief who understands the hard times and the welfare programs that separate us from third world countries or someone who mixes up their facts, puts largely government facilitated misfortune on the average person, who is so interested in competition he’d rather put people on the moon? Speaking of competition, it’s either a leader who understands global market dynamics and education or persons who think putting teens and tweens to work will do the trick, restoring local education control resulting in a hodgepodge across the country. The choice really is ours; pick your candidate.