What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell Us

Rich politicians emphasize humble beginnings

David Weinberg Jun 24, 2014
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Rich politicians emphasize humble beginnings

David Weinberg Jun 24, 2014
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The economic disparity between the common man and the politician is as old as democracy itself. In 64 BC when Cicero was running for consul of the Roman Republic, his brother is believed to have written what could be called the first electioneering handbook.

“One question I think people should be asking is does it matter that politicians are so much better off than the people they are supposed to represent,” says Nicholas Carnes, the author of “White Collar Government: The Hidden Roles of Class in Economic Policy Making.” “And what I find is that yeah, it really does matter. Politicians, who don’t have experience doing working class jobs really do think differently, vote differently, and introduce different kinds of legislation than the few politicians who do know what it’s like to be a blue collar worker.”

Carnes says that the average member of Congress spent 1.5 percent of his pre-Congress career working in manual labor or service industry jobs, a percentage that has changed little over the last 100 years.  

But talking about that divide can be a political landmine as evidenced by Hillary Clinton’s recent claim that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House.

 

Alex  Gourevitch teaches political Science at Brown. He says the politicians who are best at pretending to be equal are the ones who avoid talking about their own wealth at all, or emphasize their humble beginnings, like John Edwards for example, who campaigned not as a wealthy attorney, but as the son of a mill worker.

 

Another strategy is to be upfront about wealth as Romney did during his bid for the presidency.

 

Here’s Bill Clinton discussing his life before he was an attorney in 2008.

 

And here’s Jimmy Cater in a campaign commercial from 1976:

 

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.