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Thomas: Don’t slam Romney for being a ‘1 percenter;’ most presidents are

POSTED: March 23, 2012 12:30 a.m.

With a win in Illinois, Mitt Romney continues to build on his delegate lead, and thus, on his air of inevitability, in the race for the GOP nomination for president.

Also, as the weather gets warmer and the political season gets hotter, the Occupy Wall Street (or Main Street, or McDonald's, or your favorite park) crowd will again break out their tents and sleeping bags and get back to camping, chanting, defecating, fornicating, robbing and raping — along with providing talking points like "1 percenter" to the Democrats.

Of course, for months now liberals have painted Romney as a super wealthy Wall Street elitist, a "1 percenter" in the words of the Occupiers. With an estimated net worth of between $150 million and $200 million, Romney is certainly in the top 1 percent of the wealthiest Americans.

As Thomas Sowell recently noted, "Can a man who has been defensive about his own wealth fight off the standard class warfare of Barack Obama, who can push all the demagogic buttons against Mitt Romney as one of the 1 percenters?"

The answer is a resounding "yes!"

First of all, Romney should point out that he is in pretty good company. According to 24/7 Wall Street, many U.S. presidents were among the wealthiest (using 2011 dollars) Americans of their time. In fact, according to 24/7's figures, Romney would be far from the richest president in U.S. history.

That honor would go to our first president, George Washington. With his vast amount of land (approximately 60,000 acres), his wife's inheritance, and given that his presidential salary was 2 percent of the total U.S. federal budget in 1789, 24/7 Wall Street estimates that Washington was an elite "1 percenter" with a net-worth of about $525 million.

Thomas Jefferson was also a "1 percenter." With his architecturally extravagant home, Monticello, containing 11,000 square feet of living space and perched on a 5,000 acre estate, Jefferson had an estimated worth of $212 million.

James Madison and Andrew Jackson were both worth north of $100 million, while John Adams, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams were all worth over $20 million.

Theodore Roosevelt was born into significant wealth and was the beneficiary of a large trust fund, which, of course would make him one of the most reviled of the "1 percenters." His net worth was estimated to be $125 million. This means that if Abraham Lincoln hadn't been such a slacker (worth less than $1 million), Mount Rushmore could have been named "One Percent Peak."

Teddy's fifth cousin and later U.S. President, Franklin Roosevelt, was also born into privilege that qualified him as a "1 percenter." As a youth, he made frequent trips to Europe, attended an elite boarding school and later went to Harvard. The architect of the New Deal was also the beneficiary of a large inheritance. He had an estimated wealth of $60 million.

However, each of these pales in comparison to the Kennedy family fortune. Preceding his father Joe Kennedy in death, John F. Kennedy was unable to inherit his father's vast wealth. And vast it was. Through stock, industrial, commodity and real estate investing, along with what some have deemed to be illicit means, Joe Kennedy accumulated a truly enormous amount of wealth. In 1957, when Forbes magazine published its first list of the richest Americans, Kennedy's fortune was estimated to be between $200 and $400 million ($1.6 billion to $3.5 billion in today's dollars). This placed him in Forbes' top 20.

If alive today, perhaps President Kennedy, when addressing the Occupiers (if he were allowed to speak) would utter something like, "Ask not what your country can do for you, just ask a ‘1 percenter' like me!"

The fact is that, whether or not they were "1 percenters," all U.S. presidents, including liberal favorites like FDR and JFK, were very accomplished men. (Though Obama is BY FAR the least accomplished.) It would be nearly impossible to become president of the U.S. and not be a significantly gifted individual.

Generally, leaders - whether political, business, spiritual, military, athletic, and so on - are by definition very gifted. In our capitalistic culture (what's left of it), this generally leads to some, if not significant, financial success.

Despite the rantings of the Occupiers, financial success in and of itself is nothing to be condemned. In fact, the greatest social activist of all time, Jesus Christ, never condemned wealth or the wealthy. His message on wealth was not to let it get in the way of following Him. Also, when it comes to money, Christ taught us to be personally generous with however much we have.

In light of this, when examining a candidate's personal finances, instead of focusing on his bottom line, a better indicator of whether he is fit to lead would be his personal generosity.

If a candidate claims to care for the poor and less fortunate, did he put his own money where his mouth is, or as is too often the case, is he more focused on giving away other people's money?

Trevor Thomas is a Gainesville resident and frequent columnist.


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