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Obama and McCain’s Definitions of Wealth, Contextualized

by Jake Mohan 


Tags: politics, Election 2008, economics, John McCain, Barack Obama, poverty, Mother Jones, American Prospect,

We all have different definitions of financial security and wealth, but some are more realistic than others. When asked to define a “rich” income level at the Saddleback Forum this past weekend, the responses from Barack Obama and John McCain were revealing. Obama said $150,000, while McCain posited, “How about $5 million?” He was ostensibly joking, but his response is the perfect example of sincerity cloaked in fatuousness, and completely in line with his party’s economic philosophy.

Ezra Klein, at the American Prospect, made a chart to contextualize the candidates’ definitions of wealth:

income chart

Klein concludes that McCain’s “profoundly out of touch” answer, facetious or not, is frustrating but inevitable: He's been richer, for longer, than Obama and most of his fellow Americans. “Nothing weird or malign: Just the naturally skewed perspective of someone who lives on a particular extreme, in this case, the extreme edge of the wealth distribution.” Obama is, by his own definition, undeniably wealthy, but Klein argues that because his family’s acquisition of wealth is relatively recent, Obama’s outlook is more realistic.

McCain and his companions in the richest slice of America’s population have no concept of what it is to barely get by on a middle-class income, much less at or below the unrealistically low poverty line. While statistically unsurprising, this warped economic outlook will have dire consequences for the middle and lower classes if McCain becomes president, all but ensuring an extension of the Bush Administration’s apparent mandate that the rich get richer at the expense of pretty much everyone else.

Chart courtesy of Ezra Klein.