SOUTH BEND, Indiana, October 18, 2012 — The big story of the second presidential debate was the ever-changing story about what really happened in Benghazi. Yet a brief exchange on something else that seemed less important should be given significantly more attention.
One of President Obama’s many accusations against Governor Mitt Romney is that Romney has investments in companies that outsourced jobs to China. Romney properly pointed out that those investments were in a blind trust that he has no managerial control over, and that many people have these types of financial vehicles. They are legal, and sensible. Criticizing these investments makes as much sense as attacking elderly retirees as “greedy speculators” for owning mutual funds that may contain a few shares of oil stocks.
What took the discussion to another level was when Romney asked Obama what was in his pension. Obama refused to answer the question, lest he be (again properly) accused of throwing stones from a glass house. Yet the potential charge of hypocrisy took a back seat to his actual response, which was even more troubling for a different reason.
Obama told the audience that his pension was worth significantly less than Romney’s pension. This was meant to be an Obama laugh line. There was just one problem: It’s not funny.
In fact, it is very sad. Obama too often resorts to mocking insults that are no more clever than the “rankout contests” students engage in on school playgrounds. The usual recess insult involves somebody’s mother being overweight.
When kids are young, they brag about which dad can beat up the other one, who has more or better girlfriends, and in future years, better cars and more money. Obama actually turned this attempted rankout on its head by mocking Romney not for having less, but more.
On the playground, children tease others for being poor. Obama is looking at Romney and belittling him as if “Haha, look at Richie Rich from Richville,” is something to be ashamed of.
Mr. Obama keeps saying he does not envy wealth, and that he celebrates success. His constant harping on Romney’s wealth seems to contradict this claim. If Romney’s pension violates any type of securities laws, a discussion should ensue. Otherwise, the attack on his wealth is at best an irrelevant distraction and at worst an unflattering view into why Obama has such contempt for Romney. Perhaps the Obama green agenda is about envy.
Yet there is one other aspect of this line of attack that has occasionally been alluded to, but not with enough frequency.
Does anybody want to guess why Mitt Romney has a larger pension than Barack Obama?
The answer is simple: Romney for most of his life actually worked for a living. Obama did not do tasks that for the most part should be considered real work.
Mr. Obama did at one point eventually become a college professor, but before that he was a community organizer. Whether the group is Code Pink or Occupy Wall Street, standing outside a building and yelling “no justice, no peace” is not a way to build a 401k or Roth IRA nest egg. The truly lucky ones like Jesse Jackson can make money shaking down corporations, but even bribery and extortion usually come in the form of single payments and not lifetime pensions.
Michelle Obama loves to point out that while many people sold out and joined the corporate world, her husband went into the inner cities for much lower pay (while neglecting to mention her $321,000 salary that was practically a no-show job).
People make choices. Schoolteachers and social workers are not going to make as much money as corporate attorneys and investment bankers. This is not a failure of the system because nobody forced teachers and social workers to do what they do. Professional athletes and Hollywood celebrities make more than the average person, and they should not be blamed for their success.
Mr. Obama was not just trying to engage in a laugh line. He was actually complaining. His comment was absolutely class envy. He had a choice. He could have gotten a real job out of college. Investment banks were desperate to project images of diversity, and would have happily given him opportunities to succeed on Wall Street. He chose to take a path that may have been emotionally rewarding but less financially satisfying.
Mr. Obama was lazy. He did not have the burning desire to work the long and hard hours that Mitt Romney did. Romney worked very hard, and had many sleepless nights worrying about his business in the early years. Obama chose to coast through life, get drunk, get stoned, and “hang out.”
His own admitted lack of ambition is why his pension is significantly smaller than Romney’s pension. This does not make Romney a superior human being. However, it does not render him inferior either.
Those who criticize Romney for having a large pension should look in the mirror and ask themselves what they could have done to have had that pension size.
Obama should have spent more time trying to reduce the burdensome regulations of government that prevent companies from hiring workers and getting them started on their own pensions. If most people have small pensions, it isn’t because men like Romney have large ones, but because government policies and regulations are designed to keep us tied to Social Security and Medicare.
Of course, if Obama had any interest in changing that, he would not be himself.
Editor’s note: President Obama’s presidential pension is worth approximately $6 million. His Illinois pension, given the generosity of the pensions paid to Illinois legislators, is potentially vast. It was also organized in the Cayman Islands and has holdings in China.
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