The 2012 presidential election is shaping up to be an election highly focused on economics and class. It seems that one of the main themes of the election will be class, or the gap between the rich and the poor. At this point, it’s pretty likely that the main Democratic attack on Mitt Romney will be an attack based on class. Mitt Romney will be portrayed as rich and out-of-touch, a Wall Street banker.
Now what does this have to do with the title of this post?
Well, obviously this critique of Mitt Romney wouldn’t work if his opponent was also a billionaire businessman. The attack against Mitt Romney relies on the fact that Barack Obama is not rich, is not out-of-touch, and is not a Wall Street banker.
Except one of these things is false. Barack Obama is rich. His income level squarely puts him in the top one percent.
One can make a good argument, of course, that Obama’s wealth is a very different thing from Romney’s wealth. Obama is wealthy mainly due to the success of his books. He has never been and will never be rich in the way Mitt Romney is. Before gaining political success, Obama was pretty heavily indebted. Not to mention that he deliberately chose to be a community organizer after college, not the most high-income of jobs.
But more importantly than all these facts, there is the fact that Barack Obama just doesn’t look very rich. The typical American does not think of Obama as belonging to the top one percent when they look at him. Obama just doesn’t exude wealth in the way Mitt Romney’s very presence does.
Why is this? The answer is pretty simple: it’s because Obama’s black.
Despite the occasional successful black entertainer or athlete, the black community is still very strongly associated with poverty. Think about, for instance, the first image that usually comes to mind when people talk about poverty in America (and especially urban poverty).
The result is that Americans almost never associate Barack Obama with being rich, even though today he has become quite wealthy. This is one of those subconscious things which most people don’t even realize is happening in their minds. Nor even do many political experts realize this. Nor did I for the longest time.
But the fact that Obama is African-American, and the fact that very few people associate African-Americans with wealth, will end up making a huge difference in the 2012 presidential election.