Recently, multimillionaire media mogul Arianna Huffington was featured on some exceptionally obscure show on some network I’ve never heard of (Keith Olber-something, I think, who apparently is an ex sports guy who has his own show on PMSNBC or whatever) and demonstrated an extreme ignorance of the fundamentals of economics.
This really shouldn’t come as any great surprise. Huffington is an extremely wealthy woman, but she didn’t really earn it.
Huffington was the daughter of a successful Greek businessman who attended the best schools in Europe, then parlayed her connections from that into the Republican social circles of California. She found a wealthy family that wanted to marry off their embarrassingly gay scion and bearded for him, even having a couple of kids, until her political ambitions finally pushed him to buy first a seat in the House, and then run for the Senate.
All that time, Arianna burnished her conservative credentials, rubbing elbows with the movement’s movers and shakers and establishing herself as a bit of a pundit on her own and raising scads of money from her new bestest buddies for their candidates.
Well, that all came crashing down when her hubby, after losing the 1994 Senate race where he spent $28 million. A couple of years later, Michael Huffington couldn’t continue living the lie and came out of the closet, and the two divorced amicably — with Arianna walking away with a very, very healthy settlement.
(Hmm… maybe she DID earn that money after all…)
With her finances secure, Arianna then could ditch the mask she’d worn for years — the loyal, supportive, conservative wife of a rising GOP star — and finally brought her own far-left self out of its own closet. Now, she’s a star on the left — thanks to the Republican money from her former in-laws that she… earned the old-fashioned way.
She reminds me of another major figure in Democratic circles — Senator (and former presidential nominee) John Forbes Kerry.
Kerry was born into the Forbes family, but not the wealthy branch. He had the Boston Brahmin accent and the good schools and whatnot, but lacked the old money that most people think of when they hear the name “Forbes.” So he set his eye on politics as his path. He served his stint in the Navy, trying to play as close to combat in Viet Nam without actually risking himself (a ploy that failed, when the Swift boats he volunteered for were reassigned to combat duty right after he joined up). After collecting his third Purple Heart (one of them for an extremely trivial “wound), he took the “3 strikes and you’re out” option and cut short his tour of duty.
Then, when he came home, he parlayed his “war hero” status to become a leading figure among the anti-war movement, then flipped that into a political career. (He also manage to dump the Brahmin accent.) Along the way he corrected the flaw of his birth — he married an heiress, worth a cool third of a billion dollars.
Sadly, the first Mrs. Kerry wasn’t cut out for the life of a political wife. She apparently told him to choose her or his career, and nobody puts Liveshot’s ambitions in the corner.
Even more sadly, she took most of her money with her. Kerry spent several years in serious financial straits, even staying at the homes of friends and staffers to save on rent in and around DC.
That’s when fortune (literally) smiled on Kerry. He was a single Senator in need of a wealthy wife. Enter Theresa Heinz, the widow of a very, very wealthy Republican senator. More than that, she was willing to pull an Arianna and dump her conservative history and embrace (again, literally) liberalism as the price for re-entering the Congressional Wives’ Club.
And that’s how John Forbes Kerry (D-MA) is currently the wealthiest (by far) member of the Senate: from the money of his second wife’s first husband’s Republican family.
Then there’s Charlie Rangel. The poor boy from Harlem went into the Army just in time for Korea, where he served quite heroically. Then he came back and got a law degree. He only spent one year in the private sector before going to “work” for the government in 1961 — and he’s been on the public payroll for every one of the 49 years since.
And in that time, he’s amassed such a hefty fortune that he can’t even keep track of it all well enough to pay the taxes he himself writes. He owns a very, very nice villa in the Dominican Republic that he rents out most of the year, but plumb forgot about it for years every tax season. He owns a classic Mercedes, but one day several years ago parked it in the House garage and forgot about that, too. And last year he had to amend his 2007 tax return — he had overlooked over half a million dollars in income and assets from that year.
Quite an accomplishment for the son of a single mother who supported her family as a maid and seamstress, and who has spent only one year of his life not being paid by the government.
These are all too typical stories. As Professor Bainbridge noted, members of Congress have done astonishingly well with their investments and personal fortunes while in office — well above average, and certainly well above what one would expect with the financial and economic acumen they routinely demonstrate.
It pains me to say it, but Massachusetts has a good idea here. (Naturally, it was pushed through by Republicans, who sneaked it past the tremendous supermajority the Democrats hold in the bluest of blue states.) Several years ago, the Democrats tried to jack up the state’s income tax. The Republicans and libertarians stuck a condition on it: the higher rate would be optional. If someone felt that the state needed more money or that they were being undertaxed, they could choose to pay 5.85% instead of the default 5.3% rate.
Naturally, every year some Massachusetts residents make that choice. It usually runs about one-third of one percent (0.3%), or three in one thousand, who do so. And to the best of my knowledge, not a single major elected official has ever chosen to do so — not the late Ted Kennedy, not John Kerry, not Barney Frank, not any of the rest of the congressional delegation.
So when the Democrats in Congress decide they want to raise taxes, let’s start off by making it optional — let them put to the test Joe Biden’s declaration that paying taxes is “patriotic” and demonstrate their own patriotism. Let them show some true leadership and patriotism by — for once — putting their own money where their mouths are. Let them give back to the government the money they’ve been taking for years and years.