A magazine recently asked the burning question: Are you rich yet? Finally, this was something the presidential candidates agree on: Both Democrats and Republicans can shout "Yes!"
It's been a long time since presidents were born in log cabins, but this year's crop of richies takes the cake - and the champagne. To get a sense of how rich is rich, consider that Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, worth more than $1 million, is the pauper in the top-tier club. Republican Mitt Romney tops the fortune fortunate with a stash estimated at $250 million.
At least 10 are millionaires and, according largely to federal disclosure documents that report broad ranges, several boast eye-popping net worth: Rudy Giuliani, as much as $70 million, John Edwards, as much as $62 million, John McCain, about $25 million, Sen. Hillary Clinton probably more than $15 million, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, up to $10 million.
Good to see the rising economic tide is lifting their yachts, especially because none was to the manor born, though McCain married his money. But their giddy heights raises a question: Can they relate to the average American? Are they too rich to understand the struggles of the people they want to serve?
Put another way, if gasoline hits $4 a gallon, none of the candidates will miss a meal. If college tuition goes up 10 percent, that's no problem. And if disaster strikes, they can just dip into the golden nest egg.
They are rolling in dough while most Americans struggle to stay even, and the wealth gap separating the typical voter from the next president will be dramatic. Median family incomes in America actually declined for five consecutive years before rising slightly in 2005. The median reached $46,326 that year - meaning half our nation's families earned more than that and half earned less.
Compare that with Giuliani, who earned an average of $1 million a month over the past 16 months, mostly from speeches, where he was paid as much as $300,000 for an hour's work. Or to Hillary Clinton, who got an extension on the disclosure deadline, perhaps because she has too much money to count. She got a book advance of $8 million, her husband got one for $10 million and he has made millions more on the speaking circuit. Houses - the Clintons have two, and so does Giuliani.
Giuliani and Clinton, the front-runners of their respective parties, are rich even for New Yorkers. The median family income in the state was $46,600 in 2005, slightly higher than the national average. Although 9 percent of New York families had incomes exceeding $150,000, 14 percent earned less than $18,000.
Reaching the middle class is the aim of all the candidates because that's where the votes are. Although the bubble their wealth provides makes it difficult, none has the camel-through-the-eye-of-the-needle problem like John Edwards. The former senator from North Carolina is the poster boy for charges of hypocrisy.
Edwards, a tort lawyer, talks of "two Americas" and has made ending poverty his signature idea. But each week brings fresh headlines that open him to mockery. He built a $5 million gigantic compound on 102 acres. Then The Washington Post revealed that Edwards served as a consultant to a hedge fund that paid him $479,000 last year and that the fund invested in subprime mortgage lenders, an industry under fire for lending money at high rates to families with poor credit, many of whom lost their homes.
Edwards defended himself with tortured explanations. He said he worked for the hedge fund to understand capital markets and poverty. He said he didn't know about the subprime investments. And Edwards, who has blasted offshore tax shelters, said he didn't know that one fund he listed as an asset was incorporated in the Cayman Islands.
There is a rough justice in all this, of course, as only one of the richies will sit in the Oval Office. The others will have lots of time and cash to console themselves.