Quick Question: Can Only The Rich Be President? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Quick Question: Can Only The Rich Be President?

Do you have to be rich to be president of the United States of America?

Donald Trump told ABC News recently that he might run for president in 2016 and that he is qualified because, among other reasons, he has amassed a net worth of more than $10 billion. "I'd spend a lot" on a campaign, he says. "I'd spend whatever it took."

And in August a company called Wealth-X, which keeps tabs on the superwealthy, released a list of America's 10 richest living presidential candidates.

Here it is:

So here's the Quick Question:

Do you have to be rich to be president of the United States of America?

There is a history of well-heeled commanders in chief. In 2010, Forbes put together a list of the 10 Richest Presidents of All Time. George Washington was arguably the wealthiest ever.

"There have been many other very wealthy presidents at each era of the Republic," says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. He cites Thomas Jefferson, both Benjamin and William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan.

President Obama, Sabato points out, is a multimillionaire and "I'll bet will become our first ex-presidential billionaire. Think of his endorsement and speech and book potential. And the corporate and foundation boards."

To be sure, there have been exceptions. Harry Truman "barely had two extra nickels to rub together, and his precarious financial situation resulted in the first presidential pension, passed in Eisenhower's second term," Sabato says.

Gerald Ford wasn't that flush either.

Perhaps Bill Clinton is the best example of a middle-class American becoming president. As governor of Arkansas, his salary was the lowest in the nation — at around $35,000. His wife, Hillary, made more as a lawyer. Now they both are doing quite well — pulling in millions of dollars.

"I still think it is possible for a person of modest means to become president — if the conditions are just right," Sabato says. "But wealth has always been a major qualifying factor for the presidency. It gives you access to the other rich people who fund campaigns, the status to seek high office, the extra time necessary for an all-consuming quest, and freedom from the everyday concerns that keep most people occupied. Thus has it always been, thus ever will it be."

NPR's Alyson Hurt contributed to this report.

What is The Protojournalist? New-school storytelling, old-school reporting. @NPRtpj

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

A 'Lasciviously LA' Lunch With Crime Novelist James Ellroy

Ellroy's new novel, Perfidia, follows the Los Angeles police response to a brutal murder on the eve of Pearl Harbor. In a vintage steakhouse, the author discusses the book and his tech-free lifestyle.
NPR

Reality Check For Young Farmers: It's An Expensive 'Habit'

More young people are trying their hand at farming, hoping to make a living out of it. But, as it turns out, passion and grit are just a few of the prerequisites for success.
NPR

Clintons Return To Iowa To Rally Democratic Hopefuls

The Clintons are back in Iowa at an event that is the place to see and be seen for ambitious Democrats. NPR's Arun Rath talks with national political correspondent Don Gonyea.
NPR

Gaming Expert: Destiny Is Good, But 'There's Not Much There'

The much-anticipated video game, Destiny, was released this week. NPR's Lynn Neary speaks with gaming expert Adam Sessler about the new game and whether it was worth all the hype.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.