Placing John McCain’s “Rich” In Context

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


I love a well-made chart. And Ezra Klein just so happens to have one.

incomedistribution-thumb-480x320.jpg

As you can see, the chart reflects the answers McCain and Obama gave when asked to define “rich” at the Saddleback forum over the weekend. Obama said $150,000, an income which would put someone in the 94th percentile of American earners, and McCain said $5 million, which is just completely preposterous. As Ezra points out, this is dangerous:

Asking the world’s tallest man to set cabinet heights, or the world’s strongest man to decide the tension of jar lids, is going to leave you with some pretty tall cabinets and some pretty tightly closed jars. Similarly, asking one of the world’s richest men to set your tax policy will end up with a pretty skewed set of policies: Say, a tax plan that gives his wife $370,000 in breaks. Again, nothing weird or malign: Just the naturally skewed perspective of someone who lives on a particular extreme, in this case, the extreme edge of the wealth distribution.

This is inevitable, of course. The American political system demands wealth as a condition of entrance. You have to be able to take time off in order to run for office (or even plan/contemplate a run for office), and you usually have to have a network of wealthy friends you can tap as donors and contacts. As a result, most people who make it to national politics are wealthy, and have the “naturally skewed perspective” that Ezra mentions.

I should add that there was hope for John McCain once. In 2001, he was one of two Republicans who opposed Bush’s tax cuts, saying, “I’d like to see much more of this tax cut shared by working Americans… I think it still devotes too much of it to the wealthiest Americans.” If you’ve seen his tax policy today, you know he no longer has such qualms.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate