July 30, 2005
-- by Thomas Leavitt
Henry Blodget has a column on Slate, entitled How To Invest Like a Supreme Court Justice: What John Roberts' portfolio reveals about his character.
While Blodget's analysis is somewhat interesting, if highly speculative, what I think is more important to draw attention to is the fact that Roberts is not just well off... he appears to be extremely well off... as in being worth between $3 and $7 million in 2003, according to his financial disclosure records. Blodget suggests that the top end of that figure could exceed $10 million, given the how the stock market has performed since then.
This may even be a low estimate, since according to his 2003 financial disclosure records, he owned "a chunk of XM Satellite Radio worth between $100,000 and $250,000" and the stock has increased in value ten fold since then... making that one investment now worth between $1 million and $2.5 million (assuming he hasn't sold, which reading Blodget's analysis would appear to be probable).
Why is this relevant? Simple: class interests, and life experience. Roberts, by virtue of his wealth, is among the elite of the American elite, and that is bound to affect:
a) how he thinks, who he associates with, how he lives... virtually every aspect of his life is going to be colored by his wealth
b) his ability to empathize with the plight of the average American...no matter how "objective" he attempts to be, it is going to be flat out impossible for Roberts to really grasp, at a gut level, what the average middle, working class, or poor/destitute/homeless American encounters every day in their struggle to get buy, or just plain survive the night
This is a fundamental problem of American democracy, and another reason why on so many issues (especially outside of "social issues", like gay rights and abortion) Democratic and Republican positions are often practically indistinguishable.
Congress is filled with millionaires (the wealthiest of which are Democrats--10 of the top 12 in the U.S. Senate in 2003). Now, I'm not suggesting that these folks are acting with malice aforethought to enrich themselves (the "top 40" members of the U.S. were worth, collectively, $626 million, they're hardly hurting for money) - instead, I'm suggesting that the environment these folks live in - where and how they live, who they associate with, what motivates them to get out of bed in the morning - all of these things are inevitably influenced by the fact that they are vastly more comfortable than your average American.
The quote below, from a Democrat no less, suggesting that that success in business might be viewed as a core qualification for holding public office, demonstrates this mentality:
Incoming Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., said talents that make people successful in business also can make them a good lawmaker.
"They bring a lot to the table, especially in our difficult times," said Ruppersberger, whose holdings are valued at $700,000 to $1.58 million. "You want people who have good judgment and have the courage to stand up for what they believe in. If people have done well, that means they're successful. Maybe that's part of leadership." (quote from A Richer Congress, by Jonathan D. Salant)
... success in life, and demonstrated leadership potential, is most easily defined by your level of economic well being.
America is literally run by a wealthy elite, people who, no matter what side of the aisle they sit on, move in the same social and economic circles, and have the same set of expectations about how "life" works. Are these people going to have more sympathy for the plight of a businessman than your average working class American will? You betcha.
Bush's choice of another member of that elite to fill a seat on the Supreme Court tighens the grip of this class of folks on the American polity. What are Robert's natural sympathies? No one can know for sure, but you can bet that, one way or another, his wealth, and how he acquired it, is going to influence his judgement.
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John Edwards is worth in monetary value ten times what Roberts is worth. Does that mean Edwards is less concerned with average joes like me more than Roberts. Roberts brought his cash home as a partner in a DC firm prior to being tapped for the court of appeals gig. I hate to argue for Republicans, but if we are going to criticize every federal public official in high office for being a millionaire, then we would have to wipe out the entire government....then again, maybe that is not such a bad idea...
This is something we should come back to... it really deserves a full post... in a nutshell, having the Democratic Party's nomination in 2004 come down to a contest between two centi-millionaires ($100 millionn+) -- no matter how they got it (Kerry, marriage, Edwards, winning lawsuits), is problematic.
At one level, you're right Gabe, we shouldn't judge people by their fortunes - look at FDR, for example, or JFK. Neither of them came from poverty, to say the least.
At another level, there's a point of principle, and of practicality -- a government dominated by the rich, is going to have the mindset of the rich, is going to be populated by people whose fundamental assumptions and expectations are that of the rich. Is going to function differently that a government of and by the middle/working class and poor.
Posted by: Thomas Leavitt at July 31, 2005 3:18 PM
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