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December 19th, 2012
06:42 PM ET

Letters to the President #1430: 'Rich like you? Who?'

Reporter's Note: I write to President Obama all the time and he never responds.

Dear Mr. President,

I was pleased to see you take my advice during your news conference today and not overpromise what new gun laws might or might not mean to public safety, at least in an absolute sense. On the other hand, when the discussion turned to the fiscal cliff, you said something that has been on my mind ever since.

You made reference to the idea that wealthier people ought to pay more taxes, and you said something along the lines of “rich people like me.” You seem to like the phrase, since I've heard it several times.

Mr. President, to be very frank, there are only a few people who are rich like you. Presidents and former presidents fall into an utterly unique category. As much as you may want to suggest that you understand life as it is lived by normal people, you left that life behind four years ago, and you will never be subject to its rules again.

I’m not saying that former presidents are automatically wealthy in a Bill Gates sense. I’m saying they have no reason to ever even think about money. In our modern times, any former president can make one speech and pocket more money than most Americans can make in a year; or they can write a book, or start a non-profit, or any number of things that will more than take care of their financial needs for the remainder of their lives. On top of which, any number of fans will readily provide them with free transportation, lodging, food, and other amenities at the drop of a hat. If you were out of office and wanted a new iPad, for example, all you’d need to do is mention it, and I’m quite certain one would appear gratis. Heck, I would not be surprised if a “friend” showed up on your doorstep with one within hours.

So, for my money, there is something disingenuous in you suggesting that any change in the tax code will have anything to do with your finances. You will never, ever, under any circumstances fear for the rent again. The idea of not having something you want in life is forever gone. That’s not your fault, it’s not bribery, and there is nothing wrong in it. But that is the unique situation of former presidents. Even billionaires can, conceivably, go broke. But not you. In this day and time, we do not allow our former presidents to struggle financially. We just don’t.

None of this invalidates your economic theories or your ideas about taxes. But I think it would be good if you stopped suggesting that you personally have a dog in this fight. It’s not true. The only rich people like you, especially after you leave office, will be named Clinton, Bush, and Carter.

I trust all is well. Good luck with your negotiations.

Regards,
Tom

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