MICHEL MARTIN, host:
And finally, I want to say another word about those tea party demonstrations that were held in various cities around the country last week, supposedly to protest the new administration's tax and spending plans. On the face of it, they are pretty easy to ridicule, what with all the free advertising support from the so called fair and balanced network, the costumes, and the lame turnout. In D.C., there was this little mix up about getting the right permits, so the protesters weren't actually able to dump the tea as they had hoped.
And then there was the all too familiar racial subtext - some of the sign wavers still feel the need to question the president's heritage. Here's a news flash people - black people have been here since 1619, and Hawaii's been a state for a long time. And citizenship has nothing to do with where your father was born. That's the truth. You can look it up. So, any which way you go, the president is covered. So enough already with the nonsense about whether President Obama is a native born citizen or not. He is.
And you know what else the president is? He's rich. His family's tax returns, released on April 15th demonstrate that. He and the first lady earned more than two and a half million dollars last year, mostly because of the president's best selling books - which are very well written, I can tell you, having read both of them. Plus he is a celebrity. And celebrity, as we know, sells. But can I just tell you, I suspect that the fact that the president is rich is in part what is making some people, including the tea partiers, a little unhappy, a little anxious, even angry.
Especially at a time when so many people are so very far from rich, and much farther from rich than they were even a year ago. I also think that the way Mr. Obama earned his money makes people nervous. He made it seem effortless. Sure, writing books is hard work. But it is not the same thing as fixing potholes in the hot sun or putting utility lines up in a driving rain.
Now, never mind the fact that Mr. Obama's predecessor - who was also rich and born that way - racked up a record $1.7 trillion deficit. And income inequality continued from gap to cavern on his watch. And never mind the fact that the current president is actually trying to redistribute wealth downward. And never mind the fact that most of our recent presidents have been rich. We actually need them to be some kind of rich, whether we want to admit it or not.
We need our presidents to be rich so their spouses won't be scraping around for extra income so they can send their kids to school, and thus exposing them -and us - to the influence of friends with an agenda. We need them to be rich so they can dress like they're supposed to dress when they're off visiting the other rich people who run countries. And we need them to be rich so they can afford to go on vacation to the kinds of places where they won't be tying up traffic for the rest of us.
I mean, do we really want them and their entourages clogging up the Bay Bridge while we're trying to get to Ocean City this August? I think not. So we need them to be rich, but we don't want them to be so rich that they forget what the rest of us are going through. That's easy enough to do in that job Mr. Obama has now, where you can't drive yourself around the corner to get a pint of ice cream even if you wanted to.
We don't want them to be so rich that they don't remember that paying that 7.4 percent payroll tax or handing over 30 percent of your income might be a real struggle to that woman running her own dress shop or the man who mortgaged his parents' house to open a barbershop. When candidate Obama ticked off the now famous Joe the Plumber during the campaign by talking about how we're all better off when we spread the wealth around, it should have gone the other way.
After all, people like Joe are exactly the kind of people who benefit from Obama's policies, and not, as it turns out, people like the Obamas. But I suspect what really ticked Joe off was that Obama seems so casual about it. Make fun of Joe, make fun of the tea partiers, if you want, but I think what they're saying is that they worked hard for that money. It was not effortless. And if you want some more of it, have the decency to act like you know how hard it was to get it.
And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.