How far does $77,000 get you nowadays? It would get you invited to two top notch fundraising events with Barack Obama, and a picture with him thrown in. You could also get a seat at a brief roundtable discussion with the president.
On the other hand, if $77,000 is all you have – if it is the sum total of your lifetime’s net worth – you will probably want to hold off from attending a fundraiser at least until 2016.
The gulf between US election fundraising and the reality of middle-class life beyond the Washington beltway has always existed. But in the 2012 election campaign it is becoming glaring.
In the last three weeks, Mr Obama has held an average of one fundraiser per weekday and has now topped 160 since he launched his re-election campaign in April 2011. It is a clear record and is roughly double the number George W. Bush had held at the similar stage in the 2004 campaign.
All of this may well be unavoidable. The election is going to be expensive and it is going to be close. According to Politico, Mitt Romney and his allies have raised $400m so far against $340m by Mr Obama and his allies. Yet Mr Obama’s packed money schedule is starting to look outrageously dissonant with the middle-class message he is seeking to champion. Two events this week have brought that dissonance into sharp relief.
First, the US Federal Reserve published a report showing that the median household net worth had dropped by almost 40 per cent between 2007 and 2010, to just $77,000. It is a shockingly low number that means the real value of people’s savings has not budged since the early 1990s. Over the same period (between 2007 and 2010) annual median household income fell by almost 10 per cent to $45,800. Separate data show it has fallen further since then.
Second, James Carville and Stanley Greenberg, two seasoned Democratic operatives, released a memo that showed Mr Obama’s “Forward” campaign message is not resonating with voters. Indeed, it may even be hurting. By a 17 point margin (53 per cent to 36 per cent) voters said they were more concerned about going forward in Mr Obama’s direction than backward to the one under George W. Bush.
Under these circumstances, Mr Obama’s “Forward” slogan is directly at odds with reality in the economic heartlands. Most Americans are poorer midway through this recovery than they were when it began three years ago. With each passing year of the recovery, median income has dropped further. To them, “forward” means, well, backwards. The authors conclude:
“We could really lose this election – and the president is doubling down on his 2010 recovery message with ominous risk.”
On Thursday, Mr Obama is set to give a big economic speech at a community college in Cleveland, Ohio, the most important swing state and one of the most economically blighted zones in the Midwest. Then in the evening, he will attend an $80,000 a head fundraiser at the Manhattan home of Sarah Jessica Parker, star of Sex in the City. It will be co-hosted by Anna Wintour, legendary editor of Vogue. If ever there was a schedule that highlighted Mr Obama’s dissonance problem, this would be it. The fact that he needs to get money wherever and whenever he can – including from the homes of a string of celebrities – will not stop opponents from painting him as the candidate of Hollywood in an age of austerity.