Republicans get screwed when exposed as elitists -- and hypocrites. In 1996, GOP Congressman Fred Heineman lost re-election after saying his $183,000 salary made him "lower-middle class." Last week, John McCain said you have to make $5 million a year to be "rich." Now, as millions of Americans face foreclosure, the hapless Republican presidential nominee can't even answer a basic question: how many houses does he own? Turns out the answer is seven, with a net worth of nearly $10 million. One would expect a U.S. Senator to own a house in their home state - and probably a condo in the DC area. And because McCain is rich (even per his generous definition), it's really no shock that he also has a vacation home. But the McCains additionally have 3 condos in San Diego County alone - two in Coronado, and one of them in La Jolla (where they happen to owe back taxes.) While McCain lectures homeowners who foreclose about being "irresponsible," maybe he should pay the $1,742 that San Diego County says he still owes.
John McCain dodged a silver bullet last month after firing his economic advisor - former Texas Senator Phil Gramm - for calling America a "nation of whiners." But as I argued back then, Gramm was just articulating basic Republican philosophy - they really have nothing to offer to working people, and thrive in their hypocrisy. McCain's comment that he doesn't know how many houses he owns hearkens back to the moment when George Bush Sr. didn't recognize a supermarket checkout scanner. And while most Americans are struggling to get by, it will further be an albatross around his neck.
It's long been the mantra among Republicans that when Democrats say they just want to "tax the rich," they scare voters by saying: "Democrats think you're rich." But whenever Republicans get asked to define "rich," they invariably get in trouble. Fred Heineman learned this the hard way, when the North Carolina Congressman told a reporter in 1995 that his $183,000 Congressional salary made him "lower middle-class" - and "middle class" included anyone making up to $750,000. His Democratic opponent seized on the issue, ran TV ads that said "Earth to Fred!" - and the hapless guy lost re-election.
But if Heineman - who was a one-term wonder from the infamous Newt Gingrich Class of 1994 - got kicked to the curb, John McCain has gotten away with it for much longer. At the Saddleback Church Forum last weekend, McCain was asked to define who is "rich." Perhaps jokingly, he said it was anyone who made over $5 million - quite a bit higher than the $750,000 figure Heineman had quoted. But McCain wasn't trying to say he was "middle-class." Cindy McCain's tax returns alone shows she made over $6 million last year.
Yesterday, however, McCain outdid himself - when a reporter from the Politico asked him how many houses he and his wife own. "I think -- I'll have my staff get to you," he muttered.
Turns out the answer is "seven." But it's not just that McCain doesn't know how many houses he owns - at a time when most Americans struggle to even keep one. The actual details about these properties make it even worse ...
The McCains own a $1.7 million condo in Phoenix as their primary residence, where they combined two units. Then they bought a $500,000 condo in Phoenix for their daughter -which a reporter for GQ compared the inside to "a spaceship furnished by West Elm." McCain also has a condo in Arlington, Virginia (valued at $847,000), which the Senator stays at when he's in Washington DC. And the McCain's have a vacation ranch in Sedona, Arizona (valued at $1.1 million) - where he hosted his vice-presidential picks.
But here's where it gets interesting. The McCains own three different properties in San Diego County alone - a $2.1 million beachfront condo in Coronado, and a $2.7 million condo (with swimming pool) in Coronado. And then they have a $1 million beachfront property in La Jolla - one of the wealthiest suburbs of San Diego.
It's the La Jolla property where the McCains are having trouble. As Newsweek reported last month, the McCains didn't pay their tax bill on the property for four years - even with the ridiculously low perks under California's Proposition 13. Only after a reporter brought it to their attention did they quietly pay the bill - but the treasurer in San Diego still says they have underpaid the county $1,742. Ironically, McCain has cautioned against assistance for foreclosing homeowners because "any assistance must not reward those who were irresponsible at the expense of those who weren't."
Cindy McCain is a multi-million dollar heiress of Anheuser-Busch - and she's been less than forthcoming about disclosing her assets (although it's her money that kicked off her husband's political career.) Now that the McCains' real estate holdings have become an issue, what other secrets do we not know yet? Sure makes it hard to portray Obama as an "elitist."
Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron, San Francisco's Alternative Online Daily, where this piece was first published.