Obama and Too Much Money

President Obama’s unscripted line, “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money” continues to draw scorn and derision.

Here’s the video:

The text:

We’re not, we’re not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that’s fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money. But, you know, part of the American way is, you know, you can just keep on making it if you’re providing a good product or providing good service. We don’t want people to stop, ah, fulfilling the core responsibilities of the financial system to help grow our economy.

The line that’s drawing all the attention is unscripted; it wasn’t in his prepared remarks.

Radio host Mark Levin, heard in the video, believes it vindicates his opinion that Obama is a Marxist.

Hot Air‘s Ed Morrissey stops short of that but offers:

He should have stuck with the TelePrompter. The President doesn’t get to decide when people have “made enough money.” In fact, as the radio host notes, that’s a statist point of view. Furthermore, the responsibility of an entrepreneur isn’t to “grow our economy,” core or otherwise. It’s to grow his own economy. In a properly regulated capitalist system, the natural tension of self-interests create economic growth through innovation and efficient use of capital and resources.

Put simply, a free people work for themselves, not for the government. Barack Obama seems to have a problem understanding that.

Ed’s right that Obama should have stayed on script.  He’s rather clearly not announcing a policy preference but merely expressing a personal opinion. And it’s not a particularly troubling opinion — if not one I share.  Some would argue that Jesus Christ himself expressed similar views. But presidents should be really careful in doing that, in that their perceived wishes are often taken as commands.

Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that J.P. Freire weighs in with a nice gotcha:

Obama made almost $5.5 million last year, most of which came from book royalties according to his tax return.This comes on top of the other millions of dollars Obama received in previous years.

Ha! Of course, Obama doesn’t specify what “some point” or “too much” mean to him.  Like most of us, he likely perceives “the rich” and “the greedy” as those echelons above him on the income spectrum.   He probably thinks of himself as “comfortable” and only people with double digit million incomes — or maybe those with a billion in total wealth — as having “too much money.”

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. john personna says:

    I’ve always thought the converse, never knowing when you have enough money, demonstrates a dangerous tunnel vision.

    To give one example, Bill Gates is young enough that he can hopefully spend decades doing good works, but was he really so cash poor that he couldn’t enjoy the same path 10 years earlier?

    Coincidently, I picked up the book “Driven” last night. I think I’ve skimmed it before. The basic argument is that we have four main drives that make up our human nature: (1) for possessions and experiences that boost our status, (2) for connections of love and friendship, (3) for learning and understanding(!), and (4) to protect the ones and things we live. One argument in chapter one is that people fall into too strong a focus on just one or two of these drives live limited lives, and tend to wake up one day noticing all they missed.

    To not notice when enough is enough is to be trapped in drive 1.

    (Congrats on serving drive 3 here at OTB)

  2. bains says:

    Like most of us, he likely perceives “the rich” and “the greedy” as those echelons above him on the income spectrum. He probably thinks of himself as “comfortable” and only people with double digit million incomes — or maybe those with a billion in total wealth — as having “too much money.”

    If that were true, one would expect to see Obama chastising friends such as Buffet or Soros, or a number of others. That he doesn’t leads me to believe that Obama draws a distinction between good and bad wealth; wealth earned in a way he approves in good wealth, wealth employed to achieve ends he desires is good use of wealth. Wealth earned and disposed of in ways with which he disagrees is bad wealth – those that “at a certain point [have] made enough money.”

  3. Steve Plunk says:

    It’s immature thinking on his part. This can be dissected in so many ways but the bottom line is this president was never ready for the job.

    If we’re going to say anybody has enough money we should start with the government.

  4. pylon says:

    Of course, Obama doesn’t specify what “some point” or “too much” mean to him.

    He probably didn’t specify “too much” because he didn’t say it. And there’s a world of difference between making “enough money” and “too much”.

  5. John Personna says:

    Steve, I think “never enough” is a sronger marker for arrested adolesence.

  6. Billy says:

    But, you know, part of the American way is, you know, you can just keep on making it if you’re providing a good product or providing good service.

    Isn’t Obama implicitly acknowledging that notwithstanding his personal belief, our society fundamentally allows people who feel differently to keep making more money?

    It might have been wise, in light of gotcha politics, to stay silent on this issue, but I see nothing radical or “immature” about the statement. Neither do I see any real disconnect between someone who makes a LOT of money believing that there is a point where they’ve made enough. Personally, I share Obama’s opinion on this issue, but my “enough” number is not realistically reachable; does that make me either a communist or a hypocrite?

  7. john personna says:

    “but part of the American way is that people can keep on making it [money], we don’t want people to stop …”

    What a tempest in a teapot, for a sentence fragment that is completed in the next breath.

    Does Buffet know he has enough? I think he’s that bright. I think he also feels commitment to his shareholders … and he just loves the game.

  8. Hey, give President Obama some credit, he at least inplicitly acknowledged that people generate wealth, rather than just taking it from others through various forms of capitalist exploitation of the workers. Coming from him, it’s almost an epiphany.

  9. steve says:

    Much ado about nothing. It is a very common sentiment.


  10. Hmm…, so should some productive citizen who is out there generating wealth, creating jobs, and paying taxes just stop generating wealth, creating jobs and paying taxes? Or should he keep generating wealth, creating jobs (and paying taxes?) but stop being compensated for it? If you prefer the former, what about all those jobs and tax revenue that will be lost? If you accept the latter, how do you square it with the 13th amendment?

  11. I find it humorous that President Obama believes you can have too much money while he apparently doesn’t believe the government can have too much debt.

  12. reid says:

    Rightwing bloggers are just wetting themselves with excitement over this one. How stupid and predictable.

  13. reid says:

    Yes, charles, I’m sure Obama meant that someone who is generating wealth, creating jobs, and paying should taxes should just stay home and watch TV when they hit, oh, a million dollars. Any more than that, and you have “too much”. His words, he said it! Good grief.

  14. An Interested Party says:

    This isn’t meant to defend the president at all, but is simply a tangent off this conversation…I’ve seen grumbling from people on the left and the right about how it seems that so much of Wall Street makes money–by simply shuffling money around and placing bets on the success and failure of others….surely it isn’t too extreme to place a negative value judgment on this kind of wealth “creation” as opposed to other avenues, like actually manufacturing products and employing people who can be a part of a strong middle class…

  15. bains says:

    Nice straw man reid.

    AIP, while I’m certain that there are those (a not insignificant number) placing bets on whether or not the market is going to reward their particular shorts or longs, the real money gravitates towards those who can post long term gains. The real money (big houses) bets on venture capital (high risk investments) is funneled to smaller houses who have a track record of doing their due diligence in identifying sound places to invest. And yes they make mistakes, attributable to a myriad of reasons. Nevertheless, the sound firms, deemed investment worthy, are most likely investing themselves in the businesses that are actually creating the wealth that provides the taxes that the politicians think they control. In other words, while agreeing with the sentiment, I fear a ‘solution’ based thereon may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    Irrespective of reid’s hyperbole, what troubles many about Obama’s comment isn’t the wealth accumulation, or limits thereof, rather how clueless Obama is regarding the workings of real economies – just who produces the wealth that funds the government, and why a smart government shouldn’t be making crass politically motivated quips against those making too much who are the real motors of this country.

  16. Herb says:

    He probably thinks of himself as “comfortable” and only people with double digit million incomes — or maybe those with a billion in total wealth — as having “too much money.”


    He probably thinks of himself as someone motivated by something other than money who has happened to make a lot of it.

  17. reid says:

    That was no straw man, bains. That was basically what charles was suggesting. Any reasonable person knows that jumping on this statement is just gotcha politics of the dumbest kind.

  18. JKB says:

    Well reid, if Obama had ever even read a book on leadership, he’d know that it is the little slips that everyone latches onto. So as a leader you must be precise in your language or the worse case scenario becomes the organizational story. Now you can get away with some vague or indiscreet statements if you’re known and trusted, both of which Obama is not.

    Personally, I believe this is Obama jumping on the John Galt bandwagon. You’ve made enough let someone else run finance for a while.

  19. reid says:

    JKB: You can probably count on one hand the number of slips Obama has made in the last few years, which is pretty amazing considering his prominence. I wonder what you thought of our previous president’s leadership skills, since he was a gaffe machine. We’re only human, and I’m decent enough to not try to score political points over the occasional slip.

    No, you can be nearly perfect, but if you’re a Democrat, you’ll never earn the trust of much of the right wing. That’s the bottom line and the sad state of affairs in this country. Limbaugh, Beck, and Fox have them well-trained.

  20. SoFedUp says:

    This comment from Obama probably would have slipped by just about everyone if he hadn’t already be tarred with the “spread the wealth around” comment he made to Joe the Plumber during the campaign. Instead, it just reinforces for those making over $250K per year that they are going to be continually hammered to pay for the bulk of government deficit spending. They already know that next year their marginal rate will increase 3 or 4%, they know that they’ll be paying an increased amount of Medicare tax on everything over the $250K threshold, they are being hammered on state and local taxes, like the so-called “Millionaire Tax” in New Jersey, which kicks in at an amount substantially below 1 million. Statements like this just reinforce the meme that Obama wants as much of your money, over 250K, as he can grab so that he give it away to those he deems more worthy. Right or wrong, that is what many believe.

  21. john personna says:

    This kerfuffle is stupid even if you don’t listen to the clip. If you do listen then it’s clear that the original blogger split something out of context … probably because his biases made him hear only that one line, not the next, and not the next.

    This not an Obama “slip.” This is a mature thought that some folks can’t handle in a mature context.

  22. reid says:

    Thanks for clarifying, john. I was falling into the trap of letting them frame the issue as a slip. Not only is it gotcha politics, it’s invented, distorted gotcha politics. Shameful. I wish James wouldn’t dignify these issues with posts, but at least he usually presents it in a reasonable way.

  23. pylon says:

    I made “enough money” years and years ago, if “enough” means a comfortable living. I now make more than enough. It doesn’t mean I’m not entitled nor does it mean I don’t enjoy having more than enough. It’s not “too much”.

    One more time, good thing Obama didn’t say “too much”. Imagine if he did. People would accuse him of socialism.

  24. bains says:

    (I wonder if you have a sock puppet infestation here James.)

    pylon/SoFedUp/john personna/reid, everyone makes gaffes… most are understandable and thus dismissed. But our elected officials make them regularly none the less.

    Certainly, some are over-blown (see Trent Lott). Yet during the last administration, every gaffe was raised to catastrophic levels by the left and their entirely sympathetic supporters in the MSM. And now you are howling that this one statement is the exception? Please. When speaking extemporaneously, Obama has made numerous gaffes, and yes, some have been quite revealing – much to his (and i suspect your) dismay. But then, if you agree with the direction he would take this nation (and knowing from where he learned tactics), it is no surprise that you are so willing to foist false narratives. After all, the term “useful idiots” did not come from the conservative side.

  25. john personna says:

    Shrug. My personna is actually pretty different from the others.

    And pretending a mature statement is a gaffe is pretty bad.

  26. reid says:

    bains: No, we are not sock puppets.

    Your right-wing bias is amazing to me. Everything Obama does is bad and reflects some hidden, evil marxist agenda, while everything Bush did was unfairly picked on. I’m the one with the false narrative, even though you’re the one twisting a single statement to reflect your strange preconceived notions. I shudder to think where you think Obama is “taking the nation” (no doubt to hell via the USSA). I just hope I’m feeding a troll here….

    I’m curious how James, a seemingly moderate Republican, feels about the more rabid wingnut commenters on his site.

  27. Thucydides says:

    Hey, I’m Canadian seeing and hearing Mr Obama’s speeches and actions from a different nation, and I am reading this pretty much the same way most of the commenters are: a monumental gaffe which allows us to see what he is really thinking.

    Of course the “Bitter clingers” and “spread the wealth around” remarks, bowing to the leaders of state which are not friendly to the United States while castigating those nations with long histories of alliance and friendship with the United States just paint the picture of a man totally insensitive to the views of others. Thank goodness the founders of the United States provided mechanisms to prevent such a man from gaining and holding such power for long, indeed November is coming soon enough…

  28. pylon says:

    Not a sock puppet – just a member of a rational group.

    I see you haven’t responded to anything I actually said.