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In History, Politics on December 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

It must be borne in mind that my design is not to write histories, but lives. And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men.

Sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.

–Plutarch’s biography of Alexander the Great

Mitt Romney suffered a “Plutarch moment” during his December 10 debate encounter with Rick Perry.

The faceoff came in Des Moines, Iowa.  The former Massachussetts governor found himself once again accosted by the current governor of Texas.

It was the same annoying accusation that Perry had made in past debates: That Romney had supported national healthcare reform in the hardcover edition of his book, No Apology.

According to Perry, that passage was removed from the paperback edition.

The United States remains the only major Western nation without a national health insurance program.  About 60 million Americans lack medical insurance.

So you would expect a hero’s laurels for the man who could bring medical care to those most in need of it.

But President Obama had made healthcare reform a major part of his 2008 election campaign and his new administration.  Thus, such an accusation put Romney–for Republicans–into the same category as The Anti-Christ.

“I’m just saying, you’re for individual mandates, my friend,” Perry said to Romney.

Romney had to quash the charge.  The question was: How to do it?

So Romney–whose fortune has been estimated at $250 million–did what comes naturally to the sons of privilege: He used his wealth as a bludgeon.

“You’ve raised that before, Rick, and you’re simply wrong,” said Romney.

Then: “Rick, I’ll tell you what: $10,000 bucks? Ten thousand dollar bet?” Romney asked, extending his hand to shake.

Perry, a Christian evangelical, may have a principled stand on betting.  Or maybe, at the last minute, he decided he was wrong about the book.  So he declined.

“I’m not in the betting business but I will show you the book,” Perry said.

It was the bet heard round the world.

“For someone to go and throw around a $10,000 bet, just goes to show even more that he’s not the same level as the people of Iowa or the country,” said Alice Stewart, a spokeswoman for would-be President Michele Bachmann.

And Bill Burton, an organizer for President Obama’s re-election campaign, wrote on Twitter: “Not a lot of 99%’ers are out there making $10,000 bets.”

Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s press spokesman, tried to laugh the incident off, saying it was not a serious bet.

“I’ve made bets with friends and family for $1m,” Fehrnstrom said. He added that Romney had made the bet because he knew Perry would not take it.

But others were having none of it.

“Romney promises that his butler will ‘personally deliver’ the $10,000 check if he loses,” Jonah Goldberg of the National Review tweeted.

Jonathan Martin, who covers the GOP race for Politico, asked tongue-in-cheek: “Who among us doesn’t wager $10,000 at a time?”

With at least 14 million Americans unemployed, some perspective can be gained from the wealth of those who seek the nation’s highest office:

Mitt Romney: Former Massachussetts governor.  During his 2008 White House bid, he put his personal wealth at between $190 and $250 million, most of it from his time in business.

Jon Huntsman: Former U.S. ambassador to China.  He listed his personal assets this year as between $15 and $66 million, much of it from a chemical company set up by his father.

Newt Gingrich:  Former Speaker of the House of Representatives.  He earned $2.5 million last year from speeches, book and his work as a lobbyist.  As a lobbyist he has earned an estimated $100 million over the past decade.

Ron Paul: Congressman from Texas.  His assets are between $2.29 and $5.3 million, based on his disclosure in the 2008 White House race.

Rick Santorum: Former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.  His personal assets range between $522,000 and $1.8 million.

Michele Bachmann: Congresswoman from MinnesotaShe is worth $1 to $2.5 million, mostly profits from a therapy clinic.  A family farm brings in $5,000 to $15,000.

Rick Perry: Governor of Texas.  He claimed that his wealth, in 2009, was $896,000, held in a blind trust. He has made his money mainly from buying and selling houses.

Barack Obama: In 2009, the President filed disclosure forms stating that his wealth totaled between $2.3 and $7.7 million.  Much of this comes from royalties from his two best-selling books: Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope.

Americans watch movies like “Spartacus” and “Gladiator” where rich, toga-clad Roman senators ruthlessly decide the fates of their poor constituents.  And they think–and even say: “Thank God that couldn’t happen here.”

But those with a greater sense of history–past and present–know the brutal truth: It has happened here.

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