New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Bruni (among others) has written about Mitt Romney’s “rich predicament” in recent weeks. Romney’s wealth – or rather his lack of comprehension of wealth disparity – is as much a millstone around his neck as Santorum’s obsession with anal sex. They are issues the candidates themselves repeatedly address so they are things that are going to stay in the news. Romney will not become suddenly poor, after all, or stop saying stupid things about his wealth.
I’ll entirely leave aside the whole dishonesty issue – that is fast becoming a War and Peace sized tome. Romney doesn’t seem to understand that he is wealthy. His wife doesn’t consider herself wealthy and apparently driving around a couple of Cadillacs or making $10K bets or having friends who own NASCAR teams are things Romney thinks we can all somehow relate to. His idea of proper rain attire was also a glaring sign of how out of touch he is, telling those poncho-clad NASCAR fans who don’t own racing teams at the Daytona 500: “I like those fancy raincoats you bought. Really sprung for the big bucks.”
Romney doesn’t understand that most of the folks he is talking to on the campaign circuit don’t have those big bucks.
In Mississippi, Romney told voters, “I’m learning to say y’all and I like grits.”
He added, meaning who knows what: “Strange things are happening to me.”
Strange things apparently not including enlightenment or self-awareness. He is very good, however, at unenlightened self-interest. After all, to Mitt Romney, the $373,000 he earned in speaking fees over two years is “not very much.”
Expanding his gastronomical and regional vocabularies does not make Mitt Romney a man of the people. No Mark Twain is he, nor shall he ever be. He is a fat-cat millionaire (his net worth has been put at about $250 million by the Washington Post) with no grasp at all of what the average American faces economically on a daily basis. He has so much money he doesn’t apparently have to think about it. His wife told FOX News, “We can be poor in spirit, and I don’t even consider myself wealthy.”
I mean, look, this is a guy who thinks making $19K a year makes you middle class. What $19K a year makes you is starving and possibly homeless. Nineteen thousand per year is below the poverty line for a family of three. That 19K is little more than pocket change to Mitt Romney. What that 19K means for a family of three is something he can’t grasp; probably wouldn’t even try to.
It is difficult to believe Mitt Romney is as clueless as he appears and as people say, but it is difficult to find another reason why he keeps saying such absurd things. The Washington Post offers us this insight:
Asked by reporters last week if such comments had hurt his campaign, he answered, “Yes.”
But where is the evidence of this realization? This is a man who would be far more comfortable as an 18th century French aristocrat than as a president of a nation where “all men are created equal,” an equality Romney does not understand, and apparently will never understand. Romney thinks that students who lack money should just set their sites lower rather than trying to get into better schools, or join the army and earn their education by getting shot at and maimed in wars he and his fellow Republicans promise to start. There will be no end of those after all, and education for all the survivors until funding is cut and re-directed to the pockets of the rich.
That’s a bright future to hold out for and far from the message of hope espoused by President Obama in 2008 and again in 2012. Rather than making things better, let’s just accept the crappy deal he’s going to give us and take some visceral joy in watching his own pocket book bulge. I mean, what’s wrong with us? Why can’t we be happy that his friends own NASCAR teams and his wife drives a couple of Caddies or that he can makes whimsical bets that equal in sum the poverty level of single Americans?
And this is the guy who says President Obama is clueless about the economy – apparently because he doesn’t get that a strong economy means increasing the disparity between the rich and the poor. In other words, that rich white folks like Romney matter and icky brown people don’t – and the poor, after all, have a safety net Romney has announced his intention to sever and as he admitted, he doesn’t worry about them anyway. He thinks only 5-10 percent of Americans are struggling despite census data that points to 33 to 50 percent of Americans as struggling – one out of two.
For me, the problem is less that Mitt Romney is rich but that he doesn’t seem to understand just how different his existence is from that of the average American – the raincoat incident being a case in point. He doesn’t get it. I want a president who does.
There is no room in our political system for candidates who live in a bubble the size of the Palace of Versailles and who worse, think not like an American but by an eighteenth century French aristocrat. There is a reason they lost their heads. When Monty Python characters suggest driving the poor into the streets to machine gun them, such sentiments are supposed to remain jokes. But Romney’s solution is not far off, if a little more time-consuming. No one among the working classes in France would have voted for a French aristocrat in the eighteenth century, and nobody in America should vote for Romney in the twenty-first.