Romney, the Rich and the Rest
Charles M. Blow
New York Times
Feb 4, 2012
No one should be surprised that the Tin Man has a tin ear.
After all, Mitt Romney is the same multimillionaire who joked that he was “unemployed” while he was “earning” more in one day than most Americans earn in a year and paying a lower rate on those earnings than most Americans do.
This is the same man who bragged last month that he liked to fire people at a time when nearly 13 million people are out of work and who accepted the endorsement this week of Donald Trump, who has made “You’re Fired!” his television catchphrase.
This is the same man who in November claimed that federal employees are making “a lot more money than we are.” What?! We? What we? Please direct me to the federal employees with the $20 million paychecks. In fact, The Washington Post pointed out in November that federal employees on average “are underpaid by 26.3 percent when compared with similar nonfederal jobs, a ‘pay gap’ that increased by about 2 percentage points over the last year while federal salary rates were frozen.”
And who could forget his remark that “corporations are people.” Classic.
But this week when Romney said that he wasn’t concerned about the very poor in this country, he jumped in the pickle barrel and went over the waterfall.
First, his statement:
“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America — the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
Romney went on to say that his campaign was focused on “middle-income Americans” and that “we have a very ample safety net” for the poor.
He later tried to clarify, saying that his comments needed context. Then he said that the comments were a “misstatement” and that he had “misspoke.” Yeah, right.
Where to begin?
First, a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities last month pointed out that Romney’s budget proposals would take a chainsaw to that safety net. The report points out that cuts proposed by Romney would be even more draconian than a plan from Representative Paul Ryan: “Governor Romney’s budget proposals would require far deeper cuts in nondefense programs than the House-passed budget resolution authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan: $94 billion to $219 billion deeper in 2016 and $303 billion to $819 billion deeper in 2021.”
What does this mean for specific programs? Let’s take the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, since “food stamps” have been such a talking point in the Republican debates. The report says the Romney plan “would throw 10 million low-income people off the benefit rolls, cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or some combination of the two. These cuts would primarily affect very-low-income families with children, seniors and people with disabilities.”
Does that sound like a man trying to “fix” our social safety nets? Absolutely not. Romney is so far up the beanstalk that he can no longer see the ground.
Then let’s take the fact that a report last month by the Tax Policy Center found that his tax plan would increase after-tax income for millionaires by 14.5 percent while increasing the after-tax income of those making less than $20,000 by less than 1 percent and of those making between $30,000 and $40,000 by less than 3 percent.
For a man who’s not worried about the rich, he sure seems to want them to rake in more cash.
This has nothing to do with context. This has everything to do with a caviar candidate’s inability to relate to a chicken-soup citizenry.
Then there is the “ample safety net” nonsense. No one who has ever been on the low end of the income spectrum believes this, not even Republicans. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in October, even most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who make less than $30,000 a year, which accounts for about a quarter of all Republicans, say that the government doesn’t do enough to help the poor. Only a man who has never felt the sting of poverty or seen its ravages would say such a thing.
But perhaps the most pernicious part of his statement was the underestimating of the rich and poor and the elasticized expansion of the term “middle income” or middle class. Romney suggests that 95 percent of Americans are in this group. Not true.
According to the Census Bureau, the official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent.
And that’s the income poor. It doesn’t even count the “asset poor.” A report issued this week by the Corporation for Enterprise Development found that 27 percent of U.S. households live in “asset poverty.” According to the report, “These families do not have the savings or other assets to cover basic expenses (equivalent to what could be purchased with a poverty level income) for three months if a layoff or other emergency leads to loss of income.”
On the other hand, the definition of “rich” is more nebulous. However, according to a December Gallup report, Americans set the rich threshold at $150,000 in annual income. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau 8.4 percent of households had an income of $150,000 or more in 2010.
So at the very least, nearly a fourth of all Americans are either poor or rich.
That would leave about three-fourths somewhere in the middle, but not all middle class. Tricking the poor to believe they’re in it, and allowing the wealthy to hide in it, is one of the great modern political deceptions and how we’ve arrived at our current predicament.
According to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last month, nearly a fifth of families making less than $15,000 said that they were middle class and nearly two-fifths of those making more than $100,000 said that they were middle class.
Romney is not only cold and clumsy, he’s disastrously out of touch, and when talking about real people, out of sorts. If only he had a heart, and if only that heart was connected to his brain.