Mitt Romney had an interview this morning in which he said the following:
Romney says, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair , I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich…. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
O’Brien asked him to clarify his remarks saying, “There are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say, ‘That sounds odd.’”
Romney continues, “We will hear from the Democrat party, the plight of the poor…. You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus…. The middle income Americans, they’re the folks that are really struggling right now and they need someone that can help get this economy going for them.”
Needless to say, Romney is being attacked by the left for the words “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” That’s not a fair attack. In context, the “poor” part of the comment was not that he doesn’t have a concern about the poor but that they already have plenty of safety net programs.
From the right, Romney is being attacked for the lack of caution, similar to the $10,000 bet at the debate or the “I like to fire people” segment of a sentence. Jonah Goldberg exclaimed, What is wrong with this guy?
And there are plenty of things one could say to defend Romney on the merits of what he says here. But great politicians on the morning after a big win, don’t force their supporters to go around defending the candidate from the charge that he doesn’t care about the poor. They just don’t.
John McCormack at The Weekly Standard made a different, but more significant criticism, that Romney’s prescription was not conservative:
But Romney’s remark isn’t merely tone-deaf, it’s also un-conservative. The standard conservative argument is that a conservative economic agenda will help everyone. For the poor, that means getting as many as possible back on their feet and working rather than languishing as wards of the welfare state….
Had Mitt Romney picked up his conservatism sooner, perhaps he would know these arguments by heart.
Everyone has missed what was wrong with Romney’s statement.
It’s not that Romney hates the poor (he doesn’t) or that he’s tone deaf (he is), it’s that he was playing class warfare, belittling the rich to score political points. He can get away with it, because he’s rich. But it’s still class warfare.
Romney used similar language about the rich back at a debate in October.
And so if I’m going to use precious dollars to reduce taxes, I want to focus on where the people are hurting the most, and that’s the middle class. I’m not worried about rich people. They are doing just fine. The very poor have a safety net, they’re taken care of. But the people in the middle, the hard-working Americans, are the people who need a break, and that is why I focused my tax cut right there.
Bernie Goldberg noted how similar the formulation was to Obama:
And the other night at the debate, Newt Gingrich asked Romney why his capital gains tax cuts only benefit Americans whose incomes are below $200,000. Romney replied that the “rich can take care of themselves,” and that he’s concerned about “the middle class.” Barack Obama couldn’t have said it any better.
If Newt had played the middle class against “the rich” we’d be hearing howls from the conservative media how he was attacking from the left. But I digress.
After half-a-century of evidence, what sort of “conservative” offers the poor the Even Greater Society? I don’t know how “electable” Mitt is, but, even if he is, the greater danger, given the emptiness of his campaign to date, is that he’ll be elected with no real mandate for the course correction the Brokest Nation in History urgently needs. In last Monday’s debate, Newt said he wasn’t interested in going to Washington to “manage the decline”. Mitt’s just told us that he’s happy to “manage the decline” for the poor – but who knows who else?
One day we will look back ….