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Romney played class warfare “poorly”

Romney played class warfare “poorly”

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.

Update:  Mark Steyn (h/t Ragspierre in the comments):

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 ….


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Romney’s is a benevolent patrician’s view of society: The poor are incorrigible, but let’s add a couple more groats to their food stamps and housing vouchers, and they’ll stay quiet. Aside from the fact that that kind of thinking has led the western world to near terminal insolvency, for a candidate whose platitudinous balderdash of a stump speech purports to believe in the most Americanly American America that any American has ever Americanized over, it’s as dismal a vision of permanent trans-generational poverty as any Marxist community organizer with a cozy sinecure on the Acorn board would come up with.

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?
–Mark Steyn

As the marketing mavin Mittens is reputed to be, it is BEYOND a club-footed thing to say.

Hence, I think it reveals a real truth about Mittens.

    At the link within the link (to PunditAndPundette), this summary:

    “Mr. Electable hones his message: I’m not concerned about the very poor.”

    So how’s that Pig in a Poke workin’ out for ya’, Ann?

    “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.”

    Professor, I respectfully disagree with this assessment. To consign the poor to a life of dependency on “safety programs” – programs which Mitt Romney wants to change – is to NOT care about the poor. To care for the poor is to provide them with the means to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to rise out of poverty.

    Also, the Romney comment shows a lack of sensitivity and a lack of awareness of the real economic conditions that have resulted in many lower middle-class families falling behind as they lose their jobs and cannot find jobs that pay as well or cannot find replacement jobs at all.

    My Church has expanded its services tremendously to help meet the unmet needs of once middle-class families as they struggle economically in this difficult economic climate. Many of these families have lost their main source of income as they have lost jobs and been unable to find a replacement job or found a job that pays substantially less than the old job. These families are the working poor or the poor who have slid into their economic status due to the current adverse economic climate. To consign these families to a permanent status of dependency is perhaps the cruelest political pronouncement I’ve ever heard.

Obama and Axlerod are laughing so hard, they have stuff comin’ out their noses..

    Neo in reply to El Cid. | February 1, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    I love how this is dismissed as less than a “gaffe.”

    This will come back over and …

      Not to mention that the interviewer gave Romney another shot at it in case he didn’t get the bad political vibes of of his statement. But, he just doubled down.

Zelsdorf Ragshaft III | February 1, 2012 at 2:17 pm

What do we expect from a man who was a liberal up until the time he became a conservative? The only way he knows how to govern if from the left. His record speaks for itself. Romney cannot run on his record and he is going to have a hell of a time running on Obama’s as the two look a bit alike. Looks like we will have 4 more years of Obama.

    What do we expect from a man who was a liberal up until the time he became a conservative?

    Wait, he became a Conservative? When did this happen?

    That’s news to me…

I wrote about Mitt’s class warfare over a week ago here:

The reality is that Mitt didn’t make the conservative argument because he’s a progressive. I wrote about that here:

It’s time that we started calling Mitt what he is: a progressive. That’s why he consistently doesn’t make conservative arguments.

I had a deeper problem that is similar, but was perfectly articulated by Steyn:

The guy can’t fight as a conservative, because he is not. And his comments betray it.

Did somebody somewhere think Romney is conservative? Is there some kind of help for those people?

Oh please. It’s not “class warfare” to “not worry” about the rich since they are “doing fine.” It is indisputable that rich people like Romney are doing fine and don’t particularly need further tax decreases. The big battle of the coming year is to prevent Democrats from raising taxes on the rich, on the not so rich, and if you give them a chance by not turning them out of office in 2012, on just about everyone who works hard to earn an above-median income.

It is class warfare to vilify the rich and attempt to incite the poor and/or the middle class against rich people and supposedly rapacious corporations. It is ludicrous to equate that to a policy of giving priority to tax cuts for people under $200k incomes.

    Darkstar58 in reply to JEBurke. | February 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    If not class warfare, why the need to separate people into classes?

    A Conservative should be talking about getting “everyone” back to work, or feeling confident enough to hire if they have that capability. A Conservative should be concerned with “Americans” not “the rich, the poor and the 90-95%” (as Mitt specifically outlines it)

It’s a pretty bad unforced error. Jonah Goldberg observes, “Problem is Romney speaks conservatism as a second language.” Mark Steyn’s commentary (posted above by Ragspierre) is even more problematic.

This is something the Romney campaign had better resolve, and quickly. Some think it’s too late (“if Romney hasn’t learned by now …”), but he showed he can make adjustments already, with the difference in his debate performances from SC to FL. It’s a lot harder to do on the stump, but we’ll see.

And people are worried about Newt supposedly having his foot in his mouth all the time.

Romney is displaying his lead ear and tongue when he makes statements like ‘I’m not worried about the very poor!’ How can a man who makes statements like that be seriously considered as the Republican Presidential nominee?

This guy’s campaign will continue to degenerate into a combination of saturation bombing and candidate sequestration. He’s on his way to becoming Nixon on steroids. He’s completely hapless.

Jennifer Rubin is on it. I think she just posted that Romney has a black friend. Just kidding. I think.

When I read it this morning…Romney’s comments..of course I get what he was attempting to say. At the same time..I thought out of the 171,476 words in the English language… which 20 sound simply so wrong coming out of a politician’s mouth….strung together as they were.
Welcome to front runner scrutiny Mr Romney.
Newt sure was there.

holmes tuttle | February 1, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Of course when Newt was Speaker and ran Congress and spending prgrams and pretty much set the economic agenda more Americans moved out of poverty than during any other period in US history.

When it actually comes to helping the poor and showing concern and enacting policies that help everyone and help people get jobs Newt Gingrich has the most effective record of anyone in the field. Along with Clinton he was in control during one of the best (if not the best) economic periods in history. Based on results, few political figures have done more for the poor and for low income Americans than Newt Gingrich.

Even Joe Klein of TIME admitted this in a recent article. That Newt has always cared about the poor and has always done things to help them. Even going back to a program he ran back in the late 80s/early 90s where he paid kids in his district $2 for every book they read.

Would be a nice contrast for him to make. Contrast what Romney said here with what he said in the SC debate about finding a job, holding a job, and then owning the job. Would be 2 good clips to show back to back.

A statement like this is another reason why Newt and Santorum for that matter should stay in and why this is nowhere near over. There’s plenty of time between now and when Romney will get 1144 delegates. Plenty of time for more gaffes, for more statements, for more scandals. Why get out when no one knows what will happen. May as well stay in and if things change or there are new developments you’re in good position to take advantage.

This isn’t the 1st time that Mr. “Corporations are people too!” has made gaffes like this. It’s just amazing to me that he doesn’t get flayed like the others do when it happens.

    Darkstar58 in reply to Dynamism. | February 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    Because Democrats desperately want to run against him, and Republicans have talked themselves into believing he is destiny (or, “not going to be one to bring down our status qua” if you are in the establishment)

holmes tuttle | February 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Here’s the TIME article by Joe Klein last week,9171,2104827-2,00.html

an excerpt:

Gingrich is on much firmer ground in his approach to poverty. His central principle is reciprocal responsibility, a principle that was enshrined during the Clinton presidency–every government handout should come with strings attached. Hence, Gingrich’s excellent idea of linking long-term unemployment insurance to participation in a job training program (or, I would add, a community college-based skills upgrade).

Read more:

No mention on Drudge Report, so I guess it didn’t really happen.

This is reminiscent of having to defend the tongue-tied Bush only to end up being stabbed in the back by his rino-ness; I am not doing that anymore.

First, he enjoyed firing people and likes to make $10k bets, although he’s quite handy at doing his own laundry! Next, he’s not very concerned about the poor. He is a sad parody of insensitivity. He’s pounding Gingrich now, but laying the defeat for the general election if he cannot control his involuntary cold-blooded candor.

And whether Romney realizes it or not – poor people would like to work and earn a decent wage to get out of poverty.

    raven in reply to GoldenAh. | February 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Great point. There’s something so anachronistically accepting even appeasing of liberal narratives about Romney. He belongs to another era, one in which RINOs are essentially frozen. The ironies are profound: Gingrich, labeled the old “Washington insider”, is so far beyond Romney in challenging failed liberal models, mindsets and narratives. Romney can’t even grok the media’s role and culpability in the narrative for God’s sake. It’s breathtakingly sad for Republicans.

    Midwest Rhino in reply to GoldenAh. | February 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    and don’t forget Seamus, he’s just fine strapped up there.

    With “poor people” increasing in number, (judging by food stamp numbers) should Mitt consider that people don’t like being poor, even if they have health care?

    Mitt may like firing people, but does he realize yet that he can’t fire citizens? If he wants to be America’s CEO, won’t he need to consider why a growing division of his company is on food stamps and not paying income tax?

    It seems to me this was another example of the real Romney being revealed.

If you’re concerned about the very poor it is because you’re anti-capitalism. Haven’t you people learned anything?

StrangernFiction | February 1, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Get this man a teleprompter, STAT!

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When Gov. Romney thinks about the poor, he thinks about safety nets. He is so proud of Romneycare because it helped “fix” one of the safety nets in Massachusetts.

When Speaker Gingrich thinks about the very poor, he thinks about getting them a job in their schools, and later a job in the regular job market, and later “owning” the job.

Romney’s unstated assumption is that a good (or at least a reasonable) life for the poor is summed up in safety nets. It begs the question of whether the poor are substantially different from the middle class. Because, of course, if the middle class get poor enough they too will have the safety nets. So, not to worry?

    Darkstar58 in reply to T D. | February 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    “When Speaker Gingrich thinks about the very poor, he thinks about getting them a job in their schools, and later a job in the regular job market, and later “owning” the job.”

    Yeah, but didn’t Romney tell us that Newt saying that means he wants to abolish child labor laws?

    If we all really think back, there have been countless Democrat moments for Romney on this campaign trail – and the media on both sides are just ignoring it completely. So sad; the people are being played like a fiddle in their quest to pass the most Liberal Governor of the last 50 years off as a Conservative.

      My point was the contrast. Gov. Romney thinks a safety net is what the poor need most. Speaker Gingrich thinks a job that they can grown in and prosper from is what they need most. I’m with Speaker Gingrich.

        Darkstar58 in reply to T D. | February 2, 2012 at 12:55 am

        oh, I wasn’t disagreeing with you – I was merely using it as a springboard to support the argument that he has more shockingly Democrat statements then you can shake a stick at.

        I had forgotten about the whole child labor law thing until your post, so…

Nixon In China | February 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm

5:10 and still no mention at the Drudge Report! … Remember when Drudge used to like to be the guy breaking the news?

Nixon In China | February 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm

What a wonderful “Thank You” gift for Romney to give all of his Florida supporters!

I’m not really a Romney fan, but if I had to take odds on the election I would bet on him being the nominee. His statement is not class warfare as practiced by the (D)ems, its just common sense.

My interpretation: “The very rich can hire people to take care of any government intrusion into their lives. Tax preparers, accountants, secretaries and lawyers do not come cheap, but the rich can handle that. The very poor also have little or no issue with the government coming into their lives because most of their governmental contact is receiving stuff, like food stamps, rent assistance, welfare, EITC, Legal Aid, and such. The real focus should be in between, where people are accumulating wealth and independence, and the government is standing in the way. When you have scrimped and saved your entire lives to build a house, and the EPA comes breezing in and tells you to rip the whole thing out and plant bushes, when the government wants your house to build a shopping mall, when you can not farm because it might raise some dust, when your job at the local power plant is at risk while the government is giving away billions of dollars to bankrupt solar companies. These are exactly the people the Democratic party has been ignoring while courting crony capitalism and environmental extremists.”

Nixon In China | February 1, 2012 at 6:02 pm

News update: At 5:50 the story finally made Drudge … Off to the side with the headline “Romney: Not focused on poor, they have safety net”

Another observation I agree with after all the attention to the Romney word choices this morning

I agree. I read alot of blogs/news and for the most part..Ive been surprised by the response from the right.
This guy makes a good point.

Also I see a poll up at NRO thats surprising…given their suppost of Romney and their readership generally. Esentially…11,000 voters at a Republican site vote 55 Romney and 45% someone else. At a republican sort of site? Doesnt hit me as overwhelming support.

Because I’m a Liberal, I wouldn’t mind if Romney were a Liberal, or at least an approximation of a good Democrat. After all, both Liberal and Conservative philosophy should recognize that a job is so much better than a safety net.