By Luke Brinker
Pundits portrayed Mitt Romney’s “fire people gaffe” as an egregious act of political malpractice, unbecoming of a presidential candidate during a time when so many Americans are out of work. But as I’ve written before, there are more substantive reasons to consider Romney emblematic of the one percent. Still, when two-thirds of Americans see “strong conflicts” between rich and poor, even the slightest hint of tone-deafness could damage Romney as much as, say, his regressive tax policy.
Yesterday brought another remark that raises serious questions about Romney’s skills as an effective political communicator. In an interview on NBC’s Today program, Romney insinuated that critics of his Bain Capital record – and of financial industry practices in general – are motivated by petty “envy,” and that discussions about income inequality should occur behind closed doors. Via Greg Sargent, here’s the transcript:
QUESTIONER: When you said that we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy, I’m curious about the word envy.Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, isenvious? Is it about jealousy, or fairness?
ROMNEY: You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare.When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. The American people, I believe in the final analysis, will reject it.
QUESTIONER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?
ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like.But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.
From a substantive standpoint, Romney’s statement that “it’s fine to talk about [income inequality] in quiet rooms” is especially troubling. Absent a public discussion about the increasing share of wealth accruing to the top one percent and the difficulty of escaping poverty, it’s unclear how any progress can be made toward solving those issues. Politicians respond to the political preferences of those who are most politically active (giving campaign contributions and the like), and those individuals are overwhelmingly the wealthiest Americans. If left to policymakers in “quiet rooms,” these issues would most likely not even be addressed.
No less damning is Romney’s dismissal of concerns about his Bain tenure as nothing but “envy.” This son of an auto executive, governor, and cabinet secretary resembles more and more the overindulged rich kid who shows you all his toys and says, “Bet you wish you had all this.”