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Romneynomics: When Did Standing Up for the Middle Class Become a Bad Thing?

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On Wednesday morning, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney sat down for one of his first in depth interviews after winning Florida’s Republican presidential primary just a few hours before. In it, he told CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien the following:

“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 the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling…there’s no question it’s not good being poor…My focus is on middle-income Americans….we have a very ample safety net, and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. But we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor.”

Many, including former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s groupies in the right-wing commentariat’s keyboard commando battalion, have criticized Romney viciously for his remarks. Gingrich himself said later in the day that Romney failed to capture the spirit of the Founding Fathers, who essentially created America with the poverty-stricken in mind. Considering that the Founding Fathers were men holding immense capital in either the financial or social senses, I have no clue as to how Gingrich came to this conclusion. Outbursts like this are why I long ago decided that trying to make sense of his diatribes is akin to herding a pack of roaming cats; it simply cannot be done.

In any case, after having looked at Romney’s statements on a reasonable basis, it becomes difficult to disagree with him. In order to reinvigorate this country’s perpetually tanking economy, the middle class must come first. As it is this subset of the population which represents gross macro-level productivity and the upward mobility derived from that, why on earth should the federal government focus its attention elsewhere? Presently, the extreme upper class barely pays any income taxes thanks to scheming attorneys, strategically placed loopholes, and offshore banking. The extreme lower class, meanwhile, rarely makes any contributions to Uncle Sam because of convenient tax credits and many of its members making money through less than legal means. In the end, who pays for these very wealthy and very poor freeloaders? The middle class.

Only an ideologue or a dreamer could make an argument for eliminating the social safety net of which Romney speaks. Indeed, it is absolutely necessary as those who have turned temporary public assistance into a permanent career choice tend to be prone to rioting and violence. If anyone honestly believes that demonstrations from Miami to Seattle the likes of which have never been seen will not form should welfare benefits be scaled back drastically, then he or she needs to stop gazing at the stars and take a look at the facts on the ground. If any beneficial change is to come the way of America’s lower class, most of whose members are victims of generational poverty, then it will have to be brought about incrementally. This reality, ironically, is lost on a great number of Gingrich’s hardcore supporters who want severe cuts to everything at this precise moment regardless of the consequences. Even stranger is that, as a plethora of election results, polling data, and reporters’ observations have shown, many of them are not too far removed from poverty themselves.

After the rhetoric of Romney’s pathological enemies has been brushed aside, it should become blatantly apparent that what he was saying to O’Brien is absolutely correct as far as returning prosperity to the United States is concerned. While his words have been and will be taken out of context by those on the left and far-right alike, the former governor’s overreaching message is a sound one. Hopefully, he and his campaign staff will be able to clarify it and hone in on a message of bringing relief to that broad swath of America most in need. If his ad machine in Nevada is nearly as good as it was in Florida, then this is all but assured.

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Clavos

    You can dress up Romney’s gaffe with all the lipstick in the world, Joseph, but it will still be a pig, and Romney showed incredible insensitivity and real stupidity in uttering it.

    If, as seems likely now, Romney is the GOP standard bearer, Obama will likely win in November.

    The Republican party has truly lost its way.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Does Romney believe that 90-95 percent of Americans are in the middle class (“heart of America”)?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Joseph –

    You and I can argue whether Romney’s plans would “all but assure” America’s return to prosperity…but that’s not really the problem.

    Clavos touched on it by pointing out the insensitivity and stupidity of what he said, and that’s just the latest of his gaffes. There was “[my speaking fees of] $374,000 isn’t that much”, “I’m unemployed”, “I like being able to fire people”, “I was worried about getting a pink slip”, “I lived in the real streets of America”…

    …to be sure, each of these are taken (mostly) out of context, but context is not what matters. If you look at the better presidents, you’ll find very few such gaffes – whether or not they were taken out of context – and I believe the reason why is that they were being very careful about what they said because they knew that what they said and how they said it could be interpreted by this or that segment of the American population as “You’re not important, and I really don’t care about you.”

    Think about it – if you’re poor, do you want a president who says he likes being able to fire people, who thinks that $374K “isn’t that much”? Or would you rather have a president who says, “I feel your pain”, whose life story shows that he knows what it’s like to not have a whole lot of money?

    You see, Joseph, it’s a leadership thing…and any leader who repeatedly says things which alienate the less-fortunate of the people that he’s leading, well, he’s not much of a leader. In military terms, that would be like a commanding officer who repeatedly shows he cares about the non-commissioned officers, but not at all about the junior enlisted…and any CO who is so insensitive and stupid – as Clavos described Romney’s actions – is going to have a real problem with discipline on his hands.

    A president’s economic policies are extremely important, yes – but his ability to lead the whole nation without ignoring the least fortunate (or at least making the poor believe he cares about them) is every bit as important. Take Reagan, for instance. He led the nation, including the poor. He didn’t do much for the poor (a case for the opposite could be made), but he was able to make them believe that he really cared about them – and that’s one reason Reagan was an effective leader. That’s why America (including myself) loved him. Romney’s not an effective leader, and that brings with it a host of problems. You can’t quantify what those problems will be, but just as with the insensitive commanding officer I described above, the problems will come, and it will be his fault. Romney’s not an effective leader.

    It really is a leadership thing.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    Is this really the depth to which American politics has sunk? Say something that can conceivably be taken a different way than you meant it and you’re instantly a horrible person?

    I’ve read and re-read what Romney said and frankly I can’t find anything objectionable in it whatsoever. It’s standard, middle-of-the-road stuff, exactly what I’ve come to expect from him.

    And actually, the message isn’t that far removed from what the Occupy movement has been hollering about, which to me shows that Mitt has been Listening.

    I don’t know about you all, but I personally want a leader who gives a fuck about what the other side of the aisle thinks.

    And while having personal experience of empty wallet syndrome is no bad thing, most of America’s greatest presidents were born with silver spoons in their mouths – including Glenn’s beloved FDR and JFK, both of whom championed the poor despite never having had to experience poverty themselves.

    Even though Republicans seem to be mostly holding their noses while they vote for him, I think a Romney nomination is (or has the potential to be) the best thing that could happen to the party at this point. The problem then is that he HAS to beat Obama, and I just don’t think he will. If he loses, the message GOPers will take away is that moderate candidates just don’t cut the mustard, and next time around they’ll nominate some maniac who makes Rick Santorum look like Jimmy Carter.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doc –

    Like I said, it has less to do with the actual context of what he said than it does with his ability to lead.

  • Igor

    Hey, Jordan, Romney THINKS that he’s middleclass! He’s said so in his speeches, when he refers to “…middleclass people like us…”.

    He’s so middleclass that $380,000 speaking fees are a throwaway.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    Like I said, it has less to do with the actual context of what he said than it does with his ability to lead.

    Glenn, you’re probably going to get jumped on by BC’s right-wingers in a minute for that remark, so let me just pre-empt them.

    If memory serves, you had already arrived at Blogcritics in 2008. I don’t recall any similar concern from you then about the current White House tenant’s leadership qualifications: which, let’s face it, were at that time of significantly lesser scope than Romney’s. In fact, I recall a number of vigorous debates right here in the Politics section on that very topic.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doc –

    Romney’s made how many such insensitive remarks in how short a time? Whereas I recall few – if any – such remarks to date by the current resident of the White House.

    Doc, I don’t think I said anything about ‘qualifications’, did I? I didn’t even launch into the merits (or lack thereof) about Romney’s economic plans (though I certainly could have). All I was doing, really, was going deeper into what Clavos had already posted, that what Romney had said was insensitive and stupid, and how it can affect the group – in this case the nation – as a whole.

    Go back to what I said about how a leader must be careful about what he says, for he’s leading the entire group, and not just the ones he wants to lead.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    …And lest everyone think that I’ve suddenly become a Romneybot, let me make my current position clear. (My position may change over the next few months depending on who makes a bigger idiot of themselves as the campaign unfolds.)

    Unless Mitt does or says something incredibly stupid between now and the convention, November is going to be Obama vs. Romney. I’m delighted about that. While I would prefer it if Obama won a second term, I’ll also be fine with a Romney victory. I like the guy, he’s a decent sort and he’d make a good president, even if he does somewhat lack the popular touch.

    This promises to be the first presidential election in a long time I feel comfortable about no matter who wins.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    Whereas I recall few – if any – such remarks to date by the current resident of the White House.

    While it isn’t exactly the most impartial of sources, Glenn, Newsbusters has a handy list of them.

    I agree that most of them are either (a) deliberately misinterpreted, (b) misspeaks rather than genuine gaffes, (c) not gaffes at all but just things the writer doesn’t like, (d) mindblowingly petty or (e) all four, but really, I can’t see how Romney’s attacks of verbal diarrhea are any less blown out of all proportion.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Dreadful, though it’s difficult to tear Rommney’s “statement” apart, I tend to side with Clavos’s judgment. As far as I’m concerned, the guy lacks substance. His constant switching of positions depending on circumstances, be it on immigration, the pro-life issue or healthcare, is more than telling. Of course, he’s a politician, but that’s no proof of substance.

    I’m not saying that Obama’s different. It’s unpopular in today’s climate to be championing the cause of the poor, so Rommney is no exception; and to his credit, perhaps, he’d gone on record saying what everyone else practices. But in touch with regular folks like you and me he definitely is not.

  • Igor

    Romney has a bad reputation for dissembling and even flagrant flip-flopping as the whim drives him. The net result is that many people don’t trust him.

    There’s a lot of talk about this Romney statement:

    “I’m not concerned with 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 the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

    But then, what does he want to do?

    He wants to cut the safety net, muck around with the federal workforce, and then cut the safety net some more.

    Romney thinks we spend too much on that safety net, which is being cut on every side, at every level, federal state and municipal.

    Romney states that he “will immediately move to cut spending and cap it at 20 percent of GDP” while increasing defense spending. Which is to say he wants to cut social safety net spending. What’s more “as spending comes under control, he will pursue further cuts that would allow caps to be set even lower so as to guarantee future fiscal stability,” thus cutting social safety net spending even further.

    And those cuts will be necessitated by his loony plan to increase war spending.

    It’s a logical contradiction for Romney to be running on an agenda of sharp cuts to the social safety net while citing the safety net’s existence as a key reason to be indifferent to the plight of the poor. It’s quite true that we have a tattered safety net for poor people right now, but we won’t have one for long if Romney’s budget ideas are implemented.

    And whether he knows it or not, and clearly he doesn’t, the vast majority of the struggling middle class he purports to care so much about also depend on the government at some point in their lives and nearly all of them depend on it in retirement. Even middle class people who have a nest egg count on Social Security as a large part of their retirement and they all will use Medicare. And he wants to cut all that too!

    And another thing, the working poor DO pay taxes! The fact that some NRO columnist drew unwarranted conclusions from some trick manipulations in the tax tables doesn’t ‘prove’ that the poor pay no taxes. I know several poor people, and they ALL pay taxes, at reasonable rates, and those taxes are a burden to them (probably way out of proportion to the measly taxes that Romney paid on his unearned income from clipping coupons).

  • Clavos

    Some of Obama’s gaffes:

    “I don’t know what the term is in Austrian” for “wheeling and dealing.”

    “No, no. I have been practicing. … I bowled a 129. It’s like, it was like Special Olympics, or something.”

    About small town jobless Pennsylvanians:

    “And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations”

    Speaking to French President Sarkozy in France:

    “I want to make mention that this is our first meeting since the arrival of the newest Sarkozy, and so I want to congratulate Nicolas and Carla on the birth of Giulia,” Mr. Obama told reporters shortly after his arrival at the G-20, with Mr. Sarkozy at his side. “And I informed Nicolas on the way in that I am confident that Giulia inherited her mother’s looks rather than her father’s, which I think is an excellent thing.”

    And, of course, there was the famous gift of a box full of DVDs to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

    After Brown presented Obama with a pen holder crafted from the timbers of the 19th century British warship HMS President (whose sister ship, HMS Resolute, provided the wood for the Oval Office’s desk), Obama offered up … 25 DVDs of American movie classics.

    There are plenty of others…

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    The man’s got gravity, especially when in the campaign mode.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    @9 (Dreadful)

    “This promises to be the first presidential election in a long time I feel comfortable about no matter who wins.”

    Same here, since they’re of the same cloth. One is merely aspiring (from rags to riches story), the other’s already there.

  • Clavos

    Here’s Huffington Post’s report on who pays how much of total income tax collections. The report covers Tax Year 2011.

    Some highlights:

    “Nearly half of American tax filers will pay no federal income taxes this year, according to data released by the Tax Policy Center.

    Some 76 million tax filers, or 46.4 percent of the total, will be exempt from federal income tax in 2011″

    “More than half the filers exempt from federal income tax in 2011 are in the lowest income quintile, meaning they make less than 80 percent of the country. As Bruce Bartlett at The New York Times notes , those in the bottom quintile have incomes of less than $16,812.”

    “There are 40.7 million nonpayers in this group — about 93.3 percent of the quintile, and 53.6 percent of all nonpayers overall.

    Nonpayers are well represented in the second-lowest quintile, as well: That group includes 22.2 million filers who won’t pay federal income taxes this year. This is 60.3 percent of the quintile and 29.2 percent of the total number of nonpayers.”

    “In most cases, tax filers who don’t pay federal income tax are still on the hook for other taxes. They can still be responsible for payroll taxes, withheld from their paychecks, and for excise taxes on gasoline, tobacco, alcohol, and other goods. And they may have to pay income tax at the state or local level.”

    And here’s an interesting tidbit (from the NYT) I’ll bet most of you Republican-haters didn’t know (emphasis mine):

    “At the NYT, Bruce Bartlett points out that between 2000 and 2008, during the presidency of George W. Bush, [!!!] the percentage of filers who paid no federal income tax rose from 25.2 percent to 36.3 percent. During this time, Bartlett says, Republicans added a significant child credit to the tax code, resulting in a rise in nonpayers.

    Just sayin’

  • zingzing

    what’s wrong with the sarkozy one? or is it only a gaffe because sarkozy is just that vain? i mean, carla bruni is a fine looking woman… i hope sarkozy’s daughter doesn’t end up with his fivehead.

    the special olympics one was pretty terrible (and terribly funny, although so very wrong, which is what makes it so funny), same with the dvd one.

    and the bitter, clingy one is still spot on… just telling it like it is. straight-shooter. like rick perry, who hates gay people. other than that one, i’m not sure any of these display anything political. they’re just dumb things to say. which we all do.

  • zingzing

    “Nearly half of American tax filers will pay no federal income taxes this year, according to data released by the Tax Policy Center.”

    i wonder how that’s true. do they mean that they will not pay any ADDITIONAL taxes beyond what they’ve already paid? nearly every employed person in the us has taxes withheld from their paychecks. will all of that be refunded? i doubt it… so what exactly do they mean?

  • Clavos

    The Sarkozy one enraged Sarkozy’s constituents, which I have to admit, given the general assholeness of the Frogs, is prolly a good thing; they need cutting down from time to time.

    And spot on or not, it was rude and stupid on his part; he needs to keep people happy so they’ll vote for him.

    And let me ask you, zing: what’s so “terrible” about making fun of crips and retards?

  • Clavos

    i wonder how that’s true. do they mean that they will not pay any ADDITIONAL taxes beyond what they’ve already paid? nearly every employed person in the us has taxes withheld from their paychecks. will all of that be refunded? i doubt it… so what exactly do they mean?

    Here’s a novel thought: for the answer, read the article…

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I’d be more interested in your analysis of the article — unless you think that facts speak for themselves.

  • Zingzing

    don’t be an ass, clavos. the article doesn’t really explain it either. I have paid federal income taxes every year I’ve had income, including while I was in school and earned a whopping $7k one year. So… I’ve missed out on the fun. I can’t believe I’ve been making enough money not to qualify, if half the people in this country can do so. Is the money withheld from your check not income tax (excluding ss, of course)?

  • Zingzing

    in the clingy comment, he took a shot at the type of voter who’s never going to vote for him, so who gives a shit?

    and it’s plenty terrible to make fun of “crips and retards.” doesn’t mean it’s not funny sometimes. still, he shouldn’t have.

  • Clavos

    the article doesn’t really explain it either

    Yes it does. It points out that amongother things, those who don’t pay income tax DO pay other taxes.

    Unless you’re self employed like me, you DO have withholding, but if you or your tax person is knowledgeable enough about the tax code, and your taxable income is low enough, you should get it all back.

    Under the right circumstances it’s possible to have a high five figure or low six figure income and not pay any taxes — legally.

    If the taxpayer has a rental property, he/she can not only deduct out of pocket expenses (maintenance, insurance, etc.) but also expense out depreciation (even if, in reality the property is actually appreciating); totally legally. Since the period to do this is limited, this depreciation can result in a multi thousand dollar deduction with no out of pocket expense.

  • Clavos

    in the clingy comment, he took a shot at the type of voter who’s never going to vote for him, so who gives a shit?

    He should. Even if only because he’s insulting citizens of the country of which he’s nominally at least, the supreme leader, and he represents all citizens, whether or not they vote for him — we all pay his exorbitant salary and expenses — for that reason alone he should respect us all.

  • http://cinemasentries.com/ El Bicho

    “The Sarkozy one enraged Sarkozy’s constituents”

    Considering it’s a time-honored tradition to claim the wife is smarter and better than the husband seems odd for a large number of people to get riled up. All I can find online is a few pundits complaining in newspapers and websites. Any link of actual Sarkozy constituent outage?

    Does the Special Olympics have bowling?

  • zingzing

    “Even if only because he’s insulting citizens of the country of which he’s nominally at least, the supreme leader, and he represents all citizens, whether or not they vote for him — we all pay his exorbitant salary and expenses — for that reason alone he should respect us all.”

    to be fair, that was during the campaign, not when he was president, so he wasn’t representing anyone at that point, although i guess the insult still stands. it probably didn’t lose him a vote, and probably gained him a few supporters among the anti-gun and anti-religion crowd(s). and i don’t know why he has to respect you if you aren’t ever going to respect him. you could say he has obligations you do not, i suppose, but i don’t know why you’d expect that. you know as well as i do that guns and religion are politically divisive, and it’s nothing new.

  • zingzing

    as for the tax thing, you didn’t answer my question… are the taxes taken out of your check not income tax? or are they “payroll tax”?

    what is the definition of “income tax” they are using? if you get to the point where 49% of american taxpayers are not paying income tax, i have to believe “income tax” means something different than what i think it means.

    i’m not trying to be dense (don’t start) or combative here. i just find it hard to believe that i’ve been paying income taxes all these years, even when i was nowhere close to making more than what half of american taxpayers make. why did i make $7k and pay income tax that one year? it doesn’t make any sense.

    and yeah, those who don’t pay “income tax” (whatever that means,) pay a hell of a lot of other taxes, which eat up a highly significant part of their income. 8-10% on every sale means something far different to the poor than it does to the rich. and the rich would rather have us forget that.

  • zingzing

    “Considering it’s a time-honored tradition to claim the wife is smarter and better than the husband…”

    maybe that’s not the case in france. who knows. they’re french. they do all sorts of odd things. if they got riled up, that’s on them, and if the right wants to claim it’s a gaffe and they’re only sticking up for the french, freedom fries to them.

  • Clavos

    zing, read this. It details how one can be rich as Croesus and yet legally pay no income tax whatsoever.

  • Clavos

    Oh, and it doesn’t involve parking your money in offshore accounts, either.

  • http://www.RosesSpanishBoots.com Christopher Rose

    Clavos, petty much?

    If that is the level of political debate, you guys really are fucked…

  • Zingzing

    Clavos, that link doesn’t really answer the questions I have. And it makes it seem as if this 49% who don’t pay income tax are rich assholes gaming the system.

  • Igor

    There are some rich people with clever lawyers who pay no taxes, some teenagers who didn’t make the limit, and a lot of kids who didn’t work at al, and some unemployed who got no work.

    But the working poor DO pay taxes, like my friend Jimmy who caught one day of work this summer and says they took about 10% total for withholding, etc.

    The Czar used to complain that it was the laziness and evasiveness of the peasants that kept him from having a Golden Carriage like some other European monarchs.

  • Clavos

    If that is the level of political debate, you guys really are fucked

    Political debate? I don’t think so.

  • http://www.RosesSpanishBoots.com Christopher Rose

    Umm, that was kind of my point… Name calling and nit picking.

  • Clavos

    and says they took about 10% total for withholding, etc.

    Igor, you of all people shoild know that withholding is not a tax; it is, as its name states, money withheld by the IRS against the taxpayer’s possible year end tax. The key word is possible; if you don’t make much money, you’ll get some or even all of your withholding back when you file your return.

    Now, if you want to talk about the fact that the government forces your employer to take your money, holds it for the better part of a year and pays you no interest on it, while they use your money, I’m with you.

    Even if you’re self employed, as I am, you aren’t subject to withholding (no salary paid by an employer from which to withhold), but the gummint still forces you to make quarterly prepayments against your potential year end tax liability.

    “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

  • Igor

    Jimmy could use that money right now: he had to park his truck off the street because he can’t afford the license fee, so he has to borrow moms car for an interview, or whatever. Luckily he can live with mom, but Darrel has no family and hasn’t worked in almost a year and is worried about going homeless. Mark is a good mechanic and has picked up some money under the table (like Ricky) fixing cars and portable generators, lawn mowers, etc., as well as getting some computer systems going, but I’m worried he’s going to resort to peddling weed.

    Meanwhile the Perfumed Princes and Princesses of the Privileged Parvenu class sniff that all they have to do is Get A Job. What a bunch of

  • Clavos

    Nice alliteration, Igor.