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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mitt Romney's Empathy Problem

Feb 1st, 2012

When I wrote about Bain Capital a few days ago, I stressed that one of Mitt Romney's main obstacles come November is the perception that he lacks empathy. Now, he has handed American voters one more reason to suspect he doesn't have a clue what it's like to be an ordinary citizen in this economy.

ABC reports:

"GOP front-runner Mitt Romney said this morning that he's not concerned about the plight of the country's very poor because there are social safety nets that take care of them.

"I'm in this race because I care about Americans," Romney told CNN's Soledad O'Brien this morning after his resounding victory in Florida on Tuesday. "I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it."

Obviously, this has blown up in his face.

Doug Mataconis is somewhat forgiving but still appalled at Romney's lack of grace:

"Taken in context, I don’t think what Romney said is all that shocking or necessarily something he needs to apologize for. After all, as Jonah Goldberg notes, it’s essentially the same theme that Bill Clinton ran on in 1992, and focusing on the middle class is time honored tradition in American politics. His essential point, as I take it at least, is that the safety net for the poor is working and the rich can take care of themselves, but nobody has been looking out for the middle class, who have borne the brunt of the recession that, at least as far as the average American is concerned, isn’t necessarily over. I’m not a Romney fan, but this is hardly something I feel compelled to bash him over. Nonetheless, the way that Romney said it is easy to caricature, and it plays into the overall theme of Romney’s wealth, this tax rate, and all those other issues that are sure to come up during the campaign."

What Mataconis surprisingly fails to do is to connect these stunningly insensitive remarks with the nationwide push by most elected Republicans to gut the very safety net Romney thinks is working so well. From the demonization of aid recipients as being somehow indentured to the "food stamp President" to countless initiatives demanding drug testing to affirm eligibility, this candidate's party is on a mission to end the last line of anti-poverty defenses as we know them. What's more, the irony of quoting Goldberg on this is deep. After all, it was Goldberg who literally blamed last year's London riots on, in part, the British social safety net.

Over at The American Spectator, Aaron Goldstein observes how valuable this will be in Newt's arsenal and makes a damn fine point about the substance of Romney's position:

"...while it is true that the poorest of the poor have a safety net, it misses the point. What Romney ought to have said is that he wants to implement policies to help people out of poverty, rather than keep them mired in it. Now I realize that poverty will always be amongst us but I can see that most people who are in poverty do not want to be in that state. I'm not saying Romney should pledge "The Second War on Poverty" but where it concerns poverty he should emphasize spring boards rather than safety nets." EMPHASES OURS

He's right. While so many other conservative thinkers are addressing the decline in income mobility honestly, Romney fails to understand it at all. 

Jonathan Chait addresses the fact that this was all a bungled attempt to highlight a "middle class" tax cut proposal and analyzes accordingly:

"The poor have a safety net, so they’re less deserving of help than the middle class (which, of course, has a safety net as well, but never mind that.)

Why does Romney say this? He wants to inoculate himself from the charge that his program would disproportionately help the rich. (A charge that happens to be true, but never mind that, either.) But disclaiming any intention of helping the rich is dangerous stuff in a Republican primary. So he has to balance it off by disclaiming any intention of helping the poor, either. The rich and poor — both doing great! (Also, Romney will be sure that neither rich nor poor are permitted to sleep under bridges.)

The positive side of this is that Romney is not singling out the poor as parasites, in the classic tradition of Ronald Reagan’s "welfare queen", Phil Gramm’s welfare wagon, or countless others. Romney’s profession of indifference to the poor is a relatively decent sentiment in the context of modern conservatism. On the other hand, the idea that the middle class and not the poor is “hurting the most” is utterly absurd. It’s also worth noting that his budget proposal would require enormous cuts in programs for low-income people.

It may not be true that, at a personal level, Romney doesn’t care about the poor. He probably does. But his platform doesn’t. In that sense, his slip-up was a gaffe in the classic sense of admitting what he actually thinks."

Over at the AEI blog, James Pethokoukis leaps to Romney's defense by trying lamely to revive the "poor aren't really poor because they have, like, TVs and stuff" meme. We can probably expect the same from Heritage any minute.

Sullivan picks up on Chait and Mataconis and goes further:

"How many times now has he said things in public that are completely disastrous? "I like to fire people". "Wanna bet $10,000?" An annual income of $370,000 is "not very much". And now this.

Just because Romney looks smooth doesn't mean he is. He is often a dreadfully inept candidate. Last night, his victory speech was repellent; this morning he goes and says something this crass."

Last year saw actual and massive cuts to public aid. One in three homeowners doesn't have more than a month's worth of savings to cover their expenses in the event of disaster. Nearly one in two American households is living paycheck to paycheck.

And Mittens has deemed the "solution" to be two-fold; A useless tax cut for those an inch away from losing everything and grinning acceptance of those who already have.

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