Somehow I can’t stop thinking about Romney’s gaffes. In his defense, he wasn’t this bad as our governor (I still didn’t like him, though). Maybe it was a Freudian slip, but I’m not going to psychoanalyze him. Still, his mistakes make me wonder. Even after the initial reaction and uproar, he doubles down on is remarks, which makes them even worse.
I can’t begin to imagine the pressure he must be under as a candidate running for POTUS. I guess the pressure must be very intense given that he’s been running since 2005 (it was all too obvious when he was governor). But making mistakes as a candidate doesn’t have nearly the impact as they would if he were president.
This latest one on the 47%, though, is terrible on so many levels. It was condescending. It was thoughtless. He essentially said that almost half of the nation doesn’t matter to him. Not good, really, as the president should govern with all the nation’s people in mind. His remark reminded me of something he said around early February when he said he doesn’t worry about the poor because they have a safety net. (I blogged it on Feb 7). At the time I attributed it to him thinking about his campaign and how I understood that for his campaign not putting its resources towards increasing votes among the poor made sense. But now, I wonder. You don’t do write off the poor twice in a campaign.
That he conflated the 47% opposition into people who don’t pay taxes and calling them freeloaders was worse than bad. Had he actually done serious research he would have found that almost 80% of the people pay some sort of tax, such as FICA. Not everyone pays income tax, which is actually around 46%. A significant percentage of those who pay no income tax are poor and don’t make enough money to pay income taxes. (Note to Mitt – we know them as the working poor. Have you met any yet?) Others are the elderly. Furthermore, just because these people don’t pay income taxes it does not mean they are freeloaders – they’re not sponging off the government when the government tax code is written to allow them not to pay income taxes (of course I’d be curious to hear what he has to say about corporations, like GE, that don’t pay taxes on billions of dollars). This comment coming from a man whose 13% tax rate is lower than mine (again, because the tax laws allow it).
I saw another analysis that studied the demographics of the 47% and where they live. The analysis by the Tax Foundation found that many of the non-payers live in predominately Republican states. The Washington Post put it well. Romney could get 95 electoral votes to Obama’s 5, among the states which have the highest non-income tax payers. So he was telling many of his own supporters that they don’t matter to him because by his definition by not paying income taxes they were spongers. Why would we elect a man who is so sloppy with his facts?
There is something else at play that I haven’t seen addressed, though. Given his remarks in February and this week, they only add more evidence that Romney doesn’t really understand the lives of the vast majority of this nation’s people. I would ask if his wealth has separated him from people like me or most of the people I serve in church. Somehow, I don’t see Romney spending four hours listening to people’s stories as to why they needed money (that’s what the first four hours of my day at church was on Tuesday). Some of them worked.
The gross inequity of wealth and inequality of income has damaged our community by establishing two separate communities, the very wealthy and everyone else (the 1% and the 99%). The economist Joseph Stiglitz has argued this as well as the moral philosopher Michael Sandel. Thus it becomes easy for Romney to forget that most people don’t live like him because his social orbit doesn’t intersect with theirs.
Income and wealth disparity is a big problem because it easily sets people apart. Not necessarily intentionally, but because people tend to congregate together who share common values. People with a lot more wealth can separate themselves from everyone else. And this, sadly, isn’t new. When I think of the way the churches were in Pittsfield, historically, we had prominent churches (indicated by huge buildings) populated by the factory owners and smaller churches for the workers. Today, we’re more homogenous economically as congregations. And the truth be known, the historically wealthy churches and the worker churches are all struggling now.
Sure, Romney does a lot of talking before thinking. But his talking exposes a truth – that we’re not really one nation, but, economically, at least two nations. His remarks tell me that he is not aware of the nation of the working poor. He should sit in my office for a couple of weeks to meet the people I see. He’ll hear their stories. He’ll have to decide how to divide a pretty small pot of money among so many requests. He might even come to understand that the system of government support that these non-tax paying “spongers” rely upon is really broken and that simply paring down the programs to make them more efficient is not reform, but just miserly. He might even have a revelation to recognize that the people in his nation (those who see these non-tax payers as spongers) are also doing their own bit of freeloading through tax policies that have enabled them to increase their wealth substantially over the last few decades while still paying a lower tax rate than me (Wow, he pays a lower tax rate than clergy … that’s not good.)