In an interview with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien on Wednesday morning — an opportunity to begin his victory march toward the Republican nomination — Romney did more than put his foot in his mouth: he confirmed what many had already thought, that he is the manifestation of Rene Magritte’s faceless businessman in a bowler hat: incapable of seeing the world outside his limited, myopic view.
“I’m not concerned about the very poor,” the Republican presidential candidate said in response to O’Brien’s question. “I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor we have a safety net there, and 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 America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
Romney, who has built his entire campaign on the premise that he’s a businessman who knows how to improve the economy, clearly needs a lesson in mathematics and statistical analysis.
According to the 2010 Census results, there are 46.2 million Americans living in poverty. That represents 15.1 percent of the U.S. population.
The idea that 95 percent of Americans are in the middle-class, is simply untrue, but a fact any reasonable voter would expect a man who aspires to the White House to understand intuitively or, at the very least, have researched extensively.
Romney’s amateur play at numbers and words, is appalling for both its lack of intellectual dexterity, as well as his cavalier disregard for those who are most vulnerable. Perhaps Mitt Romney can’t relate to the plight of the poor considering he’s never experienced a moment’s discomfort.
As the son of a wealthy man, who has now achieved even far greater wealth, Romney reveals a compassion deficit and empathy gap with the people he expects to represent. Unlike the former governor, 1 out of every 2 Americans worries about food, housing and jobs.
Joan Walsh of Salon.com said yesterday on MSNBC’s Hardball, the “safety net” he mentions “is not a hammock that the poor are swinging in, while everyone else works.” The working-poor have jobs, but can still barely afford to maintain home and hearth. And this burden is borne disproportionally by single mothers, children, the elderly and minority communities.
Romney’s comments seem akin to the oft quoted phrase attributed to Marie Antoinette: “let them eat cake”.
As Jon Stewart pointed out last night, Romney’s statement following his win in Florida that “President Obama wants to fundamentally transform America into something we can’t recognize” reflects the myriad lies and innuendo that have characterized this GOP campaign.
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According to Romney — as Stewart explains — “Obama wants to transform America into a place where dogs walk their owners”. That, of course, is as ridiculous as the idea that being poor in America is just fine, because there’s “a safety net”.
So What Does American Poverty Look and Feel Like?
The federal government spends billions to help feed, shelter and care for those in poverty, and many fall through the cracks. Demand has skyrocketed for programs like Medicaid, food stamps and subsidized housing since the mortgage crisis and failed economic policies of the Bush administration led the nation into the Great Recession.
Roughly 1 in 6 Americans depend on public programs. Poverty has a prominent face, and one that political leaders should not be allowed to ignore or conflate as being similarly unimportant as the fate of the extremely wealthy.
Perhaps the myth of the black welfare queen, and the misguided view that poverty has an overwhelmingly black and brown face, makes it easier for Romney to not be “concerned”.
But considering the truth, that white Republican-base supporters in the South and Midwest make-up a substantial proportion of those in poverty, the facts should give the former governor pause. The Census figures show that 31 million of the 46 million people in poverty are white and 8 million are black. 57 percent of all rural children in poverty are white, and 44 percent of all urban poor.
Of course, after decades of disenfranchisement and discrimination it is not surprising that poverty rates for African-Americans and Hispanics exceed the national average, with 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Latinos being poor, compared to 9.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12.1 percent of Asians. But the fact remains that the largest number of America’s poor who are white, many of whom are independent voters that identify as “Reagan Democrats”. These are the very people whose support Romney will need if he expects to win the Republican nomination, let alone to defeat President Barack Obama.
Romney’s disregard cuts deep because it reflects an assumption that the poor — and inner-city poor in particular — don’t vote and don’t matter. By saying he’s not concerned, Romney suggests he doesn’t need to be. His follow-up answer “we’ll hear from the Democrat Party about the plight of the poor”, reveals his belief that Obama has that base locked up, so why should Romney care?
The subtext to Romney’s statement is unclear. But Gingrich’s correlation of “inner-city” youth with poverty, crime and food stamps, and Santorum’s “blah” gaffe that assumed black people are the dominant welfare recipients, suggests the Republican Party in general — and these three GOP presidential candidates in particular — are misinformed about the socio-economic demographics of the wider American electorate.
The overwhelming face of poverty in America is white — and despite race-baiting tactics by GOP operatives used to convince poor whites to vote against their own economic interests, it is time for poor whites, poor blacks and poor Hispanics of all races, to open their ears and stop voting for Republican candidates who literally “don’t care about them”.
It is worth noting that Romney’s proposed tax plans would increase the tax burden for the bottom 20 percent of income earners, while giving a tax-cut to the top 1 percent — people just like him.
Clearly, Mitt Romney has adopted a private-member’s club approach to democracy, and it shows how ‘out-of-touch’ he really is.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is an author, columnist, political and economic analyst, and a former investment banker. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.