Gene Lyons: Romney’s members-only words say a lot
When Mitt Romney visited Little Rock a while back for one of those $50,000 per couple fundraisers where he pretends to tell plutocrats what he really thinks, he acted more like somebody in the Federal Witness Protection Program than a presidential candidate.
Arriving in a limo directly from the airport, Romney came and went through the back entrance of the city’s most expensive hotel — avoiding supporters and protesters clustered outside. I was amazed at the time. Given the state’s fiercely egalitarian mindset, no Arkansas politician would have risked appearing so disdainful of ordinary voters.
The Queen of England, for heaven’s sake, would have walked a rope line and chatted up her subjects. Not Mitt. The GOP nominee took no questions from local reporters, shook no hands and kissed no babies. He only kissed — we now learn, courtesy of a leaked videotape of him speaking to a similarly well-heeled gathering in Florida — the posteriors of his fellow swells.
To Mitt Romney, see, your human worth is directly proportional to the size of your bank account — regardless of where that account is located. Boston, Manhattan, Bermuda, Switzerland, the Cayman Islands; Mitt’s easy like that. It’s why he feels so comfortable running around the country ignoring peasants and begging wealthy people for cash to finance his ambitions.
So anyway, there he was at the Boca Raton estate of an equity fund tycoon otherwise known for being part-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, and for throwing bacchanalian parties with scantily clad Russian dancing girls. (Immigrants work cheap.) Responding to a question about how he planned to win in November, Romney momentarily lost confidence.
“I had the most absurd nightmare,” he admitted. “I was poor and no one liked me. I lost my job, I lost my house, Penelope hated me and it was all because of this terrible, awful Negro.”
Oops! My bad. That was actually Louis Winthorpe III, the stuffed shirt with a trust fund played by Dan Aykroyd in the comedy “Trading Places.” The terrible Negro was Eddie Murphy, not Barack Obama.
But seriously, confident that nobody in Florida could hear but his fellow swells and the kitchen help, Romney described Democratic voters with disdain bordering upon contempt. Because so many media outlets have resorted to paraphrasing to spare your tender feelings, it’s worth quoting at length:
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Romney said. “There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them.
“These are people who pay no income tax,” he added. “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Coming from a guy who probably couldn’t change a flat tire, this is rich. Never mind that President George W. Bush used to make a big deal out of relieving the income tax burden of low-income Americans. Romney’s contemptuous view of upwards of half the working people in the United States as deadbeats, layabouts and moochers should get your attention.
Because the odds are that either you or somebody you love fits the description. Dependent on government? If you’re retired and collecting Social Security and Medicare, that means you. Such individuals account for roughly one-fourth of those who don’t pay income taxes.
Another 60 percent, according to the Tax Policy Foundation, are working people who simply don’t earn enough to pay federal income taxes. But they do remit Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes amounting to 15.3 percent of their salaries — more than the 13.9 percent paid by Romney himself, on the one tax return he’s condescended to release.
Ezra Klein summarizes on his Washington Post blog: “So 83 percent of those not paying federal income taxes are either working and paying payroll taxes or they’re elderly and Romney is promising to protect their benefits because they’ve earned them. The remainder, by and large, aren’t paying federal income or payroll taxes because they’re unemployed.”
In the New York Times, Paul Krugman links to data showing that more than 80 percent of Americans do pay federal income and payroll taxes for the majority of their working lives.
Got that? The vast majority of working Americans — including many enlisted military personnel — pay a higher federal tax rate than Mitt Romney, and have done for most of their lives. Republicans and Democrats alike; black, white and everybody else.
It’s hard to say what’s more astonishing: the arrogance, the hypocrisy, the petulance or the naked, unashamed greed.
But this is exactly how they talk, guys like Mitt Romney, when they think that only members of the club can hear.
Gene Lyons, Arkansas Times columnist, is at email@example.com.