I’m Sure This Won’t Come Back to Bite Mitt Romney

Mitt really shouldn’t talk about things. He tends to do poorly.

I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there,” Romney told CNN. “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.”

Host Soledad O’Brien pointed out that the very poor are probably struggling too.

“The challenge right now — we will hear from the Democrat party the plight of the poor,” Romney responded, after repeating that he would fix any holes in the safety net. “And there’s no question it’s not good being poor and we have a safety net to help those that are very 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.”

This is a major, major gaffe. It’s one thing to make the standard-issue Republican argument that the poor have it super-easy because, hey, food stamps. It’s quite something else to say that you “don’t care” about the poor, and that their well-being is something for the Democrats to worry about.

This reminds me of Mitt’s “quiet rooms” gaffe after New Hampshire. He doesn’t have enough empathy to understand how his words will be heard by the non-über rich, and he doesn’t have enough smarts to learn to fake it.

Mitt is still the toughest potential GOP candidate for Obama, and still the most likely nominee. But his inability to think on his feet is going to cause him no shortage of embarrassment. And if I don’t hear “I’m not concerned about the very poor” on an infinite loop from May to November, everyone in Obama’s campaign deserves to be fired.

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33 Responses to I’m Sure This Won’t Come Back to Bite Mitt Romney

  1. 1
    nobody.really says:

    From your lips to God’s ears! But I wonder how many other people’s ears your message will reach.

    1. I suspect that the very poor don’t vote.

    2. Among the “very poor” who do vote, I suspect that many of them resist regarding themselves as very poor, and therefore won’t see the remark as pertaining to themselves. The US has pretty poor class consciousness. People all want to regard themselves as “middle class” (or sometimes “working class”); few people describe themselves as “rich” or “poor.”

    3. Thus, who cares about the “very poor”?

    A. Those few who are “very poor” and accept the label. I suspect most of these people are already Democrats, and not very swingable.
    B. Those who are motivated by compassion for the very poor. I suspect most of these people are already Democrats and not very swingable.
    C. Those who are feeling victimized in this economy and are therefore more willing to judge others harshly. Those who are inclined to regard the “very poor” as social parasites, drug addicts, and welfare queens – people soaking up public benefits at their expense. I suspect this group of voters may be the largest, least politically sophisticated, and most swingable of the three.

    I imagine political consultants have/will crunch the numbers to see whether or not drawing attention to Romney’s gaffe would actually help or hurt Obama. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that, as Fecke suggests, this line would help reinforce the public perception of Romney as disconnected to the common man.

    But given how rarely Obama mentions the word “poor,” I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Obama camp simply let the remark drop. Recall that Gingrich finds it useful to say that Obama has presided over the biggest increase in the food stamps rolls ever. Doesn’t that suggest Obama’s success in extending aid to those in need? Sure – to people who are already persuaded of that image. To others, it will provoke the image of a black president – someone NOT LIKE US – funneling government largesse to food stamp recipients, who in the public’s imagination are also black – again, people NOT LIKE US. It’s a brilliant, cynical piece of demagoguery to focus people’s resentments in an economic climate in which many people are feeling especially resentful.

    Heck, I could even imagine that some Republican-leaning superPAC would pick up the Romney quote and repeat it in order to provoke these associations with Obama. It’s politics; stranger things have happened.

  2. 2
    Robert says:

    Shorter Nobody.Really on shorter Jeff Fecke:

    Boy, Romney sure has destroyed his chances of electoral success with Jeff Fecke and people who think just like him!

  3. 3
    nobody.really says:

    [duplicate post omitted]

  4. 4
    Jake Squid says:

    One of the owners of the company I work for, a man who fits the label “independent” as he has voted R,R,D in the last 3 elections, incredulously shouted, “Do the Republicans have anybody who isn’t stupid? Can you believe what Romney said?” in reference to the bolded quote in the OP.

    So I think there’s a good chance that this resonates with those whose votes are not reliably either D or R.

  5. 5
    Robert says:

    Jake – maybe. Personally I’d find the political forecasting on the population of people who voted Bush, Bush, Obama to be pretty speculative. That’s someone who can go anywhere and do anything.

  6. 6
    Jake Squid says:

    Boss man is not a dumb guy. Just very middle of the D/R road. Thought Bush would be good, but turned on him when the economy was crashing. Really liked Obama’s campaign and, though not in love with him, doesn’t hate what he’s done the way he hated Bush’s policies. For the last 6 + months he’s been looking for a Repub candidate to love. They’ve all failed him one way or another.

    He is the epitome of the undecided voter in pretty much every election. Thus, though it suffers from severe SSS (small sample size), he’s the best example of an undecided voter that I can access. It makes my understanding and predictions of that (weird, weird, weird) demographic better’n it would be otherwise.

    It’s really fascinating to watch in action. It’ll be fascinating to see where he winds up and where the undecided crowd winds up in November. I’m betting they’ll both vote the same way. One way or another, I’m gonna learn a little bit about either undecideds or the perils of SSS.

  7. 7
    mythago says:

    I don’t think you have to be way to the left to think Romney sounds like he has a silver spoon jammed up his ass.

    Let’s be honest: what he really means is that the poor don’t vote so fuck ‘em, and the rich are already in the tank for him, so he has to concentrate on winning over everybody else.

  8. 8
    RonF says:

    So he thinks that the set of social services available to the very poor – a.k.a. the “safety net” – is adequate. That’s obviously debatable. But it’s not “Fuck the poor, I don’t care about them.” Romney’s guilty of giving away a sound bite here, but the sound bite obviously is out of context. Not that giving up a sound bite isn’t a dumb thing for a candidate to do; it is. I swear, Romney better start going after Obama hard and fast.

    This election is the GOP’s to lose. But way back before the primaryfield shaped up I was saying that it wasn’t obvious that the GOP was going to come up with a competent candidate. Romney should be, but ….

  9. 9
    mythago says:

    For crying out loud. “Out of context” is not a magic phrase that whisks all the stupid out of something a public figure you like just said so that it doesn’t count anymore. Jeff included the entire context before. The problem isn’t just the sound bite; it’s the repeated cluelessness. Oh, the poor? Well, whatever, they’re taken care of or something.

    Interesting observations about how this interview bought into Obama’s framing, by the way:

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/02/01/romney-s-gaffe-about-the-very-poor-shows-him-courting-the-middle-class.html

  10. 10
    nobody.really says:

    [W]hat he really means is that the poor don’t vote so fuck ‘em, and [his base] are already in the tank for him, so he has to concentrate on winning over everybody else.

    That seems like a fair characterization of political campaigns generally.

    For crying out loud. “Out of context” is not a magic phrase that whisks all the stupid out of something a public figure you like just said so that it doesn’t count anymore.

    I suspect he was thinking of the phrase “with all due respect.” It’s in the Geneva Convention, you know.

  11. 11
    mythago says:

    That seems like a fair characterization of political campaigns generally.

    Not sure what point you intended to make here. The other guy does it too so it doesn’t count?

  12. 12
    Bear says:

    I think his point (and correct me if I’m wrong, nobody) is that Romney was basically saying what all candidates everywhere are thinking.

    Of course, the difference is, all candidates everywhere *except Mitt* are smart enough not to reveal that thinking so nakedly.

  13. 13
    Bear says:

    (Also, slightly off-topic, but I’m pleasantly surprised to see a member of the press kinda calling out a candidate on his crap.)

  14. 14
    Susan says:

    This brings up a larger issue which bothers me about Mr. Romney. That is, he’s filthy rich.

    Now most candidates for President are at a minimum well-padded financially. It’s sort of a job requirement. No one is going to run, for example, if they are on food stamps.

    But there’s rich and then there’s filthy rich. I’m not averring to how he got the money, which is irrelevant for my purpose. I’m talking about, what is this person’s life experience? could he or she manage a trip to the grocery store without help? has he or she actually been to a grocery store himself or herself within the last 10 years or so? Like that.

    If the answers to questions like this are No, then we have here a person who lives in a bubble. No matter how good-willed this person may be, it’s going to be next door to impossible for him or her to make any real empathetic contact with the people in this country. (Mitt Romney seems a little short on empathy at the best of times.)

    So then this candidate is going to make a lot of mistakes, based on his or her lack of real-life experience. Like, Mitt Romney probably genuinely believes that we have a generous safety net for the poor. He believes that because that’s what his rich friends and advisers tell him, and he never comes into contact with anyone who doesn’t make seven figures or above annually. He literally cannot imagine what it would be like to live such a life that he qualified for food stamps, and he’d probably starve to death in a supermarket with a full wallet for sheer inability to figure out how to buy food.

    And if which may God forbid someone like that actually gets elected (again, we’ve already had a few of these) he or she is going to make error after error, because you really do need to live IN the United States (not hover above it) to make good decisions for this country.

    So to me this mistake is indicative of a bigger problem, one I was already aware of. The Obamas are pretty well off financially too, but they show no signs of believing that they walk three feet off the ground, and I’m betting Barack could buy a banana at Safeway all by himself just fine.

  15. 15
    nobody.really says:

    [W]hat he really means is that the poor don’t vote so fuck ‘em, and [his base] are already in the tank for him, so he has to concentrate on winning over everybody else.

    That seems like a fair characterization of political campaigns generally.

    Not sure what point you intended to make here. The other guy does it too so it doesn’t count?

    Politicians regularly pander to people who vote, and whose vote they can influence, more than they pander to others. This phenomenon was documented as early as 1958 in an exchange between the political scientist Eddie Cochran and his own congressman. Thus, it doesn’t seem like an attribute unique to Mitt Romney.

    Does it “count”? Depends on what you’re counting.

  16. 16
    mythago says:

    I’m sure we all know that the current candidates want to pander to the middle class. But Romney is so immersed in Clueless Richville that he can’t even manage to pander without shoving his foot in his mouth. He didn’t say that indeed, he cares deeply about the plight of the poor, rising tide, that’s part of my campaign, etc etc., before steering back on message about the middle class. He made it very plain that he’s never even thought about the poor: well, don’t they have food stamps and shit? I dunno man, I’m sure they’ll figure it out or whatever.

  17. 17
    Hugh says:

    “he’d probably starve to death in a supermarket with a full wallet for sheer inability to figure out how to buy food.”

    Seriously?

  18. Pingback: Very poor « Cubik's Rube

  19. 18
    Susan says:

    OK, Hugh, he could probably figure out how to buy food, if he got some help. He’s a personable sort, that’s a job qualification for his job, he’d charmingly ask some bystander, who would instruct him on how to swipe his credit card, etc.

    But when, I wonder, was the last time Mitt Romney actually himself went to practice this skill? Was it before or after the invention of bar codes? Was it before or after the invention of self-checkout? Does he know, right off the top of his head, what form of payment would be accepted? I’m willing to bet long odds that if you suddenly transported this man into the middle of my local Safeway he’d be pretty clueless.

    The point of course is not food shopping: the point is, do people like this have any lived experience about what life is like for the people in these United States? It’s not enough to read position papers or watch TV. Do you, personally, Mr or Ms Candidate, drive down the road all by yourself, park in a parking lot, make your way through the crowd with a shopping basket? Do you know how much meat tends to cost, what is a good bargain, how to recognize it? Are there any financial constraints on your choices of meats? And so forth.

    It’s not just the supermarket, that’s just one example. But people with the order of wealth possessed by Mr. Romney do not go shopping, do not drive their own cars, do not know or care what parking or meat or clothing costs. They may, let us be generous, have the best will in the world, but they are profoundly out of touch with the concerns that beset the rest of us.

    As mythago says so eloquently,

    He made it very plain that he’s never even thought about the poor: well, don’t they have food stamps and shit? I dunno man, I’m sure they’ll figure it out or whatever.

    You may be certain that he hasn’t got much more contact than this with the “middle class” either. All he knows is what his handlers tell him, and they’re not much better off themselves. Nearly everything he knows about the real life lived by real people in this country (everyone except billionaires) is third and fourth hand.

    Thus his recent faux pas. We can look for more of this. He can only speak Ordinary Life as a third language: it can never be his native tongue.

  20. 19
    Meera says:

    “The point of course is not food shopping: the point is, do people like this have any lived experience about what life is like for the people in these United States?”

    Personally, my go-to question would be a little more specific: Has he or she ever carried home a week’s worth of groceries for their family using only public transportation? Until you’ve had to do that, you don’t know the true burden of grocery shopping, imho.

  21. 20
    Susan says:

    Personally, my go-to question would be a little more specific: Has he or she ever carried home a week’s worth of groceries for their family using only public transportation? Until you’ve had to do that, you don’t know the true burden of grocery shopping, imho.

    Good point. And that’s without even getting to food stamps or anything like that.

    Well, I haven’t done the public transport thing, but I’ve loaded those groceries for a family of six into the car with a bad knee (me, not the car or the groceries) and then carried them up a flight of stairs to the house. Does that count?

    In my neighborhood a very small minority of folks use public transport for tasks like this, but I live in California, where, for the most part, there IS NO public transport, so without cars we’d all starve I guess.

    I think driving counts.

    Does Mitt Romney even have a drivers license? If so, why? I’m sure he never drives a car himself. When was the last time he was behind the wheel himself? Does he even know how to drive?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

  22. 21
    Susan says:

    This is maybe unfair, I don’t know.

    But I go grocery shopping not infrequently in a suburb of Amsterdam, at Albert Heijn. There are groceries, yes, some familiar, some not.

    Speaking the local language helps, but it’s not essential. There are, however, lots of little things. What after all is vla? Why would you want it? (You do. Trust me on this. In Nordholland it is The Best Chocolate Pudding Ever.) Why is so much of the milk not in the refrigerator? How is it best to buy bread? (Don’t buy it there at all, go down the road to the bakery.) Why is food so expensive? (We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.) On and on, all kinds of unwritten rules.

    When you get to the checkstand, will they take a credit card? (No.) What kind of card will they take? Do you have it? Why isn’t there a bagger? Who does bag the groceries? (You.) Where are the bags? (There aren’t any free bags, you’re supposed to bring your own.)

    Move along there you you’re blocking the line.

    All cultures and places have these unwritten rules, which you learn by living there. But what happens if you don’t really live there, if you live in some money-supercharged cloud?

    Well then, you don’t know what’s going on. And if you’re a public figure be sure your mouth is big enough for your shoe.

  23. 22
    Robert says:

    Plus he speaks French. Nobody who speaks French can be in touch with the problems of ordinary Americans.

  24. 23
    mythago says:

    @Susan: Be fair. He could just as well have been clueless about grocery shopping as a modest middle-class income guy if he’d left all that shopping and cooking nonsense to his wife.

  25. 24
    Robert says:

    I think that Romney, like most multi-millionaire children of exceptional privilege, probably does lack a certain element of the common touch. Like Obama, he lives in a bubble now; Obama’s advantage there is that his experience pre-bubble was somewhat rawer and somewhat more recent.

    But I think it is very easy to overestimate Romney’s isolation. He is not a guy who hangs out at the country club and hasn’t seen a working-class person other than his own staff in 30 years. He did a mission in France, was a pastor in his church among many other roles which brought him into regular contact with Regular Folk), and has been a successful politician for a long time – and successful politicians who are not idiots, and Romney is not an idiot, maintain ties to their electorate to the best of their ability. Is their empathy going to be limited and less than that of, say, Regular Joe’s next-door neighbor? Sure.

    But the man was piling his kids in a station wagon (and driving it too) for vacations to Middle America when he had a hundred million dollars in the bank. It’s very easy to overestimate the level of isolation he’s experienced, particularly if you don’t know much about Mormons. (Which I kind of suspect is the case here.) Mormons, even rich Mormons, do their damnedest to be salt of the earth. There are REASONS that a facially absurd faith with a demonstrably false historical narrative and enormous constraints on people’s ability to have fun (restrictions that no other major religion score a hat trick on) is growing at a terrific pace.

  26. 25
    mythago says:

    So, he’s not actually clueless about the poor, he just doesn’t give a shit?

  27. 26
    Robert says:

    No. Like every decent person, he cares about the poor.

    But the poor are not a political issue in this election. His gaffe consisted of insensitively talking about the issues that will matter in the election; policy towards the poor is not likely to be one of those issues.

  28. 27
    mythago says:

    Except that it’s a recurring gaffe. Knowing that he has an image problem of being a clueless jillionare, and having a staff of handlers that’s supposed to help him with these things, he still keeps sticking his silver foot in his mouth (and yes, I know I’m not the first to use that phrase).

  29. 28
    Susan says:

    No. Like every decent person, he cares about the poor.

    May we have some evidence for this assertion? “Evidence” is not the same as “assumption.” As Scripture would have it, evidence of one’s beliefs is only discernable in practice.

  30. 29
    Robert says:

    The most casual reading of his biographical material would provide sufficient evidence for anyone not committed wholeheartedly and prima facie to the contrary premise.

  31. 30
    Susan says:

    OK. Granted for argument. So now what is he prepared to do for them?

  32. 31
    Robert says:

    From a leftist perspective, probably not very much. From a rightist perspective, improve economic conditions (to the extent that a president can do that) so that they have more opportunity to improve their lot.

  33. 32
    mythago says:

    Robert, “opportunity for the poor to improve their lot” does not inevitably and naturally flow from “improve economic conditions”. A rising tide sometimes only lifts the yachts.