Columns 2012

That sucking 47%

Although I find myself on the cusp of Romney’s 47% in that I’ve worked my whole life and paid taxes but now do indeed draw a government pension and use Medicare, I can’t shake the feeling that I would fall on the distaff side of his equation. It’s probably best I do. That’s where I’m most comfortable.

The other feeling I can’t shake is that Mitt Romney’s 47% comment itself doesn’t bother me as much as the context in which he made it. There he stood, speaking in front of people for whom $50,000 is an evening’s meal as opposed to an annual salary. When he made those horrible comments about half of America, the people surrounding him seemed to nod or murmur in agreement.  Marie Antoinette would have felt comfortable with that crowd.

If America ever descends into true class warfare, those are the people who will be on the other side of the equation. They eat their $50,000 dinner while ruefully acknowledging that the rest of us do nothing but try to suck off their success. They’ll never truly understand why we don’t take our caps off, tug our forelock while bowing and thank them for the scraps from their table.

I saw a quote recently by William Blum explaining trickle down economics as, “The principle that the poor, who must subsist on table scraps dropped by the rich, can best be served by giving the rich bigger meals.” I have no idea who Mr. Blum is or in what context he made that statement. But it certainly rings true. And I’m guessing all those people at Romney’s fundraiser would view it as a simple statement of common sense as opposed to a condemnation of an economic theory that has all but destroyed America’s middle class while elevating the top 1% to levels not seen since the days of the robber barons. And we all know how well that turned out.

There was a time when a politician could forcefully state “Ask not what your country can do for you. Rather ask what you can do for you country” without being labeled a pinko socialist. Since those days we have gone from being a country with an understanding of the common good and the need for us to pull together as one community to a country where the loudest ethos seems to be, “I got mine and I don’t give a damn if you get yours.”

The Preamble to our Constitution speaks to government’s responsibility for the general welfare of its people. In a time when kings ruled and nobility treated everyone else as being put on earth to serve their needs, these two words made America unique among nations because it required the government to work for the common good of all and not just protect the narrow interests of a very specific class such as the rich nobility.

We became a great nation for many reasons but one of the most dominant was that, on paper at least, all people were treated equally, protected equally and viewed equally by their government. Whether they made $100 a year or $100, 000 did not matter. In that voting booth they were equal. When a politician ran for office, he needed to court the poor as well as the rich for that very reason.

So how does a presidential candidate get to state before the voting even begins that he only plans to represent those segments of American society that fit his criteria for deserving representation? And why would anyone believe him when he apologized for the remark after it went public? Common sense seems to make it obvious that Mitt was merely saying something during what he perceived as a private moment that he really thinks but understands can’t be publicly expressed. 

I think Romney truly believes that half this country sucks off the benefits available to them due to the wealth of the other half, with no desire to earn their way. I think he is now even more aware than ever that he shouldn’t say those things aloud, no matter how strongly he believes in them.

The reality is that Mitt was raised in a privileged world most of us will never experience or understand. And vice-versa.