MILFORD, N.H. -- Robert and Jean Portz of Milford, N.H., are dyed-in-the-wool conservatives. They believe that illegal immigration is the root cause of most, if not all, of America's ills, whether it be bloated classrooms, crowded emergency rooms or a stagnant job market. They hate that customer call centers even offer a Spanish option. They want the government, come next summer, to take over as many yellow school buses as needed to transport the 12 million or so undocumented across the border. Not the Canadian border, mind you, which is just under 200 miles away, but the Mexican border, which is well over 2,000 miles south.
"That's where the majority of them are from," said Jean, who, despite accusing The Huffington Post of being a megaphone for businessman-philanthropist George Soros, is friendly, down-to-earth, talkative and humorous.
The couple, who came to the VFW hall on Monday morning to hear former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney offer reassuring words about immigration policy, can find little in the way of compliments for the current president. Barack Obama, Jean said, is part of the "Chicago mafia," and his ties to Bill Ayers, onetime leader of the Weather Underground, were far too little explored during the 2008 campaign. "He just looks unpresidential," she added.
The couple finds the president's policies even more distasteful than his appearance. They give the Bush administration credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden since it brought drone attacks and waterboarding into the war on terror -- additions, they argue, that contributed to the al Qaeda leader's downfall. They excuse Romney's health care plan while castigating Obama's, despite the two sharing the same philosophical imprint.
"Romney did it at the state level," said Jean. "He didn't shove it down their throats. He didn't write it in two days and require Congress to read 2,000 pages."
They acknowledge the need to create jobs but they scoff at the idea that this White House can or should do it. A retired schoolteacher who never joined a union, Jean doesn't want a single penny more of taxpayer money spent on hiring public sector workers.
And yet, despite the clearly conservative orthodoxy that colors their politics, they cop to being big fans of the Democratic Party's most recent turn-the-tides-of-public-opinion proposal. They think that it's time for super-wealthy Americans to be taxed more.
"I do agree that anyone making a million dollars or more should pay a higher rate," said Jean. "They still will lead a very good life. ... Once you make that much, you should pay more taxes."
This is a relatively new position for the couple. They didn't support taxing families whose incomes are above $250,000, as Obama had tried to do. Having spent some time on Cape Cod and knowing what it's like to live in New York, they argue that it would be unfair to label income at that level "wealthy." But, as Robert added, "a million dollars is a million dollars. ... I don't care how they got it." (He was referring to the tax rate on capital gains, which currently stands at 15 percent. He wants that raised too, once a person earns more than $1 million of income through that means.)
This is the populist hand that the Democratic Party has now dealt itself. Polling data show the country deeply supportive of raising the tax rates on millionaires. Cognizant of this, Democratic leadership, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), has been attempting for a year to make the millionaire distinction a permanent plank of the party platform. When the leadership needed a new way to pay for the president's job creation package, Schumer saw an opening -- not necessarily to pass the American Jobs Act (which seems poised to die in the Senate this week), but to tie the Republican Party to the minority opinion.
"He should fight for it," Jean said of Schumer. "He is a smart guy."
As the Romney campaign event wound down on Monday, it was clear that others in the crowd shared a variation of this sentiment. One questioner asked the former governor whether, in an effort to bolster Social Security's long-term solvency, he would extend the payroll tax to incomes above the current cap of $107,000 a year.
"No. I don't believe in raising taxes," Romney shot back, but not without reminding the crowd, a mix of libertarians and fiscal conservatives, that his candidacy is not about helping the wealthy but about strengthening the middle class.
"I'm not running for the rich people," said Romney. "Rich people can take care of themselves. They are doing just fine. I'm running for middle-class Americans. The middle class in America is really hurting right now. That’s why, for instance, I came out with a tax policy. I said I want to eliminate capital gains tax, interest tax, dividends tax, for middle-income Americans, for those who are making $200,000 a year and less. I want to help the people who have been hurt by the Obama economy, the 'Where's Waldo' economy. I want to give help to the people who need it most, and that has been middle-income Americans. A lot of them are in unions, and I want to help them."
Payroll taxes are, of course, different than personal income taxes. But the sentiment behind the question was the same as that expressed by the Portzes, namely that the wealthy should be paying a greater share than they currently are. When The Huffington Post approached Romney while he greeted voters and asked him directly how he felt about the Schumer proposal, he declined to answer the question as only a seasoned politician could -- by not even acknowledging that it was asked.
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