Mitt Romney screwed up.
Please try to contain your surprise.
On Tuesday night, Mother Jones released footage from a Mitt Romney private $50,000-a-plate fundraising event in which the Republican candidate for president of the United States said enough controversial things to become a speechwriter for Michele Bachmann (if you haven't seen the videos, you can watch them here. Make sure there's a garbage can nearby, just in case.)
In response to the comments Romney made in the video, New York Times columnist David Brooks called the former Massachusetts governor's campaign "depressingly inept." Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone also weighed in, referring to the statements as "insane." Hell, even Rep. Allen 'If Joseph Goebbels Was Around, He'd Be Very Proud Of The Democrat Party' West felt that one of Mitt's comments was "a little clumsy."
But it seems that lost in all this justifiable disappointment and anger over the things Romney said is a key question that should probably be more widely discussed: Why the hell is Mitt Romney having a campaign fundraiser with select individuals who can afford to pay $50,000 a plate? And why was Barack Obama, on the same night that news of Romney's gaffe was making the rounds, holding a $40,000 a ticket fundraiser in New York City hosted by Jay-Z and Beyonce?
Many people are accusing Mitt Romney of being disconnected this election cycle, but perhaps that's because he's running for president in a country where it costs hundreds of millions of dollars to be elected, and the only way to raise that money is by cuddling up with the people who have it at their disposal rather than the other 47 percent.
The truth is that the nation's main gripe shouldn't be in relation to the comments Mitt Romney made (and yes, they were really bad) (really, really bad). Rather, we should be troubled by the fact that the first time Romney appeared to be truly open and honest about discussing his strategy on foreign and domestic affairs as president was at a private event only attended by a small group of people who can afford to pay $50,000 -- the amount that many families in America make in a year -- for a single dinner.
This is a precedent that's frankly troubling for our democracy, and you'd have to be extremely naive to assume it's unique to Mitt Romney (or Republican politicians for that matter).
From a judicial standpoint, the apparent fear behind limiting political donations is that it would be a direct attack on free speech... for you know, corporations. Now I don't happen to have a corporation at my disposal to donate unlimited funds to a candidate, but if I were a corporation -- and it seems like they're coming closer and closer to being full-fledged people every year -- and my diet consisted strictly of souls and profits, I probably wouldn't be giving money to candidates because I'm just so enthusiastic about the democratic process.
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has famously vowed to spend as much as $100 million to get Romney elected president. Is this an act of passion? Is it an act of patriotism? Of course not -- it's an investment. Adelson stands to get a $2 billion tax cut if Romney is elected and as any gambler can attest to, if you're offered a 20 to 1 payout on a 50/50 bet, those are odds that are just too good to pass up.
In 2008, Barack Obama raised about $740 million on his path to getting elected. While he did have a record amount of small donors, he ultimately raised 80 percent of his total campaign money from donors who gave $1,000 or more.
Although Obama has repeatedly mentioned his intention to implement campaign finance reform, these have ultimately proven to be empty words. Despite having a democratic majority in the House and Senate for the first two years of his presidency, Obama failed to change the way that money controls Washington, which was one of his fundamental talking points while seeking office. In fact, as Huffington Post reporter Paul Blumenthal noted:
The four years of Obama's presidency have featured some of the biggest rollbacks of the campaign finance regulatory regime created in the wake of the Watergate scandal. And Obama's own actions, or lack thereof, are partly to blame.
Now this may very well be an issue he would address in his second term if elected, but failure to bring about meaningful change in this area in his first term should be noted -- although it likely won't, given that Republicans are more likely to support government sponsored Morning-After pill vending machines at high schools before meaningful campaign finance reform.
So, it's fine to get angry at Mitt Romney for comments he makes at a private function, but the truth is that in doing so, you're merely attempting to treat a symptom, when the true problem is an election process that empowers the opinions and desires of the wealthy much more than the poor.
The reason for this is that in a defacto sense, our government has passed laws dictating that money is speech.
And going forward, there's going to be no way for the general public's voice to be heard unless a few people are forced to shut up.