When I appeared on ABC News' Nightline after the second presidential debate, reporter Jake Tapper asked me who was healthier -- Obama or Romney. I gave two responses, one of which was edited out. I first said that criteria for health are different for Presidents because at times they have to be ruthless. I also said, "Someone who repeatedly lies but thinks he's telling the truth is not healthy enough to be president." Which statement do you think was edited out?
This election is between a person who tied his dog to the car roof before driving hundreds of miles on a family vacation, and someone who would never think of doing that. It's a race between someone dedicated to taking care of himself versus someone who strives to take care of others. One man brilliantly provides his own safety net with money sequestered in Cayman Islands and Swiss bank accounts; the other provides social safety nets like FEMA, the Affordable Health Care Act, and auto industry rescues. Ultimately, the race is between someone who would happily tie 47% of Americans to the roof of his car and someone who wants those Americans to ride with him in his car.
Perhaps it's not Romney's fault that he is the way he is: he was raised in a religious culture that discourages close contact with non-believers, and later accumulated enough wealth to avoid rubbing elbows with average Americans. When asked by a reporter if he follows NASCAR, Romney tellingly said, "Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans. But I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners." Recently he likened the post-Sandy cleanup to picking up a football field after a wild game. That is who he is, how he thinks. Without question, Mitt Romney is less emotionally qualified to be president than Barack Obama. That he is also intellectually less qualified is the subject for another column.
Looking at the close poll numbers, it seems hard for Americans to see that one man is less qualified to be president than the other. Would those of us who plan to vote for Romney put a dog on the roof of a family car? Those who plan to vote for President Obama recognize he cannot take care of all of us, but know he tries -- especially in times of disaster -- to do the right thing. It boils down again to a choice between someone who takes care of himself first and someone dedicated to taking care of others. Having a social compact and safety net is essential for the health of any economy, and that is something that Governor Romney does not seem to understand. He told Fox News, "I'm not worried about the poor; they have their safety net."
Candidate Romney promises big change but how do we know what that big change will be? For instance, from everything he's said, how do we know big change won't be from diplomacy to belligerence -- especially since 18 of his 24 foreign policy advisors worked for George W. Bush, and are the people who brought us Iraq? How do we know what "big change" means to someone isolated from 99% of the American people and their problems, both because of his wealth and his religious isolation? All we have to go on, beside his frequent policy pivots, is that he said he wants to return FEMA to the states (even if their infrastructure itself is flooded and non-functional), that he is barely concerned about "the rising oceans," and that he will overturn affordable health care for millions.
The dirty word in October -- before Sandy changed everything -- was class warfare, which seems to be a war of the 1% vs. the 99%. We already know that Romney dismissed 47% of Americans as being lazy, but what we don't know is that the unconscious source of class warfare stems from murderous sibling rivalry, going back to the Old Testament: Cain said, after slaying Abel, "I am not my brother's keeper."
Romney Republicans and Tea Party members are satisfied with that sentiment, but when Sandy came along we saw something completely different. We saw people helping one another, clearly being their brothers' keepers. Obama has pushed his deep faith that we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers his entire adult life. Romney, however, says his brothers can find their own way, especially if government doesn't interfere -- and his sisters are second-class citizens who don't deserve equal pay for equal work or the right to make their own health decisions.
Interestingly, when push comes to shove, Americans are far more like Obama than Romney. And herein lies the paradox: many of us plan to vote for someone fundamentally different from ourselves, who doesn't know what we know. Sandy put this paradox into bold relief: scientists and prominent Americans like Al Gore and Ed Markey have been telling us for years about climate change. Most of us know what they say is true, so to label our reaction as denial is not specific enough. We suffer from a particular kind of denial -- denial of personal relevance.
The people of New Orleans understood the disaster that climate change can wreak; now, its tragic wake is publicly relevant to the entire Eastern Seaboard. New York's Mayor Bloomberg, stunned by the catastrophe that was Hurricane Sandy, endorsed President Obama. He wrote about the world he wants to leave to his children: "The two parties' nominees for president offer different visions of where they want to lead America.... One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics."
That so many good people -- especially women who should know better -- may end up voting for Romney reminds me of the play "Embedded" when a reporter in Iraq says of President Bush, "I know he's a liar; but I trust him."
This much is clear: Americans know that Romney doesn't understand our daily lives, and doesn't seem to care about our homes, our land or the people we love. The storm cloud that is Hurricane Romney is there for all to see. We'll know on Wednesday morning whether it made landfall.
Follow Justin Frank on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JustinFrankMD