THE BLOG
01/20/2012 02:45 pm ET Updated Mar 21, 2012

"It's the Inequality, Stupid": Mitt Romney's Failure to Comprehend the Plight of the 99%

In Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential election campaign he popularized a four-word phrase -- a slight modification to a reminder political strategist James Carville posted on Clinton's campaign office wall -- which resonated for an electorate that found incumbent George H. W. Bush surprisingly out of touch with the needs and daily travails of regular folk: "It's the Economy, Stupid." And while the GOP would have liked to use that same campaign slogan to attack the current White House incumbent, the success of whose job creation strategies have ranged from lackluster to outright blocked (through the obstructionism of the Tea Party dominated GOP House), as the economy is showing signs of slow yet steady improvement that line of attack may be well-received only by the GOP's far-Right primary base.

It's the Inequality, Stupid. A look-back at the past eight weeks of the GOP primary has revealed what may be the most exploitable chink in the silver-plated armor of the national GOP front-runner, Mitt Romney. Romney has, through a variety of unscripted moments, demonstrated a remarkable consistency in proving to the average American that Romney is anything but an average American. This litany of gaffes has solidified Romney's reputation as "that rich white guy with the off-brand religion." It includes making a $10,000 wager with recently withdrawn GOP candidate Governor Rick Perry, prompting some to wonder whether Romney had at least that amount on him at the time.

Romney has famously said that he really likes to be able to fire people. And while that phrase was taken out of context, the attention it drew from the mainstream media masked the fact that for someone like Romney, whose wealth affords him the luxury of completely free choice, a free-market system for things like health insurance works extremely well only for the wealthy.

Romney more recently suggested -- in response to a reporter's inquiry about releasing Romney's tax returns -- that he made a "very small amount" of his 2010 income in the form of wages taxed as ordinary income, as contrasted with the bulk of his annual income, which Romney guestimated was taxed at "around" 15%. As it ends up, that "very small amount" of ordinary income is almost $375,000 (in speaker's fees), representing more than seven times the average annual income of South Carolinians.

And since the emergence of a series of exposes on Romney's experience with Bain Capital, a venture capital and private equity firm Romney founded and for which he worked for 25 years, he has had to defend annual earnings, presumably in the tens of millions of dollars each year. Such almost unimaginable annual income for an average American, was realized by securing above-market yields in Bain's investments by employing strategies such as mass layoffs of U.S. workers, stripping workers of their health and pension benefits, and moving operations completely off-shore. For more on this point, see "Finally, Newt Gingrich Gets Two Things Right."

It's the Inequality, Stupid. These and numerous other impromptu admissions go well beyond the conventional wisdom that Romney has trouble "connecting with the everyman": He's increasingly cast himself as the feudal Lord oppressing his thousands of serfs. He makes Mr. Potter, the "angry, frustrated old man" of It's a Wonderful Life fame, look like Mr. Rogers. Whether it's openly acknowledging in a GOP debate that he would certainly not employ "illegals" on his grounds crew because he's running for president and it would look bad, or squirming uncomfortably and visibly every time the issue of releasing his tax returns is raised, Romney comes across as someone who deserves the GOP nomination not because the conventional wisdom is that "it's his turn" but because he can afford to deserve it. And so it is that one of the most powerful campaign slogans the Obama 2012 campaign and the president might consider using, should the Inevitable One become the actual GOP nominee, is "It's the Inequality, Stupid."

It's the Inequality, Stupid. Romney has been extremely wealthy for so very long that he doesn't really know either how wealthy he is or how his wealth and lifestyle ostracize him from voters for whom the dividing line between the 99% and the 1% is becoming a harsh, daily reality. No one has forgotten GOP candidate John McCain's 2008 campaign gaffe: When asked how many homes he and his wife owned he said he didn't know for sure, raising the logical, rhetorical follow-up "How many homes does one have to own before losing track of them?" Romney is exponentially wealthier than McCain ever will be but lacks the personal appeal of someone like McCain, who sacrificed his liberty and almost his life fighting for his country. The cumulative impact of Romney's self-inflicted wounds regarding how different his charmed life is from that of the vast majority of voters Romney's campaign will need to attract to both win the GOP nomination and, ultimately, the 2012 general election, is that polls continue to trend toward Romney not understanding the daily plight of the working classes. I use the plural form of "working class" intentionally, because when you've been as wealthy as Romney for as long as he has been that wealthy, you tend to break down the rest of the country into working class strata, perhaps starting with private equity managers and directors who aren't nearly as wealthy as you are.

It's the Inequality Stupid. In reality, although I haven't done the math, Romney is most likely an uber-1%-er. He's more like a 0.1%-er, a 0.01%-er or even a 0.001%-er. For those of you who have always had trouble with fractionalized percentages, that means that if you divided the total number of Americans who earn and report income by 100,000, you'd get the number of 0.001%-ers there are in the country: 1,000 out of 100 million, for example. It's a very small number.

In the last GOP debate before Saturday's South Carolina primary, Romney repeatedly defended his income as the natural outcome of a capitalist system that is the foundation of what makes America such a great country. He stated more than once that he's very proud of the money he made (and continues to make) through his management of Bain Capital's venture capital and private equity funds. You'd think that someone who is so openly proud of his money-making accomplishments would be much quicker to release his tax returns for a number of years (the last ten, plus 2011's return when it's available, should do the trick). Yet, Romney has remained non-committal, at best, and intentionally misleading in general about when and what returns will be released.

It's the Inequality, Stupid. As has been suggested in my last two blog posts, the GOP appears to be girding its collective loins to defend Capitalism to the death (the death of the 99%, of course; not their own) as their main response to every attack on Romney as being a rich, out-of-touch elitist whose wealth is a windfall from Bain's track record of engaging in Cannibal Capitalism; making extraordinary profits without regard to whether they were actually strengthening the companies in which they invested or not. This drum-beat -- at least thus far, where most of the focus is on the GOP base and the primary process -- does not appear to be resonating even with rank-and-file Conservatives. Even the likes of Conservative stalwart Charles Krauthammer have challenged Romney on his capacity to articulate these issues. And earlier this week, Romney's biggest (written tongue firmly in cheek) surrogate and supporter, N.J. Governor Chris Christie, stated publicly that Romney should come clean with his tax returns.

It's the Inequality, Stupid. The statistics and trends in this country are undeniable and they're piling up almost daily regarding the Equality Gap in America. A much larger concentration of both income and wealth increasingly benefits a smaller and smaller group of uber-wealthy taxpayers. At the same time, the number of households living in or near poverty is almost 50%. U.S.-based corporations have become increasingly more profitable, allowing already outrageous executive compensation to soar further out of sight, while the average American is working harder each year for wages that are shrinking when adjusted for inflation. And those African-American food stamp mothers of whom Newt Gingrich is so fond of openly disrespecting when speaking to southern GOP audiences trained to alert in response to his dog-whistle, have a median net worth of five dollars (that's right, $5.00!).

Mr. President, although I'm doubtful you'll be inclined to say these words in Tuesday night's State of the Union address, I won't claim plagiarism but instead will stand up and applaud my TV if you do:
"It's the Inequality, Stupid. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Mr. Romney."

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