Earlier this week, Republican Presidential candidate Willard Mitt Romney delivered a speech framing the 2012 presidential election as a choice between an "entitlement society" and an "opportunity society."
It really takes chutzpa for a guy who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth to rail against an "entitlement society." Here is a guy who got his start in life the old-fashioned way -- he inherited it.
Now I realize that you don't get to choose your parents. He had no role in deciding that he would be born into the family of an auto executive and Michigan Governor -- but at least he should have the decency not to attack "entitlements."
This is not a guy who pulled himself up by his boot-straps. His name, his family connections and -- not incidentally -- his money gave him a real leg up when he decided to go into the investment banking business. And let's not forget that when he did go into business for himself, he didn't make money building things or inventing things -- or designing new products. He made money buying companies, and often breaking them up, or firing employees.
Last Sunday's New York Times reported that Romney continued to make money from his old firm Bain Capital through his time as Governor and his attempts to run for Senate and President. It noted that much of his income is likely taxed at only 15% -- though we don't know for sure since he refuses to release his tax returns.
He is the poster boy for the one percent -- and he is talking about "entitlements"?
If you ask someone on the street which kid in high school Mitt Romney reminds him of, he is likely to tell you it's the kid who drove to school in a Ferrari and got all the socially "in" girls. He was the smug guy who knew he was set for life.
As humorist and political commentator Jim Hightower used to say of the first George Bush -- Romney is a guy who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. And he is lecturing America about the "entitlement society? "
And let's look at what he refers to as "entitlements." Mainly he's talking about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Let's remember that Social Security and Medicare are not "entitlements" at all. They are earned benefits that people pay for through their payroll taxes throughout their working lives.
And Medicaid? It's the program that guarantees that if you're a child who is not lucky enough to be born into the household of an auto executive and Michigan Governor you still get health care. It's the program that assures that if you weren't lucky enough to have a trust fund -- or if some investment banker bought your company and fired you -- that you can still get treatment if you get hit by a bus. It's the program that assures that when you're 80 years old and get Alzheimer's but your 401-K disappeared because a bunch of Wall Street sharpies made reckless investments and sunk the economy -- you can get long-term care instead of being left to die on the street.
Then again that's not something a guy like Mitt Romney would know about. In fact he admitted the other day that he didn't really know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid until he was 55 years old. Guess a guy who has about $200 million in assets doesn't have to worry about such things.
You see, a guy like Romney doesn't have the foggiest that the government initiatives he attacks are precisely the things that actually do create "an opportunity society."
It was the GI Bill that sent the generation of Americans that fought World War II to college. It is Pell Grants and government-guaranteed student loans that allow most middle class Americans to send their kids to college.
It was Medicare and Social Security that rescued American seniors from poverty and provided guaranteed health care and a guaranteed base income for retirement. Romney, of course, wouldn't know how important an average $14,000 annual Social Security benefit is to an everyday senior -- that's an hour's compensation for the high-flying Wall Street types he hung around with at Bain Capital.
No, Romney is much more interested in privatizing Social Security and Medicare so his Wall Street buddies can get their hands on the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds -- even though that would eliminate the guaranteed benefits that are so critical to the health and welfare of America's seniors.
Romney and the Republicans in Washington don't seem to give a rat's rear about the unemployment insurance or payroll tax holiday that will expire in ten days because the House Republicans have refused to pass a two-month extension while the terms of a year-long extension can be negotiated.
Forty dollars a paycheck -- the cost of the increased payroll tax bite that everyday families will experience the first of the year -- may not mean much to a multi-millionaire like Mitt Romney. But to ordinary families, $40 is the electric bill or several bags of groceries -- and after just a few pay periods, it begins to add up pretty fast.
Turns out that when Republicans in Washington talk about taxes, they're not so worried about a $40 increase ordinary people will have to pay in payroll taxes every time they get a paycheck. They're worried about million dollar tax breaks for the gang on Wall Street.
Romney doesn't even seem to have a clue that it is funding for public education and the public infrastructure that allows everyday Americans to have an opportunity to succeed -- or that government has a responsibility to jumpstart the economy so that everyday, middle class people can get jobs.
In fact, he seems to agree with the Republican leaders of the House who say that unemployment benefits discourage people from looking for work. Guess Mitt has never been one of the five people competing for every available job. Oh, I forgot, Mitt says he is "unemployed" too. Talk about out of touch.
No, Romney's view of an "opportunity society" is one where the government does nothing to help prevent foreclosures "so the market can bottom out." It is one where the government stands by while the American auto industry collapses and costs a million Americans their good middle class jobs.
Then again, maybe Mitt's idea of an "opportunity society" is having the "opportunity" to win the lottery -- or maybe that would be a $10,000 bet. Doesn't everyone make those?
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.
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