“Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law.”—Anglo-Irish playwright-poet Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1744), The Traveller (1764)
The top strategist for Mitt Romney, Stuart Stevens, has copped to trying steroids to see what they were all about. Perhaps his candidate wanted something like the same feeling of strength and rush without actually taking the performance-enhancing drug, because earlier this year—now known in a video that’s gone insanely viral--he went before a bunch of Florida fat cats—his people—to talk about the other guy’s people: the now-infamous 47 percent.
Mitt Romney was so in the moment that he dropped his mask and became hyperaggressive: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
For years, Romney and his advisers have thought obsessively about one number—270—the amount of Electoral College votes they’ll need to win. From now on, they may be thinking of 47—the number that, bandied about to a friendly audience, might now prevent victory.
The reaction to the video was swift—and not just from the usual suspects. The candidate, a New York Daily News wag wrote in a headline, was “In Deep Mitt,” or in “A Mitt Storm.” Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist and Ronald Reagan speechwriter, opined that it was finally time to recognize that the Romney campaign was incompetent. David Brooks, The New York Times’ token op-ed conservative, encapsulated it perfectly for a baby-boom generation who gloried in Gilligan’s Island reruns: the headline THURSTON HOWELL ROMNEY.
(Oh, yes—lost in the hullabaloo was Romney’s remark that it would have been beneficial to him if his father, who was born in a Mormon colony in Mexico, had actually been of Mexican descent. Many Hispanics are probably wishing now that the candidate had followed the same remedy—“self-deportation”—he had urged to solve the problem with undocumented aliens. If he doesn’t want to self-deport, I’m sure they’ll be happy to lend him a hand, for free—even if, by his own definition, that would make him a “victim.”)
There are all kinds of reasons why the reactions to Romney’s remarks have proven so toxic, but one has gone unnoticed and even unarticulated, except for the 18th-century writer Oliver Goldsmith, anticipating events by more than two centuries in the quote above: i.e., so many people already sense that governmental laws and regulations are tilted outrageously in favor of the 1%--Romney’s natural habitat. Put another way: Romney’s rank hypocrisy galls as much as his blithe condescension.
I’m not talking about the tax shelters that so many at Romney’s fundraiser in Florida surely enjoy. Nor am I talking about the disproportionate influence that their money gets the well-heeled in Washington as well as state capitals all across the nation. Nor am I talking about the host of the event, Marc Leder, who, as co-CEO of the private-equity firm Sun Capital Partners, according to the blogger Legal Schnauzer, “does exactly what Mitt Romney did years ago at Bain Capital”: i.e., revive some companies, dismantle quite a few.
No, I mean how the candidate himself has benefited, personally and professionally, from a different form of the entrenched privilege he criticizes:
*His wealthy father was able to keep him in college during the late 1960s, when Mitt received draft deferments for religious-service and academic reasons that allowed him to stay out of Vietnam—this at a time when many of the “47%” had no such options;
* His reputation as the managerial wizard who saved the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics was secured with the help of $1.5 billion supplied by the federal government—much of which was, as noted in the blog Democurmudgeon, given over to wealthy donors to the games;
* Without a massive bailout from banks and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Bain & Co., the firm that launched Romney on his career as a vulture—sorry, venture—capitalist, would have gone under. Even more outrageous, as outlined by a Tim Dickinson article in the September 13 issue of Rolling Stone, he threatened to distribute bonuses to executives at the financially troubled firm unless Bain were allowed to pay off its debt at a deep discount.
Right now, Democrats might have only one cause for complaint with the Almighty on the Romney gaffe: Why couldn’t it have occurred closer to Election Day? Such was the fate of an earlier Republican with a well-deserved reputation as a stiff, New York governor Thomas E. Dewey. In the final days of his whistle-stop campaign, on a train with the premature title of Victory Special,” the locomotive gave a sudden lurch. “What’s the matter with that idiot engineer?” Dewey barked. That comment aroused the ire of the labor movement, who came out in big numbers to help Truman beat Dewey.