Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Unveiling

For the past week we have seen a video that is amazing in so many ways, a stunning view of a man that wants to be President of the United States, but lacks the compassion or care to help all the people. It isn’t a pretty sight.

The Mitt Romney video, showing him with a small select group of wealthy donors in May at a palatial home owned by a wealthy donor, unveiled the real Mitt Romney at his most comfortable self. The somewhat blurred grainy film still shows him projecting confidence and ease in front of the one group type Mitt Romney feels completely comfortable with – the very wealthy.

I’ve heard comments about this film that questions whether Mitt, the quintessential chameleon, is truly himself in this film. Are his talking points genuine at a time when finding a genuine Romney is as difficult as solving the Israeli-Arab peace situation? Seeing him poised and confident, his voice steadier than most of his public discourses, I have no doubt this was the real Mitt. A comfortable and confident Mitt has been a rare sighting while he has been selling his “severely conservative” message, but his heart, a cold one at that, was in this one.

So, what can we take away from this political unwrapping? There has been much written about it at great length by more seasoned writers than myself, but I want to condense it to the five most notable conclusions, in reverse order of significance that are the biggest takeaways in my mind.

5. Mitt Romney connects with the wealthy in a way that he can never match with the common voter.

Look at this tape and tell me that he doesn’t look comfortable. When faced with a group of people with political and financial pull, most people would be a tad nervous and have measured responses. Mitt doesn’t. He shows phenomenal poise and speaking ease not shown in any other speaking moment. He speaks almost matter-of-factly as if having a conversation with a family member. The clarity of this is seen when compared to speaking in front of public groups, often groups of their own choosing that act more like paid cheerleaders than a public cross-section, but he still speaks tentatively and in a staccato pace. In front of the public, he couldn’t feel less at ease if he was stripped naked while speaking. In the video, he is with his own kind; fellow CEO's and financiers with like minds and goals. The only thing missing is a soft overstuffed chair and a cigar.

4. In Mitt Romney’s world, there are two kinds of people; there are the makers and the takers.

He made it clear he would never get the vote of the 47% that are dependent on government and feel like they are victims. These are the takers. The makers are all the others that work and pay income taxes, have a sense of fiscal responsibility in their own lives, and must support those that do not. His base is the job creators that propel the economic engine and powers our country.  Baloney.

The countless number of analysts pouring over the 47% that don’t pay income tax have shown how nearly half of that group pay payroll taxes at a rate higher than Mitt Romney paid in income taxes for 2010, his one and only tax form release. By the way, Mitt Romney doesn’t pay any payroll tax because of the manner he earns his income. Also, how about the majority of tax paying workers that work for a business, do you realize that in addition to the 20-25% effective tax rate thy pay, your total federal tax bite is actually 35-40%? Compare that to Romney’s 13% and tell me that is a fair tax structure. Of the remainder that are not working and don’t pay income tax, a large portion are elderly on fixed incomes. These are people that either paid into Social Security during working years are were married to one. Haven’t they paid their dues? Don’t they have a right to it after years and years of support?

Romney’s vision is close to Paul Ryan’s in one regard. Paul Ryan is a huge fan of Ayn Rand’s work, particularly “Atlas Shrugged”, the novel with a stark alternate world where initiative is viewed as a negative and threatens the bulk of the “takers” dependent on government. The white/dark world portrayed is often used to advance the notion that if we diminish the “makers” by redistributing to the “takers”, our future becomes populated by lazy unmotivated slackers and weaken the core of this country. To me, believers of this have the most hopeless cynical misanthropic view of how people really want to be – how most people really want to be productive and purposeful for maximum self-respect. Romney equates government assistance with drug addiction.

3. Mitt’s understanding is that those accepting money from government programs feel like they are victims and that they are entitled to goods and services from the government.

In Romney’s world, the dependency on government is developed because you are given, not earned, the money from the government. All those funds generated by high tax rates for the wealthy is given to those that feel “entitled” to food, housing, and health benefits. It then de-motivates your interest in working at a job because you do just fine without it. I’ve often thought that people take this line of logic, really it is a rationalization, in order to justify their utter reluctance to parting ways with their earnings to those living in tough times and not feel guilty about it. A while back, there was a Missouri representative that came out and said people shouldn’t be given food stamp assistance at all even if it meant going hungry. Why? Because nothing motivates people to find work more effectively than going hungry. There are many in the conservative right that have this “tough love” approach to social assistance, but I can’t believe the majority of this country are that cold and heartless.

In both Republican and Democrat conventions, you didn’t hear many speeches without some kind of story of how the speaker was blessed in being in a nation that gave them a chance from starting in humble beginnings to be where they were that day. Some had direct assistance because they were poor. Some had government education loans. Veterans had the G.I. Bill that provided them an education for work skills. Even in Romney’s case, his father came from Mexico where he was born and had some government assistance during the first years of living in America. Today, Mitt’s father would be one of the “entitled” and exhibit a lack of fiscal responsibility. That would be an interesting father-son conversation if it were possible.

What Romney doesn't understand is that being poor cannot be separated from being fiscally responsible because every penny counts. The poor must make hard decisions every day. Should I buy food or buy gas? How can I get care for my kids while I work? Which of these bills can be left unpaid for the next week? If you have lots of money, then your decisions are a little easier, like, should I put a freight-style elevator in my house to be able to store more cars in my garage? 

Believe it or not, there is a random element to success. Some people are just as smart and just as motivated as the CEO for GM, but they ended up with a modest living because of circumstances beyond their control. 

2. According to Mitt Romney, President Obama has expanded the number of people on government assistance and will continue to escalate the number on government programs.

There is no denying that the number of people needing food stamp assistance, unemployment assistance, and other related social safety net functions is higher, but don’t think for one minute this is due to the policies of the Obama Administration.

Let’s go to the Way-Back Machine and look at nearly four years ago when millions of jobs were being shed by the Bush era economic collapse and near-depression. This gaping hole in our economy had to be filled by getting people hired. The stimulus package was the only fiscal policy plan that got through and even then at great political cost. When future stimulus packages were discussed just after the mid-term elections, the GOP put up a huge roadblock that stopped every meaningful jobs and stimulus related package. Remember, at that time, their No. 1 priority was to make President Obama a one-term president, even if it meant keeping the growth of the economy at a snail’s pace.

All those people out of work and many eventually out of unemployment benefits now needed assistance for the first time in their lives. The numbers kept growing even with gradually lowering unemployment rates because the number getting off unemployment benefits was climbing faster than those getting jobs.

If that isn’t enough to sap assistance programs, the supply and demand curve for the job market made getting good wages difficult. Lots of people out of work means companies are able to hire at lower wage rates. Hence, the number of people living under the poverty line goes up disproportionately to other wage groups.

It is so easy for the GOP to label President Obama as the food stamp president without taking any responsibility for the cause of it in the first place. People have short and convenient memories.

1.  A presidential candidate that shows disdain for half of the electorate cannot possibly be an effective president

To me, this is the big one. If you listened to the tone of Mitt Romney’s statements during this dialogue regarding the 47% that won’t vote for him, it reminded me of a frustrated parent after long term trials of poor behavior by their child, where the parent just throws up there hands and says “I don’t know what to do about him/her!” It was just complete resignation by Mitt on getting these people to view things the way he sees things. 

Mitt’s mental thinking of most Obama supporters goes way beyond believing they have the wrong view of life, it went into not caring or wanting to be their representative as the President of the United States. “I can’t concern myself with those people,” he said. Some believe he was just talking political strategy, but those words don’t match up well with that idea. Think about it. When he referenced the 47% that would vote for Obama no matter what, he could have said as a follow-up remark that “These are the people that disagree with my vision” or “these are the voters that don’t understand my message.” But that wasn’t far enough. He had to insult them! He had to denigrate them because they were WRONG! So Mitt follows with a line that in essence says all of them are dependent on the government and feel entitled to government services. It was more like how “those people” have been poisoned by the lure of government assistance and can’t be helped.

How can a president believe that he can’t help some people and still carry on as an effective president for all people? You can’t. I don’t think he ever intended to be a president of all people, he just wanted to be president for the RIGHT people. The people he feels comfortable with, like the ones in the room with him that day. In this moment of complete candor, here is a man not afraid of saying he can’t be concerned with those on the government dole.

If Mitt makes it to the White House and is faced with setting policy and bills to be signed by Congress, he is going to look at it through a skewed lens of how it helps HIS people, the ones that still have a chance to be helped. He will be focused on the makers and less on the takers.