People often criticize Mitt Romney for being stiff, but that’s ridiculous. Look how easily he can put his foot in his mouth!
Appearing on CNN just hours after his big Florida win, Romney bid fair to throw it all away, by obligingly handing opponents across the political spectrum a new sound-bite club to beat him with:
Romney says, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair , I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich…. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
O’Brien asked him to clarify his remarks saying, “There are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say, ‘That sounds odd.'”
Romney continues, “We will hear from the Democrat party, the plight of the poor…. You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus…. The middle income Americans, they’re the folks that are really struggling right now and they need someone that can help get this economy going for them.”
(Emphasis mine.) Let’s take the obvious result of this encounter first: you’re going to hear a lot of attack ads, both now and during the general election, repeating that boldfaced sentence. Unlike the previous feeding frenzy over Romney’s “I like to be able to fire people” comment, it won’t be necessary to chop the sentence in half, deliberately misconstrue what he said, or completely eliminate all mention of vital context.
The rest of Romney’s comments would ameliorate the damage, if his opponents and their Super PACs would be so kind as to relay them during the attack ads. I wouldn’t count on it, especially not from Obama and the largest Super PAC in history, the mainstream media. Class warfare is not conducted with quiet introspection and a thoughtful consideration of opposing viewpoints.
Romney has some good points to make here, both during the snippet of interview that will receive the widest play, and in his longer remarks surrounding it. The social welfare safety net for the destitute is a very small portion of our titanic federal spending. The very poor are routinely invoked by liberals as the justification for programs and policies that actually have very little to do with feeding and sheltering people who would otherwise starve and freeze. Compared to the other issues that will land on the next President’s plate, any holes that might exist in that social safety net will be a relatively minor concern.
The impending bankruptcy and collapse of the entire government is a far more pressing issue. Flat GDP growth is reducing tax revenue, and Obama’s soak-the-rich sucker plays will reduce them even further, as everyone except dyed-in-the-wool liberals and their victims understands. Wild Obama spending has produced massive debt which carries enormous servicing costs, which will increase if America’s credit rating is downgraded further.
All of this will leave very little money for repairing that social safety net… and the President who stuffed millions of dollars into the pockets of his billionaire contributors has very little of value to say on the subject. How many starving waifs could have been fed with George Kaiser’s half-billion-dollar Solyndra payoff? Also, despite Obama’s legendary prowess in distributing food stamps, a lot of those stamps are finding their way into the hands of people who are not “very poor,” much less starving.
Also, Romney could make the point that a robust middle class is the best hope for the poor, for their paramount objective should be achieving entry to the middle class. Statist governments are stale, while dynamic free-market economic liberty brings income mobility. The best way to help the poor is to give them a way to climb out of poverty, and that is a massive project for all of society, not a problem to be addressed by a couple of Big Government programs with heartwarming names.
Nothing is less helpful for the poor than sucking huge amounts of money out of the already anemic private sector, pumping it through the complex and rusted pipes of ancient government welfare programs, and dropping a couple of pennies into the cupped hands of the downtrodden. The poor should want nothing more than to live in a free economy that manufactures something other than poverty.
The problem for Romney is that it is necessary to express these thoughts carefully, without producing loaded sound bites that can be easily fashioned into weapons. Some orators can spin provocative thesis statements into soaring speeches, but Romney is not one of those orators. He’s also not a blogger for a free-market think tank. He’s a political candidate. No one should have to explain to him that the rules are different for those, particularly when they hail from the Republican Party.
I found the beating Romney took over his “I like to be able to fire people” comment to be deeply unfair and unreasonable, as it relied on butchering the quote and twisting it until it defied logic. Even leaving aside the immediate context of the remark – he was talking about the role of choice in health care – that earlier assault simply defied common sense. Who doesn’t like to be able to fire people, when they don’t deliver adequate services?
This time is different. It’s going to swamp Romney with an ill-timed media firestorm. Instead of consolidating his Florida win and forging ahead to the next caucuses and primaries, he’ll spend valuable time defending and explaining this remark… and his track record on rhetorical defense is not terribly encouraging. Republican voters are very nervous about self-destructing candidates, as Romney’s campaign has been happy to remind them, when the topic was the hand-grenade pin sticking from Newt Gingrich’s teeth. It looks like Romney could teach Gingrich a few things about self-destruction.