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Why Mitt Isn't It

Romney the Possessed

by Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS

A Mitt Romney presidency would greatly worsen America’s moral decline.  It is not about his money, but about his moral sense.  It is not about his worth, but his views on other people’s worthiness.  Not about his inheritance, but his attitude toward the disinherited.  Not about his fortune but his inability to identify with the unfortunate.  Not about his effects, but his affect.  Not about his Mormon religion, but his faith in force against Iran.  It is not about his estimated value, but his values.

How can Mitt Romney be the president of all Americans when he has repeatedly demonstrated his inability to identify with the financial and emotional realities of 99% of them?  The tell-tale signs of his insulated bubble of wealth and privilege are seen in this purely 1%er’s unconscious slips on the campaign trail.

During a Republican presidential candidates’ debate, to settle a disagreement on a health care issue, a reportedly “visibly annoyed Romney” turned to his challenger Gov. Rick Perry, suddenly stuck out his hand and offered to bet he was right: “Rick, I’ll tell you what , 10,000 bucks?”  As a surprised Perry looked at him, Romney, still holding out his hand, repeated, “$10,000 bet?”  A smiling Perry replied, “I’m not in the betting business.” (“Mitt Romney challenges Rick Perry to $10,000 bet in GOP debate,” Posted by Matt DeLong, The Washington Post, Dec. 11, 2011)

Five or ten or even twenty bucks is one thing.  But “10,000 bucks!”  With that kind of money, most people would have little need to bet.  For the 99%, betting is about taking a long shot, not proof of being a big shot.

It is not about Mitt Romney’s possessions, but about what possesses him.  Speaking before 1200 members of the Detroit Economic Club clustered at one end of the city’s 65,000-seat football stadium, Romney’s lack of affect slipped out.  “This feels good, being back in Michigan,” he said.  “You know, the trees are the right height.  The streets are just right.” (“Mitt Romney’s ‘Cadillac’ flub one of many,” By Reid J. Epstein, POLITICO.COM, Feb. 24, 2012)  It was not the diversity of the people of Detroit that made Romney “feel good,” but the uniformity of their trees.  It was not about their rights that animated him, but the “just right” streets upon which they walked.  This is the presumptive Republican presidential candidate who would have allowed Detroit’s automobile industry to go into bankruptcy. (See, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” By Mitt Romney, The New York Times, Nov. 18, 2008)

In Detroit, Mitt Romney “slipped” into high gear.  “I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles,” he said.   “I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck.  Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually.”   His campaign reported that a Cadillac costs “between $35,000 and $49,000.” (Ibid)

“Actually,” most Americans buy Fords and Hondas and other gas-saving smaller cars, and take five years to pay for them,  And others, who can’t afford the car payments and repairs and insurance, take the bus—or walk.  Not one but “a couple of Cadillacs, actually.”

It is not about Mitt Romney being rich, but about his inability to relate to 99% of Americans—no matter how obviously—and awkwardly—he tries.  Like sitting, as reported, “at the head of the table at a coffee shop . . . listening to a group of unemployed Floridians explain the challenges of looking for work.”  It was not really about them but about Romney.  “When they finished,” the story continued, “he weighed in with a predicament of his own.  ‘I should tell my story,’ Mr. Romney said.  ‘I’m also unemployed.’”  Then “he chuckled,” and “the eight people gathered around him . . .  joined him in laughter.”  When asked by one of the group if he were “on LinkedIn,” Romney replied, “I’m networking . . . I have my sight on a particular job.”  At the end of the gathering, Romney said, “I wish I had a job for everybody.”  Then his final words, “I may be unemployed for longer than I’d like.” (“Romney: ‘I’m Also Unemployed,’” By Jeff Zeleny, NYTimes.com, June 16, 2011)

The story was not about these and other people struggling to find jobs in Florida with its double-digit unemployment rate, but about Mitt Romney finding a job—as president.  He was “networking” with these unemployed people to get their votes, not connecting with them and their families’ economic realities.  Transforming a serious spontaneous discussion about America’s severe jobless rate into a “lighthearted” event is one of numerous unconscious slips, that reveal Romney is incapable of identifying with the millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans.  His commitment is to himself and to those who share his beliefs, especially  the 1% whom he really represents.

Mitt Romney’s greatest enemy is the spontaneous, unscripted moment, when he is anxious to convince, even unemployed, voters that he is one of them.  As in New Hampshire, where he was quoted as telling a crowd, “I know what it’s like to worry whether you’re going to get fired.  . . . There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.”  He sounded like one of the 99%.  “But so far,” the news story continued, “his campaign has not been able to provide any examples of a time when Mr. Romney . . . truly feared for his job.” (“Romney’s Fear of Firing, Minus the Details,” By Ashley Parker, NYTimes.com, Jan. 8, 2012)

It is not about Mitt Romney’s immeasurable wealth but his boundless pretense.  Romney is so unlike millions of laid-off Americans, whose unemployment checks don’t cover their expenses and end too soon.  If Romney were to receive a pink slip (God– and his offshore Cayman Islands and Bermuda holdings and Swiss bank account and $1 million in annual interest income– forbid!), he could tap into the recently reported $1.9 million posted by one of his (rarely disclosed) several holdings, which “suggests that he could be wealthier than the nearly $250 million estimated by his campaign.” (“Assets Hint at Larger Romney Wealth,” By AP/Stephen Braun, TIMEU.S., July 4, 2012)

Or, to avoid home foreclosures and being forced to live on the street, a “pink-slipped” Mitt Romney might barely get by on the money he receives from speaker’s fees .  “I get speaker’s fees from time to time, but not very much,” he said at a South Carolina campaign rally. (“Mitt Romney Thinks $360,000 Is ‘Not Very Much’ Money,” By Matthew Yglesias, www.slate.com, jan. 17, 2012)  “Not very much” turns out to be “$360,000 . . . over a 12-month period,” according to Slate writer Matthew Yglesias, who stated, “To put that in perspective, that’s over 7.2 times the median household income in the United States.” (Ibid)

It is not about Mitt Romney’s fortune, but his obliviousness to the economic and related emotional struggles of poor persons.  In a CNN interview, Romney said, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.  . . . There’s a safety net there, and if it needs repair I’ll fix it.”  But he really did not think it needed to be fixed, amplifying his statement, “saying the nation had a ‘very ample safety net.’”  When CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien pressed him with, “But I think there are a lot of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say, that sounds odd,” Romney responded with an obvious and evasive statement: “There’s no question it’s not good being poor.”  He went on to list the “very ample safety net.”  “We have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor.” (“Romney: ‘I’m not concerned about the very poor.’” By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney, Feb. 1, 2012; “Romney makes political gaffe after big Florida win,” By Paul Steinhauser and Tom Cohen, CNNPolitics, Feb. 1, 2012; “Romney: ‘I’m Not Concerned With The Very Poor,’” By Alex Seitx-Wald, ThinkProgess, Feb. 1, 2012)

ThinkProgress writer Alex Seitz-Wald documents Mitt Romney’s disconnect from “the very poor.”  He states “Romney’s claim that the safety net is ‘very ample’ suggests a lack of understanding,” and cites “a study from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities” that found “government assistance fell far short of insulating all, or even most, poor Americans.”  Seitz-Wald also states that Romney’s comment about America’s “very ample” safety net “is especially tone deaf considering that Romney has proposed weakening many of these safety net programs.”  He points out that “under Romney’s proposed reductions in federal spending, it’s likely that Medicaid would be cut by 153 billion by 2016, the food stamp program would have to throw 10 million low-income people off the rolls, and a key program supporting poor children’s health would face cumulative cuts of $946 billion through 2021.” (“Romney: ‘I’m Not Concerned With The Very Poor,’” Ibid)  The people Romney identifies with are “corporations” not “the very poor.” (See “Mitt Romney says corporations are people at Iowa State Fair,” By. Philip Rucker, The Washington Post, Aug. 11, 2011)

Proof that Mitt Romney is “not concerned about the very poor” is seen in his endorsement of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget.  Passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and later rejected by the Senate-controlled Democrats, Ryan’s budget reportedly “would spare the military’s growing budget from mandatory cuts, instead slashing Medicaid, benefits for federal workers and programs to help hungry Americans.” (“Paul Ryan Budget: House Passes Bill To Spare Defense , Cut Food Aid, Health Care,” Michael McAuliff, huffingtonpost.com, Posted May 10, 2012)

Mitt Romney’s speech at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People reveals just how much he is in denial.  He said to the delegates, “I believe that if you truly understood who I am truly in my heart, and if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African-American families, you would vote for me for president.” (“Romney to NAACP: If You Knew My Heart, I Would Get Your Vote,”  Mark Memmott, Vermont Public Radio- vpr.net, July 11, 2012)  NAACP delegate William Braxton provides the reality check: “I was shocked.  . . . Never, ever have I heard him say anything about how he would help the poor or underprivileged, let alone the black community.” (“Romney Says He Offers Better Chance for Blacks,” By Ashley Parker and Michael D. Shear, The New York Times, July 12, 2012)

It is not merely about Mitt Romney being “out of touch” with regular Americans, as certain reporters and journalists characterize  his spontaneous “slips” and “gaffes.”  It is about him being unable to be touched by the painful realities and uncertainties of financially struggling families and older individuals.

It is not about Mitt Romney’s fortune, but his inability to care for the unfortunate—people trying to keep their heads above water in the face of debilitating economic and political forces not of their making.  His lack of compassionate understanding is seen in his attitude toward many undocumented immigrants.  He opposes the DREAM ACT, which he sees as a “handout.” (Romney vows to ‘replace’ Obama’s immigration order,” By Catalina Camia, usatoday.com, June 21, 2012)  Never mind that it would provide a pathway for the sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants—young people brought here as children, who have no criminal record, have graduated from high school or earned their GED, and attended college or served in the military for two years.  Romney champions what he calls “self deportation,” i.e. creating and strictly enforcing laws that prevent them from getting jobs, making life so unbearable for them that they will go back to where they came from.

Never mind that America is a nation of immigrants.  That Mitt Romney’s own Mormon great grandfather is recorded as fleeing to Mexico after polygamy was banned in the US in 1882.  And that the Romney family, “including Mitt’s father, who was 5, fled back into the US” during the 1912 Mexican Revolution. (“Romney’s Mexico-Born Father Faced Own ‘Birther’ Attacks-GGDad Fled U.S. to Mexico Over Polygamy,” from the Chicago Tribune: www.chicagotribune.com, May 30, 2012)

Mitt Romney’s inability to relate to people struggling for a better life is revealed in a story citing his attitude toward undocumented immigrants: “During the primaries Romney blasted illegal immigrants, many of who, he said, ‘walk across the border that have no skill, no education, and are looking for a free deal.’  The story continues, “The Republican has yet to articulate a plan for dealing with America’s estimated 14 million undocumented immigrants, but for most of his candidacy he has focused primarily on enforcement.  He favors building a high-tech fence to prevent illegal border-crossing, and supports requiring employers to check the legal status of all would-be employees.”  (“Immigration Divides Romney And His Church,” McKay Coppins, www.buzzfeed.com, June 22, 2012)

Many “walk across the border?”  Countless immigrants endure daunting obstacles and great risk in their efforts just to get to the border and to enter the United States.  Many live in the shadows, find menial employment, work hard, save and send remittances back to their loved ones in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and elsewhere.  Family values undocumented immigrants style!

“Looking for a free deal?”  Roger Bybee and Carolyn Winter write about US corporations finding a sweet deal in the 1994 North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), which reportedly “permitted heavily-subsidized . . . low-priced imports of US corn and other agri-business products” to flood Mexican markets, resulting in “some 2 million “ small Mexican farmers being  driven . . . off the land . . . [and] living in desperate poverty.”

Bybee and Winter state that NAFTA’s sweet deal  included “service-sector rules” that “allowed big firms like Wal-Mart to enter the Mexican market and, selling low-priced goods made by ultra-cheap labor in China, to displace locally-based shoe, toy, and candy firms,” with “an estimated 28,000 small and medium-sized Mexican businesses . . . [being] eliminated.”

Bybee and Winter effectively describe immigrants fleeing such terrible NAFTA -created poverty as political refugees: “Falling industrial wages, peasants forced off the land, small businesses liquidated, growing poverty: these are the direct consequences of NAFTA.  This harsh suffering,” they say, “explains why so many desperate Mexicans—lured to the border area in the false hope that they could find dignity in the US-owned maquiladoras—are willing to risk their lives to cross the border to provide for their families.”  (“Immigration Flood Unleashed by NAFTA’s Disastrous Impact on Mexican Economy, Common Dreams, Apr. 26, 2006)

Then, in 1995, came the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which extended the sweet deal for US business corporations to all Central American nations.  With more people forced into poverty, and fleeing to the United States. (See “Joe Wilson’s Immigration Hypocrisy,” by Nikolas Kozloff, Counterpunch, Sept, 21, 2009)

And what is waiting across the border?  Strick anti-undocumented immigrant laws, created and enforced by some of the very politicians and their corporate backers who have lighted the political fires that caused the massive immigration in the first place.  Much so-called “illegal” immigration is about families and individuals fleeing their economically burning homes and being driven back by the very people who set them on fire.  Many undocumented immigrants are actually political refugees fleeing the economic oppression visited upon them by the U.S. government creating laws that serve corporate business interests.

Undocumented immigrants “walk across the border that have no skill, no education, and are looking for a free deal.”  This heartless, ignorant statement is from a presumptive Republican presidential candidate whose life was built on “free deals.”  Mitt Romney’s story, as told, is about a man who “started college at Stanford, where his ‘allowance’ was big enough for frequent plane tickets to sneak home to Michigan to see his girlfriend, Ann, according to a recently published book by two Boston Globe journalists, The Real Romney.”  After they married, both Mitt and Ann Romney studied at Brigham Young University.  “We were happy, studying hard,” his wife said.  “Neither one of us had a job, because Mitt had enough of an investment from stock that we could sell a little of it at a time.”  Later, “when the couple moved to Boston so Romney could study business and law at Harvard, his parents helped them buy a house.”  (“Mitt Romney says he didn’t inherit money from his parents,” www.politifact.com, Jan. 20, 2012)

Many undocumented immigrants “walk across the border that have no skill, no education, and are looking for a free deal.”  For immigrants, and many Americans, alike, it is not about “studying hard,” as Mrs. Romney said, but about finding it hard to study.

When Mitt Romney said he was “not concerned about the very poor,” he added, “I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine.”  He then said, “I’m concerned about the heart of America, the 95% of Americans who are right now struggling.” (“Romney: ‘I’m not concerned about the very poor,’” By. Tami Luhby, Ibid)  Perhaps, like in Florida,  he is “networking” for their votes.

Mitt Romney’s real concern is for “the very rich.”  He embodies and represents the interests of America’s 1%.  This fact should be obvious.  A giveaway is a front-page New York Times story called “For Wealthy Romney Donors, Up Close and Personal Access.”   The story begins, “They schmoozed with Mitt Romney at a barbeque cookout at the Olympic Park, pressing him on labor regulations and the threat of a  nuclear Iran as downhill skiers performed midair flips behind them” (By Michael Barbaro, June 24, 2012)

Who are they?  Another New York Times story, by Michael Barbaro, reports: “Mitt Romney’s biggest donors and fund-raisers are descending on Utah’s exclusive Deer Valley resort . . . 700 guests, who either contributed $50,000 or raised $250,000 for the campaign.”  And who “will have unfettered access to Mr. Romney himself.”   Barbaro suggests the people Romney really cares about: “The campaign’s reliance, however, on wealthy donors and its refusal to disclose the identity of his bundlers, as the Obama campaign has done, has drawn criticism from advocates of campaign finance reform, and reinforced Mr. Romney’s image as a candidate whose greatest appeal is to America’s elite.”  (“Romney’s Personal Touch Pays Off With Donors,” June 21, 2012)

The Los Angeles Times begins Mitt Romney’s exclusive Utah “senior leadership retreat” this way: “It was the kind of image Mitt Romney has sought to blunt during his campaign for president: a prodigious display of wealth.”  The story continues, “At a private retreat this weekend, major Romney campaign donors quaffed 1927 Port they’d brought in for the occasion, mingled in the lobby of a posh resort called the Chateaux at Silver Lake and watched an aerial display of Olympic ski jumpers.” (“Major Romney donors rewarded at lavish Utah retreat,” By Seema Mehta and Matea Gold, June 23, 2012)

From Utah to the Hamptons on Long Island, it is about Mitt Romney’s embrace of the 1%.  A New York Times story makes the point with the title, “Romney Mines the Hamptons for Campaign Cash.”  The story, by Michael Barbaro and Sarah Wheaton,, is about “a day of elegant campaign events at the . . . multimillion-dollar mansions . . . of the ultra-rich.”  With Romney “arriving at around noon for the first of three major fund-raisers . . . his motorcade of Chevrolet Suburbans by-passing a line of  gleaming Bentleys, Porsches and Mercedes-Benzes waiting to deposit guests paying up to $25,000 a head to hear him speak.”  At billionaire David Koch’s fund-raiser were “about 200 protesters,” who “hired a local pilot to fly a great red and black banner over Mr. Koch’s house, which read: “Romney has a Koch problem,”  And “nearby, about 16 Romney supporters staged a small counter-protest, waving placards that said, “Mitt  is It.” (July 9, 2012)

Mitt isn’t it!

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy.  Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care.  His book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, has just been published.  He can be reached at wm.alberts@gmail.com.