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Liar! Liar! Jeans on Fire!

Romney and The Other

by Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS

Mitt Romney recently visited a successful White-owned trucking company in the predominately Black Roxbury section of Boston to hype his repeated lie that President Obama said, “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that.   . . . Somebody else made that happen.”  Romney argued that owner Brian Maloney’s Middlesex Truck & Coach company “is not the result of government,” but “of people who take risk, who have dreams, who build for themselves and for their families.” (“In Roxbury, Romney hits Obama’s business message,” By Callum Borchers, The Boston Globe, July 20, 2012)  Romney chose Roxbury to actually justify and promote his personal, riches-accumulating brand of free enterprise, and to brand as socialistic Obama’s assumed ideological belief that individual achievement is really “a collective success of the whole society.” (“Mitt Romney Seeks To Broaden Small-Business Debate After President Obama’s Remarks,” By Jon Ward, WWW.huffingtonpost.com, July 19, 2012)  The only thing Mitt Romney has in common with the vast majority of Roxbury’s residents were his jeans.  But this hypocrisy did not stop him.

Liar!  Liar!  Jeans on fire!  What President Obama actually said on July 13 at a Roanoke campaign event evidently threatened America’s extremely rich 1%, who are Mitt Romney’s true constituency, not hard-working entrepreneurs like Brian Maloney and his small company.  The Roanoke Times headlined the president’s speech, “Obama tells Roanoke crowd he will help keep American dream alive for working class.”  The Times stated, “President Obama used his speech at a Roanoke event tonight to cast his race for re-election against Republican challenger Mitt Romney as a choice between boosting the middle-class or helping the rich.” The story said that Obama’s  “speech was targeted at winning middle-class voters, particularly with a proposal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for another year, but only on household income of less than $250,000 annually;” whereas “Republicans want to extend the tax cuts for all income levels.”  Then more dangerous words from the president:  “Obama cast the GOP stance as a step back instead of forward, essentially calling that approach trickle-down economics that benefit the rich while gutting investments elsewhere.” (Mason Adams, The Roanoke Times and Associated Press)

Below is much of what President Obama actually said in Roanoke:

We’ve already made a trillion dollars worth of cuts.  We can make some more cuts . . .And what we then have to do is ask for the wealthy to pay a little bit more.  There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t—look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. . .  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.(Applause)

If you were successful, somebody along the way gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.Somebody else made that happen.

The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all of the companies could make money off the Internet.  The point is, when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. (“Did Obama Say, ‘If You’ve Got a Business, You Didn’t Build That?, “ By JakeTapper, ABC News, July 16, 2012; “Memewatch: Did Obama Say That Successful )

“Come here and talk to Brian, and you’ll learn that in fact he did build his business . . . someone  else isn’t responsible for what he did here,” said blue jeans-wearing Mitt Romney–  photographically captured and described as being “flanked by denim-clad [mostly white] workers in a garage bay at Middlesex Truck & Coach.” (“In Roxbury, Romney hits Obama’s business message,” Ibid)  Then blue-jeans wearing Brian Maloney, standing next to Romney, is quoted: “I take umbrage at the suggestion that people don’t start and build businesses.”  He explained, “I started out with 500 bucks and worked with my hands to afford grad school at night.  My wife supported me,” he said.  “Started a little body shop and was able to bring people together one at a time.”  He finished with, “We don’t need any more of government’s help.  We haven’t had any.  We only had pain.  It’s overbearing.  It’s top-heavy.” (“Romney’s Obama Attack Gets Sidetracked,” by Sarah Huisenga, nationaljournal.com, July 19, 2012)

Liar!  Liar!  Jeans on fire!  The Boston Globe provided context that torched Mitt Romney’s and Brian Maloney’s comments: “In the late 1970s, according to a 1986 Globe profile of the business, ‘he approached Boston city officials because a preferential bank loan was possible if his firm relocated to the Crosstown Industrial Park,’ where Middlesex Truck & Coach remains to this day.”  The Globe story tells more: “In its first year at the new location, Maloney’s company accepted a $560,000 federal government contract to overhaul 10 buses.  Within half a decade of the move, Maloney reported, his company had quintupled its annual revenue.” (“In Roxbury, Romney hits Obama’s business message.”(Ibid)  Thus, this story is about two fundamental realities in our society: one, sometimes we are weak and succumb to what we believe is the most powerful storyline, as is the case here; but second, some people in powerful positions are willing to use their positions of power to perpetuate lies if it means keeping them in those very positions.

How did Mitt Romney and Brian Maloney handle the possibility of being faced with this kind of context?  The Boston Globe reported,  ”Neither Romney nor Maloney answered reporters’ questions after the event.   Maloney did not respond to a phone message left at his office.”  The story then noted, “Maloney, though he owns a business in Roxbury, lives in a six-bedroom colonial in Brookline assessed at $1.3 million, according to property records.” (Ibid)  One was weak, and succumbed to weakness; the other was arrogant with power, and used it, arrogantly and as a lie to keep the former in check.

WBZ-TV political analyst and reporter Jon Keller provides additional inflaming context for Brian Maloney’s “bootstraps”   In an interview at the jeans scene, “Maloney acknowledged that his business received some government help.  ‘The only way I was able to come here, because I had no money, was with an industrial-revenue bond,’ Mahoney said in the interview.”  (italics added).  More context by Keller: “Industrial-revenue bonds are typically issued by local and state governments to attract new business to an area.  They create low-interest loans for new development and startups.” (“Romney’s Obama Attack Gets Sidetracked,” Ibid)  But, interestingly, why is this not big news?

Ironically, Brian Maloney benefited from the depressed economic conditions of mostly Black and Latino Roxbury.   He obtained  a low-interest government-funded  industrial-revenue bond, which is offered to  companies willing to relocate to and expand in communities, and thereby “provide jobs and economic opportunities for residents and the community.” (See, “Industrial Revenue Bonds Explained,” Albuquerque – Official City Website, www.cabq.gov)   Rather than pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, Maloney benefited from an ingrained White-controlled hierarchy of access to political and economic power that has historically kept Black and Latino people down.  When governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney played a key role in maintaining that hierarchy.  His role is alluded to in the rest of The Boston Globe story on his visit to Roxbury.

Mitt Romney’s very presence in “one of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods,” as The Boston Globe story states, was met with “about 60 demonstrators. . . Some held signs that read, ‘Hey, Willard, are you lost?’”  And Democratic Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson provided a response to the question: “’I’m very happy that former governor Romney found his way here, but you know what? . . . He didn’t find himself in this community that often’ as governor, Jackson said.” (“In Roxbury, Romney hits Obama’s business message,” Ibid)  This story continues to show how Romney sees Black and Brown people as The Other: they are merely props for the exploitation of the powerful and privileged in US society.

Here is context for City Councilor Jackson’s comment, which reveals the “families” and their “dreams” Mitt Romney did not care about when governor of Massachusetts from  2003-2007.  Just six months into office, on Bunker Hill Day, in an empty Statehouse, “Governor Romney,” as reported by The Boston Globe, “eliminated the State Office of Affirmative Action and retooled the framework that forces state agencies to comply with hiring goals for racial minorities, physically disabled people, and veterans.  Critics,” the story continued, “. . . complain that Romney’s changes strip minorities of guarantees of equal access to state government jobs.”  (“Affirmative action system overhauled: Romney move is defended and criticized,” By Rick Klein and Yvonne Abraham, Aug. 28, 2003)

A critical Boston Globe editorial stated that Romney “sent exactly the wrong message in signing an executive order to revamp the state’s affirmative action program, consigning to the trash heap 33 years of guarantees that minorities and women would have equal access to state jobs.” (“Mitt Romney’s Record on Affirmative Action in Massachusetts,” By Andrew Miga, AP, www.huffingtonpost.com, June 2, 2012)  Would Governor Romney care about this critique?  Obviously not, for at times those with wealth, and seeking power based on such wealth, are quite arrogant.

More context of Governor Romney’s relationship with the Black community in Roxbury is provided by Adam Serwer of Mother Jones, who quotes Leonard Atkins, former head of the Boston NAACP. “’There was no relationship between the NAACP in Boston and Gov. Mitt Romney and his administration,’ Atkins says.  ‘The only time that the NAACP had interaction with the administration and the governor was to protest when he eliminated the affirmative action office.’” (“Mitt Romney’s Long, Troubled History With the NAACP, July 11, 2012)

Longtime Boston political and communication strategist Joyce Ferriabough reveals additional context regarding the people whose “families” and their “dreams” Mitt Romney really cared about as governor.  “First of all, the Weld administration, their cabinet, was one of the most diverse.  He had women in very high positions in his administration and people of color.  . . . Romney,” she continued, “I can’t remember one person of color he had in a high-ranking position in his administration.” (“Ahead of NAACP Address, Activists Take Critical Look At Romney’s Mass. Civil Rights Record, By Delores Handy, www.wbur.org, July 11, 2012)

The Boston Globe presents more context regarding what was really in Governor Romney’s White-favored hierarchical heart.  “Responding for the first time to criticism that the vast majority of his judicial nominees have been white men,” the news story begins, “Governor Mitt Romney pledged yesterday to add more women and minorities to the ranks of state judges and said his goal is to see an equal proportion of men and women on the bench.” (“Romney focuses on bench choices: Vows to appoint women, minorities,” By Ralph Ranalli and Janette Neuwahl, Feb. 10, 2005)  However, ten months later a Globe story disclosed more of the governor’s heartfelt inclinations: “With an abundance of judicial vacancies likely this year, Governor Mitt Romney has seized control of the way judges are nominated in Massachusetts, weakening a 35-year-old panel intended to evaluate candidates without regard to politics.” (“Romney curtails panel advising on new judges: Group to have cursory role,” By Michael Levenson, Apr. 9, 2006)

This is the same presumptive Republican presidential candidate who recently stood before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People delegates and said, “I believe that if you understood who I truly am 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)  But how would he know the “real, enduring best interests of African American families,” when Black people have always been The Other in his entire life?  What arrogance of wealth to suggest that such would make him know what is in the best interests of The Other.

What else in Mitt Romney’s “heart” as governor did not include poor Massachusetts minority  “families,” with“ dreams” who sought redress against discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations.  Romney planned to impose a $125 fee for access to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).  Paul H. Merry, general counsel and chief of enforcement of MCAD at the time sounded the alarm, writing, “Poor, undereducated workers have long come to MCAD when faced with workplace, housing and public accommodation discrimination.”  He then specified, “Hmong, Russians, Nigerians, and speakers of Haitian Creole, among many others, as well as African-American and Hispanic citizens, stream through the agency’s doors.  But, “ he continued, “this long-established avenue of redress for the state’s women and minority group members will soon be substantially cut off if the announced plan to impose a filing fee of $125 is put into effect.” (“MCAD filing fees: the end of equal access to workplace justice,” www.massbar.org, Vol.  5, No 3, 2003)  Fortunately, the fee was rejected by the Legislature’s Democratic majority. (“Romney’s Diversity Record Could Prove Awkward, By Edward Mason, the Atlantic, Mar. 1, 2012)

Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times reveals more context regarding the “families” and their “dreams” Mitt Romney wrote off as governor.  He states, “Romney was unsparing in his vetoes, risking political fallout far and wide.”   Finnegan went on, “He reduced allocations for state police and local sheriff’s departments.  He deleted spending on suicide prevention, emergency food aid, job training, higher education, treatment for gambling addiction and services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.”  Why such severe cuts?  Finnegan states, “His rationale was simple: The state couldn’t afford it.” (“Romney touts his Massachusetts record as fiscal hawk,” June 9, 2012)

Michael Finnegan gives more context on what was really in Governor Romney’s “heart.”  He writes, “Just before Thanksgiving, plans for Romney cuts targeting the homeless, mentally ill, deaf, autistic and others led to a blast of bad publicity.  Fearing it could get worse,” Finnegan states, “Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s communications director, asked the governor’s budget team whether the Goodwill hall where Romney planned to serve turkey to the needy might be facing cuts.”  The Times obtained an email from “Romney’s budget director, Thomas Trimarco” that said, “’The safer bet is to have the Gov serve meals in NH’ . . . [as] Romney spends some holidays at a family vacation home in New Hampshire.”

(Ibid)

For more information about how Black Life fared as The Other under Mitt Romney’s administration, see Dr. James Jennings’ State of Black Boston 2010 report, prepared for the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, the NAACP Boston Branch and the William Monroe Trotter Institute.   Dr. Jennings found that consistently “the unemployment rate for Blacks . . . is 13.2% . . .compared to 4.9% for the White unemployment rate . . . 10.3% for Latinos and 8.0% for Asians.”  That “more than one-fifth (22.5%) of all Black families, and Asian families (22.5%), and almost one-third (30.9%) of all Latino/a families are impoverished compared to 7.1% for White families”  And that “Black median household income is $33,420 . . . Latino income $28,793 . . . [and] White median household at $63,980.”  These are challenges completely ignored or dismissed by the Romney administration, again, because in America, Black people, Latino people, Asian people, Gay people, Poor people and children are The Other.

Dr. Jennings concludes his study with a context that remained in the shadows during Mitt Romney’s visit to Roxbury.  He states, “There are vast inequalities reflected in the life experience of Blacks and other people of color compared to Whites in the areas of jobs and employment, income and poverty.  Generally speaking,” Jennings continues, “lower living conditions in the areas of housing, income, and poverty tend to be strongly associated, but not exclusively, with Blacks and Latinos living in in Boston.”

But does this critique mean that Mitt Romney is concerned about middle class white “families” and their “dreams?”  Perhaps not.    He may wear jeans and visit a small White-owned business in mostly Black and Latino Roxbury, but his heart of “gold” is strictly for the 1%ers.  How sad and ironic that a struggling and creative entrepreneur in Roxbury, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Grand City of Boston, did not realize what Romney really values.

Mitt Romney endorsed Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget and called it “marvelous,” which is where his “heart” is.  A budget about which the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says, “would get at least 62 percent of its $5.3 trillion in nondefense budget cuts over ten years . . . from programs that serve people of limited means.”  The Center describes the cuts Ryan’s budget would make, such as, “$2.4 trillion in reductions from Medicaid and other health care for people with low and moderate incomes.”  And “at least $463 billion in mandatory cuts serving low-income Americans.  . . . The documents also show $166 billion in mandatory cuts in the education, training, employment and social services portion of the budget . . . which would likely come mainly from the mandatory portion of the Pell Grant program for low-income students.” (“Chairman Ryan Gets 62 Percent of His Huge Budget Cuts from Programs for Lower-Income Americans,” By Kelsey Merrick and Jim Horney, www.cbpp.org,  Mar. 23, 2012)

Rep. Paul Ryan’s “marvelous” budget also gives big tax breaks to the 1%– sorry, no place for that small business owner in Roxbury.   And it protects military defense spending.  This part of the budget would serve Mitt Romney well if he were to be elected president.  He has said, “If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon.  If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” (“Is There a Romney Doctrine?,” By David E. Sanger, The New York Times, May 12, 2012)  As president, Romney’s military job-creating plan could well involve war against Iran– and more sacrificing of the lives of young American men and women on the 1%ers’ altar of corporate greed.

Beware of presidential candidates wearing jeans so that they may appear just like us.   It is likely that where their treasure is, there will their heart be also.  It is not just about individual wealth, but also about the commonwealth.  It is about The Other.  And about context.  Liar!  Liar!  Jeans on fire!

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.