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Romney's classic rich-guy mistake: Confusing wealth and virtue

Mitt RomneyElectionsSupplemental Nutrition Assistance ProgramBarack ObamaRepublican PartyGeorge W. Bush

It was a clear sign the campaign has gone on too long when I had a dream about Mitt Romney a couple of nights ago. Other than the fact that the Romney summoned from my unconscious was sitting at a breakfast table with me and was willingly answering questions, the dream was pretty realistic. The candidate was dressed in his ubiquitous Brooks Brothers checked shirt and relaxed-fit jeans. He seemed relaxed, too. But when I asked him a softball question about the personal strains of campaigning, he answered with a generic policy statement.

Like I said, it was a pretty realistic dream.

Sometimes I wonder if Mr. Romney really thinks about the questions he is asked or the words that come out of his mouth, or if he just plugs in the lines he's been fed. When asked to offer a new, detailed plan for turning the economy around, he rattles of his "five-point plan" that consists of the same conservative bromides about cutting taxes and regulations and unleashing the job creators that we have been hearing at least since George W. Bush mouthed them in the 2000 election. Does he not understand the meaning of the words "new" and "detailed?"

In the midst of the attacks on American diplomats in Cairo and Benghazi, Mr. Romney said President Obama was sympathizing with the attackers -- an outrageous statement that was contradicted by Mr. Obama's actual tough talk and four years of relentless drone strikes against terrorist targets. Would Mr. Romney have said such a thing if he had taken a minute to mull over subjects, verbs and adjectives before he said them out loud?

The same questions come to mind when viewing the surreptitious video of Mr. Romney's now-infamous 47 percent monologue. In a comfy setting, surrounded by his wealthy peers, he maligned nearly half the people in the country because they do not pay income taxes. Mr. Romney called them "victims" who want government to supply their every need. Why did he not stop to think that 47 percent is a lot of people? Is he not savvy enough to know half the American electorate could not be welfare bums?

As soon as the video came to light, critics -- including many conservatives -- pointed out that the 47 percent is composed mostly of disabled veterans, retired people, the working poor, a few thousand millionaires with good tax lawyers and millions of former members of the middle class who have lost their jobs. Some further noted that the policy that gives them a break from paying taxes was an idea championed by many Republicans, such as President Ronald Reagan. Only about 15 percent of the 47 percent are underemployed poor families who receive food stamps and other government assistance.

These facts did not seem to faze Mr. Romney. He acknowledges that his words were "inelegant," but he and his campaign continue to stand by his premise that there is a vast swath of Americans who are increasingly dependent on government. Indeed, there are more people receiving food stamps and unemployment checks, but that has a great deal to do with the economic calamity Mr. Romney's friends on Wall Street brought down on the country in 2008 and is no proof half the people of this country want to become permanent wards of the state.

Such facts do not matter to Mr. Romney. He shares the illusion of the rich -- people such as those in the room where he spoke of the 47 percent -- who find it comforting to believe money is a reward for virtue, and that those who do not have money are, therefore, lacking in virtue, brains and drive. Helping out those who struggle with financial challenges, therefore, simply rewards sloth and is bad policy -- especially if it means millionaires and billionaires have to pay higher taxes.

Mitt Romney's biggest liability in his run for president has been the public perception that he is an out-of-touch rich guy. The reason that perception has been so hard to overcome is that it is the truth. Mitt's father and mother -- both wealthy, but liberal, Republicans -- tried to teach their kid the value of personal frugality and empathy for people of modest means. The lesson, apparently, did not stick with their country club brat of a son.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Mitt RomneyElectionsSupplemental Nutrition Assistance ProgramBarack ObamaRepublican PartyGeorge W. Bush
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