Eileen McNamara wonders why anyone is shocked by Mitt Romney's latest private comments when he has been saying the same thing in public all along.(AP File Photo)
Spare me the shock. Anyone stunned to learn that Mitt Romney is contemptuous of the poor, oblivious to the struggles of ordinary people and clueless about international affairs has just not been paying attention.
That the former governor of Massachusetts and the increasingly out-of-touch Republican Party consider Americans (specifically 47 percent of Americans) who receive any government benefits “entitled” slackers invested in their self-image as “victims” is not news. It is the heart of the GOP’s “We Built It” campaign, the conceit that those who make it in America do so entirely under their own steam. (Having a father who was president of American Motors before he was governor of Michigan apparently had nothing to do with Romney’s opportunities in life.)
The videotaped candor Romney displayed at a $50,000-per-plate fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida last May mirrors remarks he has been making on the campaign trail all year.
Remember the TV appearance last January when he told a CNN interviewer, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there,” a reference to federally funded social programs that, in their deficit-cutting zeal, Romney and Paul Ryan have vowed to slash if elected?
Remember his response last February to an Associated Press reporter who asked whether he followed NASCAR? “Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans,” he said. “But I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.”
Remember his appearance in Detroit the same month when he told an audience in a city with the highest poverty rate of any major U.S. city that “Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually.”?
Remember the town meeting last March in a Youngstown, Ohio assembly plant when a high school senior asked how, in the face of escalating tuition, he could afford a college education?
“It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that. Don’t just go to one that has the highest price,” said the man with two Harvard graduate degrees. “Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And hopefully you’ll find that. And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”
Remember his appearance last April in Westerville, Ohio when he told students at Otterbein University that they should emulate the entrepreneurial spirit of Jimmy John, who borrowed $20,000 from his dad to open Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches?
“Take, take a shot. Go for it. Take a risk. Get the education. Borrow money if you have to from your parents. Start a business,” he exhorted students, obtusely unaware that not everyone’s parents have a spare $20,000 to lend.
These were not the gaffes of a tone-deaf presidential candidate, exploited by a headline-seeking press corps. These were not evidence of a tin ear. These were an honest reflection of Romney’s limited life experience, a narrowness of perspective and exposure that he has shown no interest in broadening across 65 years and two national campaigns.
Wealth does not disqualify a candidate for public office; willful ignorance of the world beyond his country club set does. The late Senator Edward M. Kennedy could hardly have had a more privileged upbringing but he spent 47 years in the United States Senate educating himself about those born in less favored circumstances, here and abroad.
Romney has done exactly the opposite, surrounding himself with the moneyed interests he promises to protect if he becomes president. In July, at a Jerusalem fundraiser, Romney was seated beside Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire Las Vegas casino owner who has dumped millions into the Republican race this year, when he demonstrated that his gift for pandering to his Israeli hosts outstripped his understanding of the politics or the economics of the Middle East. No wonder he is heard on the videotape from Boca Raton insisting that “there’s just no way” a separate Palestinian state could work and that there can be no discussion with the mullahs of Iran because they are “crazy people.”
“Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said in Jerusalem in a simple-minded explanation of the economic disparities between Israelis and Palestinians. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”
Never mind the World Bank report earlier this year which concluded that “the government of Israel’s security restrictions continue to stymie investment” in the Palestinian territories. Romney apparently had not read it.
He did claim, however, to have read “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond, a professor of geography at UCLA, which helped form his notion that culture explains why some nations are weak and poor while others are strong and rich. “That is so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it,” Diamond wrote a week later in an op-ed in The New York Times, adding “Mitt Romney may be our next president. Will he continue to espouse one-factor explanations for multicausal problems, and fail to understand history and the modern world?’”
Only if we continue to feign shock every time he opens his mouth.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.