Continuing my comments on Mitt Romney’s “very ample safety net” statement on CNN; see the first half of my post: Mitt Romney: Can You Help Us, Mr. Fix It? (Part 1)…
So, as I said in Part 1, it’s very important to assess presidential candidates in a just and fair manner, and too often the news media is blaring the one sentence “not concerned about the very poor” sans context. But, to be honest, Romney’s answer is even worse when examined in its full context and nuance. Gail Collins over at the NYT wrote an excellent line-by-line breakdown of Mitt’s full statement. I won’t reprint her words here but I highly recommend you take a look.
Romney’s statement (read it here in full) singles out the 95% of Americans in the middle as his main concern. He’s not concerned about the top 1% and that leaves the bottom 4% he isn’t concerned about. Basic arithmetic shows the bottom 4% are those earning under $5,000 annually, a group politicians barely notice exist, much less spend time helping. This category would probably encompass mostly the elderly and disabled, and the homeless, including a lot of homeless veterans.
The most intelligent and spot-on post I’ve seen on this so far in the sprawling blogosphere is from the Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk: Three Thoughts on Mitt Romney’s ‘Very Poor’ Day : CJR
What makes it great is it actually does what journalism should, dig beneath the noise and the claims and try and unearth the facts. It points out that when Romney says the bottom 4% have a “very ample safety net” and it’s the middle class that needs help, it reveals a deep misunderstanding about the safety net in his brain. The article points out that social programs, for example Medicaid, spend more on long-term care for the elderly and disabled than on any other line item, and plenty of those folks qualify under medical assistance and Medicaid keeps them perched barely on the edge of a middle class quality of life. The article also cites data showing that many beneficiaries of Medicaid are actually middle-class families—certainly families in that broad “90-95 percent of Americans” that Romney says he wants to help—who “would otherwise be stuck with the full tab for care for their elderly and disabled relatives.” Medicaid is life support for the middle class as much as it’s a “safety net” for “the very poor.” More people should be cognizant of this data. Paul Ryan is: he hates that Medicaid is benefiting the middle class.
When pressed by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien after his initial “very poor” remark, Romney went on to say “We will hear from the Democrat Party about the plight of the poor.”
Essentially, he’s saying that’s their job, not Republicans’ role.
This references a political balance that may have existed 30 years ago, when Tip O’Neill and outspoken liberals controlled the House of Representatives and made sure the concerns of the poor were heard sometimes, but most certainly doesn’t exist now. No Democratic party leader that would remotely try to balance the scales toward the poor has existed since the era Tip O’Neill clinked high ball glasses in the Oval Office with Ronnie after 6 o’clock, and spent all his working hours before 6pm standing up to President Reagan, fighting for his blue-collar, poor base. He was by the unions, for the unions, and that doesn’t exist anymore. That is over; Tip O’Neill died in 1994 and no one remotely like him has succeeded him. Nancy Pelosi, the longest-serving Democratic Speaker of the House since O’Neill (she served four years) spends more time cozying up to corporate interests than unions. Instead of O’Neill, a hardscrabble Catholic boy from a poor Irish district, fighting the good fight for every day blue-collar people, we have Pelosi, an aloof elite holding a net worth of approximately $58 million in real estate, stock, and businesses she and her husband own, and is now facing an insider trading scandal. Sadly, Chris Hedges is right about the death of the liberal class.
When was the last time you heard Pelosi or Obama, or even the Clintons talk about the very poor? About the impoverished elderly? About people with disabilities? About the marginalized and excluded bottom 4% of Americans who have no apparent “trampoline out of poverty”? If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “from the Democrat party [sic] about the plight of the poor” over the past 20 years, I doubt I’d have enough nickels to make a phone call. Democrats frequently speechify about “working families,” when the problem is American families aren’t working, they can’t find enough work to make ends meet; too much of our economic base has been off-shored, and there hasn’t been enough innovation to replace what’s been lost. Obama and Pelosi talk about the middle class, campaigning for that big demographic same as Mitt Romney is, minus mentioning the “very poor” at all.
So given the Democrats abdicating their past role as fighters for the poor, we have to ask the Republicans as well, Romney included, for assistance for those trapped at the bottom, for help fixing the safety net and the upward ladder.
Unfortunately, the video footage is coming out, showing that “the people who need the help most are not the poor” is a recurring theme in Romney’s stump speeches. This is really troubling stuff, particularly after all the data has again and again shown the U.S. to lead the developed world in poverty [Source]. Also, as Romney says “if [the safety net] has holes in it, I will repair them,” he’s simultaneously pushing forth a tax plan that would blow a hole in social programs’ funding like we’ve never seen: Romney Tax Plan Would Require Slashing Social Safety Net … Says Romney Economic Adviser. It is disturbing that Romney says we have a “very ample safety net” while the next minute pushing a tax plan that—based on the analysis of his own economic adviser—would require slashing the very social programs he’s saying he’ll “repair.” Yet another contradiction from Willard “Mitt” Romney, the human mystery wrapped in an enigma. I want to reform the system to revolutionize how it sees us and respects our individual freedom, we need a very big change, I like the possibilities in some of Senator Wyden’s ideas for replacing Medicaid—which he calls a “caste system”—with something better and more equitable; what we don’t need is to destroy the program, death from a thousand cuts.
Still, I hope for some kind of educational moment can come out of this. That’s why I’ve written Romney HQ a letter. I have nothing against Governor Romney as a person, I’m sure he’s a great, affable guy, and I’d love to meet him to work on bringing individualized funding, choice and competition to Medicaid/Medicare instead of “one size fits all.” We don’t really know what kind of Republican Willard is deep down or how he’ll really govern—is he a lefty Rockefeller Republican like his dad, a moderate pragmatist like George H. W. Bush, a hard-right Reagan-and-Ayn-Rand type?—we don’t know. So why not assume he can be very reform-minded like his dad; why can’t Mitt be the one to lead the way in revolutionizing Medicaid and Medicare to be completely different? Choice, competition, individualized budgeting, cash and counseling—let’s go!
After all, Romney supporters like to refer to Mitt Romney as “Mr. Fix-it.” I’ve seen dudes holding “Romney: Mr. Fix-it” signs prior to the debates on cable news. I found this image on mittromneycentral.com:
Fan art by MittFan12 (Steve Thomas)
In a bizarre interlude, me finding this “Romney Mr. Fix it” image led to me stumbling into the mittromneycentral.com chat room by accident. Most of the supporters in the chat were polite and cordial in answering my questions, and I left there with more respect for Team Romney than I came in with…
Mitt Romney, please fix the safety net.