Mitt Romney thinks he has figured out why people are critiquing his private-sector record: they’re jealous of rich people.
Romney said on Wednesday’s Today show that all the carping about greed and excess in America is “about envy. It’s about class warfare.”
Romney is smarting from attacks over his time as the head of Bain Capital, the Boston private-equity firm he founded. Gov. Rick Perry called Romney a “vulture capitalist” and Newt Gingrich accused him of “looting companies” while at Bain. These broadsides echo the Democrats who have derided Romney as a “corporate buyout specialist” who outsourced and eliminated jobs in order to line his own pockets.
Yet, like the snobby homecoming queen who thinks everyone hates her because they are jealous, Romney can’t see that it’s not his financial success in itself that is the problem. It’s that many people find his self-serving brand of capitalism—which was the hallmark of the recent economic collapse—repulsive.
Don’t blame the green-eyed monster. It’s simply that Americans are increasingly fed up with the behavior of the ultra-wealthy who have enriched themselves with no regard for the pile of middle class bodies they leave in their wake. In fact, a Pew poll released Wednesday discovered that two thirds of the public (66 percent) believes there are “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor, up 19 points since 2009.
Why would this be? Cue the tape: “Make a profit. That’s the name of the game, right?” a smirking Romney says in King of Bain: When Romney Came to Town, a documentary Gingrich’s super PAC released on the Internet Wednesday.
In other words: don't hate the player, hate the game.
But it’s not a “game,” Mitt.
Furthermore, making a profit is only one component of owning a business. Whatever happened to the idea that you are responsible for your workers and to the larger community? Too often, people feel like just pawns in a game of ever-increasing largesse for the top dogs. The big shots are always the winners—often getting payouts in the millions when their companies fail—and the “losers” are left to figure out how to eat or buy clothes for their children. (A new study found that $100 million “golden parachutes” have become commonplace for failed CEOs.)
Romney’s “class envy” claim is predicated on a lie we often here from the uber-rich and their defenders: the highest goal and achievement for Americans is to be wealthy, when all most people want is to be able to provide a decent lives for their families.
Pew Research found in 2008 that only 13 percent of adults say it’s “very important” for them to be wealthy. The survey found that, “Four times more people say ‘doing volunteer work or donating to charity’ is a very important priority than say the same about being wealthy." And about five times more Americans (67 percent) say it’s very important to them to have enough free time. Having children, living a religious life, and getting married also ranked vastly higher than being wealthy.
Yet, Romney has made the “class envy” trope central to his message. In his New Hampshire victory speech Romney whined that President Obama “divides us with the bitter politics of envy.”
Romney complained to on Wednesday’s Today show, “Everywhere [President Obama] goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It's a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail." In maximum Thurston Howell III mode, Romney allowed, "I think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms.” But the president is talking about it in public!
How uncouth. Doesn’t Obama know that it’s always best to discuss the unwashed masses over martinis at the gentlemen’s club?
The unlikely hero in this tale has been Newt Gingrich, who has been making the most coherent argument for ethical capitalism. Says Gingrich, what we want is “a free enterprise system that is honest ... fair to everyone and gives everyone an equal opportunity to pursue happiness.” Criticizing Romney’s brand of free enterprise, Gingrich said, “It’s not fine if the person who is rich manipulates the system, gets away with all the cash and leaves behind the human beings.”
Be still, my heart.
Newt’s new message—and Romney’s continued tin ear to this issue—may pay dividends in the upcoming primary states. Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, which have some of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, people in South Carolina are suffering mightily with a 9.9 percent unemployment rate. Ditto for the following two primary states, Florida and Nevada, with jobless rates in the double digits.
Romney gaffes, such as “I like to be able to fire people” probably aren’t going to engender a lot of love. Nor will his joking that, “I’m also unemployed … and I’m not working” as he told a group of unemployed Floridians. In Nevada—with the highest foreclosure rate in the country—a clip showing Romney saying, “Don’t try and stop the foreclosure process” is sure to be a dud.
Romney needs to figure out that Americans aren’t player haters. They don’t have “Mitt envy.” They just want jobs.
I’ll bet Romney $10,000 I’m right.