Mitt Romney may not be the most callous candidate who has ever run for president, but he is surely the most out of touch.
Everything about the GOP frontrunner screams awkwardness around those in lower income brackets. Ironically, most Americans earn less money but are in higher tax brackets than Mitt "Mr. 15 Percent" Romney.
Like a lot of out-of-touch rich guys who are throwbacks to the Gilded Age, Mr. Romney is blissfully unaware of how contrived he appears to ordinary people. It isn't just his vast wealth that separates him from most of his fellow Americans; it is also his unadulterated strangeness. Why would any self-respecting presidential candidate break into a weirdly syncopated version of "America, the Beautiful" just because he won a primary by outspending his competitors?
Mr. Romney also cuts a particularly goofy figure because he's noblesse oblige without the noblesse or the oblige. Sure, the most jagged edges of his personality have been shaved off to make him more appealing to the sweaty masses, but his ruthless condescension continues to shine through. His phoniness is literally painful to watch.
Mr. Romney's latest gaffe -- confessing to lacking concern for the very poor because "they have a safety net" -- is destined to become a classic in Freudian self-immolation. One day, Mr. Romney can take his place in the Clueless Plutocrats' Hall of Fame, where fellow inductees Scrooge McDuck, Mr. Monopoly and Thurston Howell III can sneer at his obliviousness from lower pedestals.
Mr. Romney's gaffes are of the variety that consistently peel back the contours of what he truly believes. His campaign quickly squawked that his comments to CNN were taken out of context. It's hard, however, to feel sorry for the candidate who ran a deceptive ad in November quoting President Obama quoting Sen. John McCain saying, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose," as if they were the president's own words about his record.
At the time, the Romney campaign was proud of itself for distorting Mr. Obama's comments. His advisers even bragged to the media about ripping Mr. Obama's quote out of context. As much as they would now like to argue that Mr. Romney has become a victim of the politics of false equivalency, it doesn't help them even when the comment is heard in context.
If Mr. Romney is the Republican nominee, he'll have the entire fall campaign to explain to the American public exactly what he meant, since ads featuring his gaffe will be in heavy rotation.
But anyone can be unfairly misquoted, right? True, but the art of being a half-decent politician consists in not saying incredibly stupid things like clockwork, because that only reveals what's really in your heart. The day after Mr. Romney goofed, Mr. Obama explained during a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast why he proposes to raise taxes on the rich.
"When I talk about our financial institutions playing by the same rules as folks on Main Street, when I talk about making sure insurance companies aren't discriminating against those who are already sick or making sure that unscrupulous lenders aren't taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us, I do so because I genuinely believe it will make the economy stronger for everybody," Mr. Obama said.
"But I also do it because I know far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years. And I believe in God's command to 'Love thy neighbor as thyself,' " he added, tying his faith to his political rationale.
Because Mitt Romney's such a hollow suit, it is impossible to imagine him justifying his policies based on a coherent appeal to democratic traditions, religious values or conscience. When he isn't being cornered by a skilled interviewer like CNN's Soledad O'Brien, he resorts to either patriotic blather, singing or uttering banalities. When he wanders too far from his script, it's a disaster.
Jesus once said, "You'll always have the poor with you." Even taken out of context, only the shallowest capitalist would infer from that statement that Jesus was indifferent to the poor or fatalistic about their condition. All one has to do is look at the totality of his life to know that there's more to the story.
As far as Mitt Romney and his ilk are concerned, however, the poor are always on their own.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631.