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Opinion

September 19, 2012

Romney’s remarks may undermine his remedy

EDITORIAL — If successful businessman Mitt Romney hopes to write the prescription that heals the nation’s ailing economy, he needs to work on his bedside manner. Stat.

Over and over again in this campaign, Romney – a multi-millionaire who was born rich and then made his own fortune on Wall Street – has demonstrated a tin ear when it comes to talking about money. While the voters he needs to win in November may support his political and economic philosophy, they may be turned off by the clinical approach that his great wealth allows him to take to the problems of struggling families.

From the $10,000 bet he casually offered to make with Texas Gov. Rick Perry during a debate, to the mention of his wife Ann driving a couple of Cadillacs, claims that he’s feared getting a pink slip, credulity-stretching tales of early years living on a low-budget (while his father covered his tuition at Harvard and bought him his first home) and his advice to young people struggling to get started in a weak economy to borrow $20,000 from their parents, Romney just doesn’t sound like a guy who ever waited, fingers crossed, for payday to come before somebody tries to cash a check he wrote yesterday.

During the primaries he took a lot of heat for saying he wasn’t  concerned about the very poor because the welfare state takes care of them. Instead he said his focus was on improving the lot of a middle class that’s been hurt by the weak economy.

Romney may in fact be dedicated to doing that and his plans to reform tax policy, reduce regulation and cut spending may in the end be the cure that America needs to restore its financial health after the economic meltdown of 2008 and the long hard years since.

But the release this week of comments he made at a closed fundraising event in May certainly can’t help.

Romney told the audience at the $50,000 a ticket event at the home of a private equity tycoon that he’s written off winning the votes of nearly half of Americans who he said don’t pay any income tax.

They will vote for President Obama “no matter what,” Romney told his donors.

“There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it,” he said.

“My role is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Romney said Monday the remarks weren’t “elegantly stated” but were part of his argument that Obama believes in a “government-centered society.” He said “the president’s approach is attractive to people who are not paying taxes because, frankly, my discussion about lowering taxes isn’t as attractive to them ... Therefore I’m not likely to draw them into my campaign as effectively as those in the middle.”

“The middle” is an interesting term. Last week Romney stated clearly that as far as he is concerned middle income means households making between $200,000 and $250,000. That’s a far cry from the median income nationally, which is around $50,000.

Many of the 47 percent who Romney says don’t pay income taxes (others put the number as high as 53 percent) earn $50,000 or less. Some earn more. Depending on the number of deductions claimed, the Associated Press reports that households taking home as much as $100,000 may end up owing the federal government nothing when tax day rolls around. The AP also reports that up to 16 million senior citizens are among those who don’t pay income tax.

That doesn’t mean they don’t pay taxes. A fat refund check from Uncle Sam doesn’t necessarily exempt them from state and local income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, sin taxes and excise taxes.

Romney’s supporters have asserted, quite rightly, that his comments at the fundraising event were a frank assessment of the challenges his campaign faces. He said nothing that other conservatives haven’t said a hundred times before in their ongoing critique of an America they believe is sliding from self-sufficiency to dependency. Some are even saying that he’d be doing better in the polls if he offered up that kind of realistic diagnosis in his public comments.

There’s no question that the nation is going to have to swallow some bad tasting medicine to cure its financial ills, but if Romney hopes to be the man who takes the nation off life support he’s going to have to stop sounding like a doctor who may be a whiz in the operating room but whose demeanor around patients is off-putting to the point of being dismissive.

Perhaps so much so that it leads them to reject the second opinion he offers and stick with the physician who hasn’t killed them so far.

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