Seems like hardly a news cycle goes by without Mitt Romney putting his foot in his mouth, thus proving to the 99% who weren't born into wealth and privilege, that he is one clueless dude. You've got to hand it to the former Massachusetts governor; in his inimitable stiff-as-a-board way, he is the reincarnation of Thurston Howell III, the clueless millionaire of Gilligan's Island. Gilligan fans will recall that millionaire Howell (Jim Backus) was so rich that he took tens of thousands of dollars and innumerable changes of clothing for what was supposed to have been "a three hour tour."
Unlike the fictional Thurston Howell III however, Willard Mitt Romney is both real and running for President of the United States. Every time Romney puts a bespoke John Lobb into his silver spoon fed mouth, a phalanx of political pundits utter prayers of thanksgiving. Indeed, Juvenal, the father of all satirists, was undoubtedly correct when, nearly 2,000 years ago he wrote "In times like these, it is difficult not to write satire."
It would seem that the late George Romney's greatest bequest to his son (besides a great head of hair) was a penchant for misstatement. Seasoned political junkies may recall that the elder Romney's 1968 presidential aspirations were dealt a crushing blow when he told a Detroit television reporter "When I came back from Vietnam [in November 1965] I'd just had the greatest brainwashing anyone can get . . ." Within a week of making what was likely an off-the-cuff remark, George Romney became the fodder for television talk show hosts; his presidential aspirations began swirling around the political toilet bowl.
Like his father, Mitt Romney can't go off-book without putting his foot in his mouth. But unlike George, who never spoke about his personal economic status, Mitt has a long record of bringing up his wealth -- of putting his foot in his mouth and coming off as a clueless dilettante. A couple of the former Massachusetts governor's more memorable gaffes include:
- Telling an AP reporter "I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners."
- Informing members of the Detroit Economic Club that his wife drives ". . . a couple of Cadillacs."
- Letting CNN's Soledad O'Brien know that "I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there."
- Saying that the speakers fees he earned during the previous year ($374,000) did not "amount to much."
- Telling hecklers at the Iowa State Fair that "Corporations are people, my friend . . . . Of course they are. Everything corporations earn also goes to people."
And now Romney's latest venture into the realm of fatuous feasting. The other day, while speaking at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Romney had some simple advice to students who wanted to start their own business: simply borrow the money from their parents. During his speech Romney pointed to sandwich chain Jimmy John’s, in which owner Jimmy John Liautaud borrowed $20,000 from his father (in return for 48% of the business) to start the shop. "We've always encouraged young people: Take a shot, go for it. Take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business."
More than one Republican strategist has averred that perhaps Mitt Romney is "a bit tone-deaf" and "should stick to his script."
A "bit" tone-deaf?
How about "More mechanical than Robby the Robot?" Or just plain "Certifiably clueless?"
And what's worse, when Romney responds to those who critique his seeming vacuity, he comes off sounding even more out-of-touch. Back in January, as an example, Romney came under withering criticism for his record at Bain Capital -- in which he and his fellow corporate raiders were responsible for tens of thousands of people losing their jobs. So how did the former Massachusetts governor respond? By calling such criticism un-American “class warfare” that is simply motivated by “envy.” Romney added that our broken economy — one that is only working for the wealthy few right now — should not even be discussed in public, saying discussions of income inequality were only fit for “quiet rooms.”
Again, Romney hasn't a clue. Americans have nothing against wealth. We don't envy the rich. For most people, the rich are like the characters in a fairy tale: fascinating, remote and mostly unreal. Heck, if there's one constant in American history, it's our fascination with the lives of the rich and famous; what they drive, where they live and how they spend. But it's celebrities, not potential Presidents and First Ladies whose lives and wealth fascinate us. When it comes to those who seek our votes, we want to know that they can relate to real lives and challenges, real dreams, fears and aspirations. On that score -- and by his own words -- Mitt Romney hasn't a clue.
Just the other day, House Speaker John Boehner was asked by CNN's Candy Crowley whether he thought Mitt Romney's wealth would present him a "hill to climb" in tough economic times. "No," the speaker responded, "The American people don't want to vote for a loser. They don't want to vote for someone that hasn't been successful. I think Mitt Romney has an opportunity to show the American people that they too, can succeed." While I certainly agree with Speaker Boehner that the American people "don't want to vote for someone that hasn't been successful," I wonder who in the world he's comparing Governor Romney to, and what his definition of success is.
By definition, anyone and everyone who runs for president is a success. But success is not necessarily confined only to that which is taxable. When Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States, he was, without question, one of the most successful men in the world. And yet at the time, his net worth likely amounted to far less than a week's unearned income -- $384,615.00 -- for the Romneys. Today, the President and Secretary Clinton are multi-millionaires. By the same token, by the time he was elected President, Barack Obama was a millionaire; a man who had risen from the middle class by dint of his literary skill. Because they are products of the middle class, both Clinton and Obama can easily relate to the lives and aspirations of most people.
This is not to suggest that those who are either born to wealth -- (West Virginia Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, or Colorado Representative Jared Polis) or those who have amassed a fortune on their own (Cal. Rep. Darryl Issa, Wisc. Senator Herb Kohl or former Rep. Alan Grayson) are incapable of relating to people who are not "to the manor born." Most people succeed in politics precisely because they relate well to people; because voters sense that -- to paraphrase Bill Clinton -- they "feel our pain." With Mitt Romney, however, one wonders whether he has a clue; whether he understands that while the majority of Americans don't begrudge him being wealthy, we do wish he'd show sensitivity to the fact that most people aren't.
Years ago, comedian Steve Martin did a Saturday Night Live sketch that puts Mitt Romney's cluelessness into satiric perspective:
You can be a millionaire and never pay taxes! You can be a millionaire and never pay taxes! You say, 'Steve, how can I be a millionaire and never pay taxes?' Well, I'll tell 'ya: first, get a million dollars . . ."
Or as Mitt Romney might say, "You can always borrow it from your parents . . ."
©2012 Kurt F. Stone