It seems clear that the leaked video of Mitt Romney’s 47% comments at the event held for wealthy contributors has hurt him more than his campaign anticipated and that they are in serious damage control mode. I fully expect him to spend considerable effort in the debate tonight trying to correct the image that he is an out of touch rich guy.
But why did he say those things in the first place? One reason given is that he said it thinking that it was a private meeting and his words would not be repeated, let alone recorded. But these days it is hardly reasonable to expect that things you say to a large crowd will not be repeated outside, even by people who are sympathetic to your cause. After all, the kind of people who are willing and able to shell out $50,000 for a meal just to listen to Romney are the kind of people who likely share the idea that 47% are moochers and looters. His comments would not sound at all controversial to them and they would think that there would be no harm in telling others.
In a recent New Yorker article Chrystia Freeland wrote about how the super-rich feel victimized by Obama. She profiles billionaire Leon Cooperman at another private event held in May for politicians and wealthy people who were whining about how president Obama does not grovel appropriately to them in public, although his policies have continued the bipartisan practice of channeling a greater share of the nation’s wealth and income into their already amply-filled pockets. Cooperman’s views reflect almost perfectly what Romney said.
The President, in Cooperman’s view, draws political support from those who are dependent on government. Last October, in a question-and-answer session at a Thomson Reuters event, Cooperman said, “Our problem, frankly, is as long as the President remains anti-wealth, anti-business, anti-energy, anti-private-aviation, he will never get the business community behind him. The problem and the complication is the forty or fifty per cent of the country on the dole that support him.”
Cooperman also raised another whine of the super-rich, that it is really hard for them to live on what they have.
During another conversation, Cooperman mentioned that over the weekend an acquaintance had come by to get some friendly advice on managing his personal finances. He was a seventy-two-year-old world-renowned cardiologist; his wife was one of the country’s experts in women’s medicine. Together, they had a net worth of around ten million dollars. “It was shocking how tight he was going to be in retirement,” Cooperman said. “He needed four hundred thousand dollars a year to live on. He had a home in Florida, a home in New Jersey. He had certain habits he wanted to continue to pursue.”
Yes, it must be so tough trying to scrape by on $400,000 a year, especially if you have certain ‘habits’.
It is really quite extraordinary that these people have no idea how ordinary people might recoil at such self-indulgent thinking. Recall all the previous occasions when rich people told reporters things that were remarkably obtuse and then were surprised at the blowback they got. As Hamilton Nolan says, “And here we see the fundamental dishonest characteristic of each and every article which advances this particular enraging argument. “Sure, it’s an objectively large sum of money,” they say. “But it is far smaller after I spend it.”"
What is also interesting is that they think that giving to charity is a form of self-taxation, so in their mind they are already heavily ‘taxed’ because they donate to the opera and the symphony and so forth, even though they may be paying taxes at a far lower rate than middle class people. In fact, they may even think of themselves as nobler than the rest of us plebes because they are ‘taxing’ themselves voluntarily. This may explain why Romney often inserts comments about his charitable giving when he is asked about his rate of taxation.
So Romney thinks just like the audience he was speaking to when he made his 47% comments and was channeling their views. The real problem may be that even if Romney and his staff were aware of the danger of speaking like this, they may have had little choice. When people are paying so much money to hear a candidate speak, they expect to hear something special, things that the proletariat who go to free rallies don’t get to hear. They expect to get the inside scoop, and get to know the ‘real’ candidate as opposed to the image the candidate gives on the stump. So there must be pressure on candidates who speak to the fat cats to say something just to them that they do not say elsewhere so that the paying guests go away satisfied that their money was well spent.
Peter Beinart suggests that this is why the press needs to crash more of these secret fundraisers.
It’s not that the remarks candidates offer to donors bear no resemblance to their publicly stated views. They just express those views in a franker, less scripted, less sanitized way. Publicly Romney derides big government. Privately he told Florida donors this spring that he might slash the Department of Education and eliminate Housing and Urban Development—specifics he had not shared with ordinary Americans. Publicly Romney accuses Obama of wanting to make Americans dependent on government. Privately he tells donors that half the country is composed of whiners who want to be dependent on government. Publicly Romney praises Israel and criticizes the Palestinians. Privately he says he opposes his own party platform’s stated commitment to a Palestinian state.
If you want to see a film that pokes fun at the things that politicians say to targeted audiences, and what it would be like if they spoke the truth, see Warren Beatty’s 1998 comedy Bulworth. Here’s the trailer.