In the Arena

Romney’s ‘Poor’ Mouthing

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Mitt Romney has crossed a small but significant threshold today, and no, it has nothing to do with setting a new land-speed record for rich-guy gaffes in a presidential campaign. For the first time, according to this Nevada poll, Romney (45%)  has more support going into a primary contest than his two traditional rivals, Gingrich (25%) and Santorum (11%), put together. This puts something of a crimp in the conservative united-we-prevail fantasy. But that’s not what people are talking about today. It’s his latest rich-guy gaffe.

First of all, I don’t take the gaffe as seriously as the things Romney seemed not to understand in making the statement. Yes, the nonworking poor do have a safety net — all those things that the Republicans want to blow to smithereens, like Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers and so forth. The real problem that Romney seems not to be acknowledging is that there are increasing millions of working poor in this country — people who earn just enough not to qualify for Medicaid or food stamps, people too poor to buy their own health insurance (which was what both Obamacare and Romneycare were all about). There is also the next rung above — those who have to work two and three jobs to keep their heads above water, whose homes are under water (through no fault of their own, a consequence of the collapse in housing values), who don’t have the money to send their kids to college.

I’d like to hear Romney talk, specifically, about those people. Should we give people who are paying their underwater mortgages regularly an automatic opportunity to refinance at a lower rate? Is that socialism? How about the earned-income tax credit, a Republican idea designed to help the working poor? Isn’t that redistribution? What about the health care subsidies that go to the working poor in Romneycare? European-style socialism or just good policy? What about Social Security and Medicare? By the way, Medicare is a health care product, and Social Security a pension plan, that all Americans are required to “purchase.” How can those be constitutional and Obamacare not be?

So here’s a proposal: I will not play gotcha, taking your clumsy statements out of context, and I will criticize those who do, Governor Romney, if you provide some real context. This is going to be an important election, if not quite so important as Newt Gingrich says it will be. We need you to be very precise about what you’re for and what you’re against. Where does “European-style” welfare statism begin? What would you do — please be specific — with Iran that is any different from what Barack Obama is doing? You complain about the $500 billion cut from the Medicare Advantage program. Do you think that program was working? And if not, why not? I have a couple hundred more questions. As we move toward the general election, I hope we can stop playing gotcha and get to the real business at hand.

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