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Over the past few days, conservative forces have mobilized to protect Mitt Romney from incoming fire over his rapidly multiplying tax scandals.  Former Bush press flack Ari Fleischer and the Wall Street Journal editorial page predictably - and comically - argued the rich already pay too much in taxes.  On consecutive days, New York Times columnist David Brooks asked "why do we make candidates release their tax forms" and praised Romney's "remorseless drive to rise" before concluding, "The wealth issue is a sideshow."

Sadly for his water carriers, Mitt Romney's wealth is not the issue for American voters.  The scrutiny Romney has denounced as "envy" and "class warfare" is instead a simple plea for empathy and fairness.  Voters are looking for a sign - any sign - of empathy from this multimillionaire chronically incapable of understanding the lives and struggles of the people he would serve.  But with his ham-handed secrecy, Mitt Romney is only confirming the growing suspicion of Americans told to "work hard and play by the rules" that those rules don't apply to him.

In Thursday's South Carolina debate, Romney turned defensive, declaring, "I'm not going to apologize for being successful."  But even Jim Demint, the Tea Party icon and Palmetto State kingmaker who endorsed Romney four years ago, admitted it's not envy fueling voters visceral dislike for the former CEO of Bain Capital.  As ABC explained, Demint believes Romney needs to "work on his empathy":
"I know I had to do it a few times in my career and I had sleepless nights and it killed me to do it but I was doing it to save the other employees in my company and keep it going," DeMint said. "If he doesn't explain this well he's going to see this again if he's the nominee in the general election."

To be sure, Romney's repeated and comical failures to present himself as a "man of the people" have only deepened his yawning empathy gap.  Romney, who this week explained that over the last decade "my income comes overwhelmingly from some investments made in the past," joked with jobless voters that "I'm also unemployed."  The $250 million man similarly declared himself "part of the 80 to 90 percent of us" who are middle class, when just the "not very much" $374,000 he earned in speaking fees last year puts him in the top one percent of income earners.  Whether or not he really enjoys firing people, Mitt Romney almost certainly was never in danger of either "getting a pink slip" or pooping in a bucket during his time as a missionary at a toney Paris mansion.  (Who else would lecture a child about his plans to divvy up his estate among his 16 grandchildren or endorse rooftop canine waterboarding?)  And there's no doubt that the man who spent $12 million to buy his third home (none of which are located on "the real streets of America") didn't win any friends when he offered this prescription for the housing market crisis:

"Don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom, allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up."

It's no surprise Mitt Romney believes income inequality should only be discussed in "quiet rooms." It certainly didn't help matters when his wife Ann joked "Mitt doesn't even know the answer to that" when asked how many dressage horses she owns while her husband denounces Democrats as "the party of monarchists." It's no wonder his ally and Massachusetts GOP Senator Scott Brown urged Romney to release his tax returns:

"He's in a category, a lot of those folks are in categories that we don't really understand."

Brown was only saying what most Americans were thinking when he acknowledged that Romney is living in "a different world from me."

And in that world, the rules most Americans play by simply don't apply to Mitt Romney.

It's bad enough that Romney pays only about 15 percent of his income to Uncle Sam each year, a rate well below most middle class families. Worse still, the notorious "carried interest" exemption for private equity managers Romney wants to preserve taxes him not at the ordinary income rate of 35 percent but at the capital gains rate now half of what it was only 15 years ago. And as it turns out, most of Mitt's millions each year come from his controversial former employer, Bain Capital.  As a man with a $100 million trust fund for his sons, millions more stashed in offshore Cayman Island accounts and an almost unprecedented IRA worth tens of millions of dollars, Mitt Romney is benefitting from a tax system that provides him with advantages few Americans knew existed.  And to add insult to injury, Romney wants to eliminate the estate tax, creating a likely windfall topping $80,000,000 for his heirs, a gap in the U.S. Treasury that would have to be plugged by all other Americans.

Few suspect Mitt Romney has done anything illegal in the hidden tax returns he now admits he will have to release.  As Paul Krugman explained:

But the larger question isn't what Mitt Romney's tax returns have to say about Mitt Romney; it's what they have to say about U.S. tax policy. Is there a good reason why the rich should bear a startlingly light tax burden?

For they do. If Mr. Romney is telling the truth about his taxes, he's actually more or less typical of the very wealthy.

Jack Blum, a Washington lawyer who is an authority on tax enforcement and offshore banking explained, "His personal finances are a poster child of what's wrong with the American tax system." And that's a problem not just for Mitt Romney, but for a Republican Party determined to drain the United States Treasury in order to provide tax cuts for the richest Americans who need them least and that the country can't afford.

As Bill Clinton famously put it, the American Dream can be expressed simply:

"No matter who you are or where you're from, if you work hard and play by the rules, you'll have the freedom and opportunity to pursue your own dreams and leave your kids a country where they can chase theirs."

What can no longer be left unsaid is that the same rules must apply to everybody.  Mitt Romney is a living, breathing reminder that they don't.

Which is why Mitt Romney needs to drop his talk of envy, and fast.  He doesn't need to repeat Teddy Roosevelt's crusade against "malefactors of great wealth" or FDR's warnings about "the forces of selfishness" and "that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob."  But he might start by emulating his father George Romney, and not just by releasing a dozen years of his tax returns.  As Rick Perlstein recalled the Michigan Governor and American Motors magnate:

As a CEO he would give back part of his salary and bonus to the company when he thought they were too high. He offered a pioneering profit-sharing plan to his employees. Most strikingly, asked about the idea that "rugged individualism" was the key to America's success, he snapped back, "It's nothing but a political banner to cover up greed."

At the very least, Mitt Romney should stop comparing President Obama to Marie Antoinette.  And the next time Romney finds himself on "the real streets of America," he might try walking a mile in another man's shoes.

* Crossposted at Perrspectives *

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Comment Preferences

  •  Winner of most links per square inch! (6+ / 0-)

    Thanks for your work.

    The more you learn the less you know.

    by quiet in NC on Sat Jan 21, 2012 at 01:29:30 PM PST

    •  Admittedly, the Linkage is Overkill... (6+ / 0-)

      ...but, unlike Mitt Romney, I believe in transparency and open access to information :-)

    •  Emily Litella: "What's all this I hear about very (5+ / 0-)

      tiny lynx?"

      Nice post, AA! And let's not forget his 2008 NYT editorial, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" where he wrote:

      Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses.

      How'd that turn out, Mitt?

      stay together / learn the flowers / go light - Gary Snyder

      by Mother Mags on Sat Jan 21, 2012 at 01:38:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Romney Now Claims Bain = Obama's Auto Rescue (5+ / 0-)

        As I noted here:

        President Barack Obama took an oath to "promote the general Welfare." Venture capitalist Mitt Romney pledged to maximize shareholder value. Unfortunately, candidate Mitt Romney is pretending the two are the same thing. As Romney repeatedly insisted this month, President Obama's rescue of the U.S. auto industry and over one million jobs associated with it is little different than his own Bain Capital days of slashing jobs - and extracting profits.

        Romney introduced the new defense of his "vulture capital" past during the December 15 GOP debate in Sioux City, Iowa. There, he took Obama to task for layoffs at General Motors as part of the successful auto bailout Romney opposed:

        "In the real world, some things don't make it, and I believe I've learned from my successes and my failures. The President, I'll look at and say: 'Mr. President, how did you do when you were running General Motors as the president, took it over? Gee, you closed down factories. You closed down dealerships. And he'll say: 'Well, I did that to save the business.' Same thing with us, Mr. President. We did our very best to make those businesses succeed. I'm pleased that they did, and I've learned the lessons of how the economy works. This president doesn't know how the economy works. I believe to create jobs, it helps to have created jobs."

        Days later, the son of American Motors magnate George Romney repeated the talking point:

        "The president has had one experience overseeing an enterprise -- a couple of enterprises, General Motors and Chrysler," Romney told Fox News in an interview that aired Sunday. "What did he do? He closed factories. He laid off people. He didn't do it personally, but his people did. Why did he do that? Because he wanted to save the enterprise, and he wants to make it profitable so it can survive."

        No. In 2009, President Obama was trying to save an entire industry, one at the very heart of American manufacturing. In so doing, Obama likely helped save the United States from a second Great Depression...

      •  I want Mitt to give a full throated (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mother Mags

        defense of free enterprise and the profit motive as he sees it and in that defense include what he believes are the successes and benefits but also include in that an analysis of the consequences of the "creative destruction" that are central to his defense - how many families and communities has he personally wrecked, how many slave laborers make products that are sold in the companies he built or "turned around", what are the environmental consequences of his actions, etc., etc. Because it is simply not enough to say "I create wealth, therefore the world is a better place."

        How does he compare the benefit of "wealth creation" against the expense of those family values, families and people as well as, water, air and food, that suffer at the hands of his decisions? Does he compare this? Does he thing about this?

        How does Mitt Romney define "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and does that definition do the most good for the most people?

        Is free enterprise as Mitt Romney defines it the best model to use to manage/lead the most power country in the planet and its people?

  •  to be fair (5+ / 0-)

    if he weren't unemployed he might not have had to sell his 12,000 sq ft private ski lodge in order to help finance the remodel of his $12,000,000 beach house.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Sat Jan 21, 2012 at 01:41:13 PM PST

  •  This diary reminded me (0+ / 0-)

    that I have to sit down this weekend and pay my bills.

    Lot's o' linky goodness in this one. Nice job.

    Score Card: Marriages won by me, 1. Marriages destroyed by me, 0.

    by Steven Payne on Sat Jan 21, 2012 at 02:09:50 PM PST

  •  George Romney (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    We Shall Overcome, JeffW

    certainly seems to have a whole lot more sense than his son, and understanding of the real world.  I may have liked him.

    Mitt just hasn't got a clue about what ordinary people have to worry about, does he?

    and no I don't want to have a beer with him, either!

    •  I saw a clip of him explaining his "flip-flop" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW

      on Vietnam - he first supported it and a few years later was against, but the change was made based on personal integrity rather than political expediency. That flip helped Nixon defeat him, but George "lost" on principal, how far the apple has fallen from the tree.

      Mitt has no courage, he is afraid to voice exactly what he thinks for fear of losing.

  •  Mitt's dad sounds more like a "stakeholder" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, middleagedhousewife

    capitalist than the "shareholder" capitalist his son has become, which makes Mitt all the more nauseating — does that FOOL understand he is who he is because of a model of capitalism that he has been destroying for the past 30 years?!

  •  I caught myself thinking (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Delta Overdue

    that in order for Romney to pull out his nomination, he'll need to stop attending those debates, make only scripted town hall public appearances with invited audiences, and rely solely on advertising. Sort of like how AWOL Bush ran his 2004 re-election campaign.

    That way, the magic of Madison Avenue can make him look like Jesus Christ in a business suit, a friend to all, a bringer of prosperity and whatever nonsense they want to drum up.

  •  Mitt Romney: Manchurian Candidate for the 99% (0+ / 0-)

    Mitt, I want to personally thank you for allowing a debate of the 1% and the 99% and the 30-year history of the Leveraged Buyout of the American Dream to be possible.

    Your visibility and high profile ensure the spotlight is focused on you and your business dealings, the perfect lens through which to understand how it came to be that the rich have gotten so rich and the middle class and poor so much poorer over the past 30 years.

  •  Seems to me (0+ / 0-)

    that Mittens himself bears much more of a resemblance to Marie Antoinette than Obama does:

    Clueless?  check

    Filthy rich?  check

    No empathy?  check

    Bad optics?  check

    Fake hair?  check

    Where's a guillotine when you need one, lol?

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