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Friday, July 20, 2012

Romney's Hubris: 11 Ways Mitt Romney Shows His Rich-Guy, Ayn Randian Cluelessness



AlterNet / By Adele M. Stan 

Romney demonstrates the hubris of a certain kind of millionaire: the kind who think it is the job of hard-working people to preserve the rich man's wealth.

Photo Credit: AFP
Poor Mitt Romney. Just when he manages to go nearly a month without making a gaffe further compounding his rich-guy cluelessness about the way the other 99 percent live, here comes the New York Times, that bastion of the elites, shining a light on his wife's enthusiasm for a sport, dressage, that most have never heard of. Dressage, the Times informs us, involves getting very expensive horses to execute dance moves on the non-verbal commands of a rider dressed in top hat and tails. The front-page article, by Trip Gabriel, examines the relationship between the Romneys and Ann Romney's coach and horse-trainer, Jan Ebeling:
A taskmaster, Mr. Ebeling pushed Mrs. Romney to excel in high-level amateur shows. He escorted her on horse-buying expeditions to Europe. She shares ownership of the Oldenburg mare he dreams of riding in the Olympic Games this summer. Mrs. Romney and her husband, Mitt, even floated a loan — $250,000 to $500,000, according to financial records — to Mr. Ebeling and his wife for the horse farm they run in California, where the Romneys use a Mediterranean-style guesthouse as a getaway.
In fairness to Ann Romney, it should be said that she took up the sport at age 50, as a way to combat her newly diagnosed case of multiple sclerosis, a devastating immunological disease, and persevered through pain to become a highly ranked amateur competitor. In fairness to the many uninsured and underinsured with MS, it should be said that Mitt Romney has pledged to repeal the healthcare reform law that will cover the costly diagnostic and treatment of those with the disease, perhaps leaving them enough pocket money to buy a pair of sneakers for the exercise that is recommended for them.

Don't get me wrong: the problem with Romney and his money is not that he has it (his personal worth is estimated at $250 million); it's that he's never ventured far enough beyond his own rarified world to understand how regular people live, leading him to a "Let them eat cake" attitude that surfaces with regularity in his interactions on the campaign trail.

Whether he's telling a group of unemployed workers that he feels their pain because he, too, is unemployed; explaining to the people of Nevada, a crucible of the foreclosure crisis, why foreclosures should be allowed to continue at their current pace; or telling recent college grads to just borrow money from Mom and Dad to start their own businesses, Mitt Romney, together with his wife, Ann, demonstrates the hubris of a certain kind of multimillionaire: the kind who think it is the job of the rabble to preserve the rich man's wealth, even if it comes at the rabble's own expense. After all, that's just the ever-virtuous free market at work.

I've collected a smattering of evidence of Romney's Ayn Rand game plan, listed below, which actually wasn't all that hard, since former Romney primary opponents Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry did much of the work for me. That's why it was deliciously gratifying to see Gingrich doing a less than fabulous job defending Romney last Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press. His heart just didn't seem to be in the task. It was Gingrich, after all, who plotted the blueprint for the Obama campaign's offensive on Romney's legacy of job-killing while at the helm of Bain Capital.
Here, for your edification are Romney's top clueless rich-guy moments to date. (Don't worry; he'll make more.)

1. The $10,000 bet. When during a debate in Iowa last December, Mitt Romney challenged Texas Gov. Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet, jaws dropped and the Twitterverse lit up. Romney's quip was off in so many ways, not least of them the obvious way Romney clearly regarded $10,000 as a normal amount for a wager, while, as ABC News' Jake Tapper noted, the sum represented about three months' wages for the average Iowan.
As I described it at the time:
The wager was offered when Perry took Romney to task for a change Perry said he noticed in a later edition of Romney's book, No Apology; Perry claimed that a sentence was deleted from the paperback edition in which the author offered his Massachusetts health care plan as a model for the nation's. Perry went on to accuse Romney of being a proponent of the individual mandate in the health-care reform law signed by President Barack Obama last year, a favorite bugaboo of right-wingers. Romney denied the charge. Then he upped the ante.
"I'll tell you what," Romney said, "10,000 bucks? Ten-thousand-dollar bet?"
"I'm not in the betting business," Perry replied.
Within minutes, pundits were having a field day. Before long, the hashtag, #What10kbuys, was trending on Twitter (with a little help from the Democratic National Committee, which apparently got it started).
Romney's challenge to Perry also reminded the GOP's evangelical Christian base that he's not one of them. Evangelicals generally eschew gambling, and Romney's faith -- Mormonism -- was a matter of great consternation early in the primary campaign.

2. "I'm unemployed." Romney's head-scratching bet wasn't the first of his clueless rich-guy quotes; it was simply the one that confirmed an impression left by previous gaffes, like the men Romney met during a June 2011 meeting with unemployed Floridians, at which they revealed the challenges they faced. As reported by Jeff Zeleny for the New York Times:
TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney sat at the head of the table at a coffee shop here on Thursday, listening to a group of unemployed Floridians explain the challenges of looking for work. When they finished, he weighed in with a predicament of his own. "I should tell my story," Mr. Romney said. "I'm also unemployed."
He chuckled. The eight people gathered around him, who had just finished talking about strategies of finding employment in a slow-to-recover economy, joined him in laughter.
"Are you on LinkedIn?" one of the men asked.
"I'm networking," Mr. Romney replied. "I have my sight on a particular job."
3. A tale of two Cadillacs -- and a Mustang. Oh, and a Chevy pickup. I know you know this story, but it's too good not to tell once more. Actually, I'll let Politico's Reid J. Epstein tell it, since he reported the February speech at the Detroit Economic Club, where Romney offered this doozy:
I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles. I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually. And I used to have a Dodge truck, so I used to have all three covered."
BTW the origin of "doozy" is often attributed to the nickname for the Duesenberg automobiles, an extinct breed of American luxury cars. Perhaps Ann Romney would have a couple today if they were still in production.

4. The Cadillac elevator in the $12 million mansion. If you have, say, four autos for two people, you might not want to have them all crowding up your ground-floor garage. So when you decide to renovate your beachfront La Jolla house (you also have three houses for two people), why not cough up $55,000 for an elevator for those extra cars, so you can stow them in a subterranean parking bay -- a 3,600-square-foot parking bay. (When completed, the renovated Chez Romney will encompass 11,000 square feet -- that's 6,500 square feet per Romney.) From Business Insider:
10News reports that Romney's "Phantom Park" elevator will cost about $55,000, including delivery and installation, and will transport cars from a groundlevel garage down to a 3,600-square-foot underground parking bay. The company that makes the contraption has made similar car elevators for Harrison Ford and Britney Spears, according to the report. The car elevator is part of a massive expansion project that will quadruple the size of Romney's $12 million beach home. News10 reports that the renovations are on hold until after the 2012 election.
10News has video of a Romney-style Caddy lift in action; the reporter says it can be used to move other things, too -- perhaps a few $300,000 dancing horses.

5. "Don't...stop the foreclosure process." If you're busy razing your $9 million California beachfront home so you can build a $12 million mansion where the old one used to be, foreclosure is likely the last thing on your mind. And if your knowledge of economics is based on your tenure at the helm of a "vulture capitalist" firm -- a company that existed for the sole purpose of buying up other companies, sometimes bankrupting them, and then selling them off for the sum of their parts for the enrichment of your investors, the foreclosure crisis might just look like a giant free-marketpalooza to you.
At the time Mitt Romney met last October with the editorial board of the Las Vegas Review Journal, Nevada ranked number one among the states for housing foreclosures. When asked how, if elected president, he would address housing and foreclosure problems in the U.S., Romney responded this way:
One is, 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.
Romney did aver that there was some merit to the Obama administration's idea of helping people who are facing foreclosure to refinance, but with this caveat:
...I'm not signing on until we know who's gonna pay and who's going to get bailed out.
Video is here.

6. "I can't have illegals!" If you have a 2.5 acre lawn surrounding one of your three homes and you're running for governor, chances are you're not going to mow that lawn yourself. Even 99-percenters hire people to cut their grass. So when Texas Gov. Rick Perry laid into Romney at a CNN debate last October for hiring a company that had undocumented immigrants on the Romney lawn crew, he looked kind of petty. That is, until Romney responded in such a way that made it seem like, were he not running for office, he'd have an entire household staff composed of underpaid, undocumented people drawn from developing nations. From ABC News' The Note:
"So we went to the company and we said, look, you can't have any illegals working on our property," said Romney. "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals."
Video is here.

7. Romney casts himself as "middle class." Pay no attention to the 11,000-square-foot home -- or the other two homes, including the one with the 2.5 acre lawn -- or to the estimated $250 million net worth or the four cars: Mitt Romney wants you to know that he's part of the 99 percent. From a September town-hall event, as described by Raw Story's David Edwards:
Millionaire Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Wednesday that he was seeking better tax policies for people in the middle class like himself.  "I think it's a real problem when you have half of Americans — almost half of Americans that are not paying income tax," the candidate told a group of supporters at a town hall event in Florida. "My own view with regards to tax policy is that we ought to provide help to the people that have been hurt most by the Obama economy, and that's the middle class."
"It's not those at the low end and it's certainly not for those at the very high end. It's for the great middle class, the 80 to 90 percent of us in this country."
8. Poor moms need to be schooled in the "dignity of work." Remember in April when pundit Hilary Rosen said that Ann Romney "never worked a day in her life," and the uproar that ensued? Mrs. Romney, after all, devoted her full-time attention to raising her five sons, and that was a whole lotta work! I'm not saying it isn't; I'm sure it was. It's just that most women don't have the luxury of choosing to stay home to raise their children, even if they'd like to -- and especially if they needed public assistance in Mitt Romney's Massachusetts. As Kalli Joy Gray of the Daily Kos tells it:
Cue Mitt Romney in January of this year: 
Even if you have a child 2 years of age, you need to go to work [...] And people said, "Well that's heartless." And I said, "No, no, I'm willing to spend more giving day care to allow those parents to go back to work. It'll cost the state more providing that day care, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work."
Mitt's statement perfectly articulates what the Republican Party has always believed. Being a mother isn't work; it is only through employment outside the home that a mother achieves "dignity." And women who don't have the convenience of their husbands' stock portfolio don't deserve to have a choice to stay home with their children. They "need to go to work." Rich women who stay home work hard. Poor women who do are lazy. And undignified.
We have the patron saint of the Republican Party, Ronald Reagan, to thank for the debunked stereotype of the lazy welfare queen cruising around in a Cadillac. Such women are to be mocked, disrespected, blamed and shamed. Go to work. Get some dignity. One Cadillac makes you a welfare queen; two makes you Ann Romney.
9. Don't know much about sports, but some of my best friends own big-deal teams. At a visit to the Daytona Speedway ahead of a big NASCAR race, Romney was asked about how devotedly he follows the favorite sport of the GOP base. As reported by the Associated Press, Romney replied:
"Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans,'' he said. "But I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners.'' Romney said he has visited team owner Richard Childress' facilities and came away impressed by the technology.
The remark, of course, brought plenty of snark Romney's way. But that didn't stop him from committing the same sin just a week later, in a radio interview about football. From The Note:
"I've got a lot of good friends — the owner of the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets — both owners are friends of mine," Romney said in an interview with an Alabama radio host Paul Finebaum on Monday. [...]
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson are publicly supporting Romney and have been raising money for the former Massachusetts governor.
10. The $1,000 T-shirt. Someone must have told Ann Romney that out among the 99 percent, hard-working, stay-at-home moms wear graphic T-shirts. So when she showed up to the CBS This Morning set earlier this month with her hubby in tow, she chose as her costume a rather distinctive shirt adorned with a large print of fish. It not only made for bad TV (where solid colors are pretty much the rule), but the shirt was a bit too distinctive. A sharp-eyed fashion blogger at Stylite.com recognized the top as the work of designer Reed Krakoff -- and reported the retail price of the shirt at $990. (Well, it is silk, after all.)
As I blogged this weekend, it was the kind of detail that might have been highlighted by Robin Leach on his erstwhile TV show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But today, alas, finds Mr. Leach starring in commercials for that clothier of the 99 percent, Old Navy. (If only Mr. Leach and Mrs. Romney had crossed paths prior to her T-shirt scandal, he might have steered her to a fish-emblazoned T-shirt available from Old Navy for about $15.)

11. Can't find a job, young college grad? Borrow money from your folks to start a business. During an April campaign stop at Otterbein University in Ohio, Romney talked to young people facing a difficult job market, and blamed their challenging prospects on the policies of President Barack Obama. From the Associated Press report:
"We've always encouraged young people -- take a shot, go for it, take a risk and get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business."  Romney then shared the story of sandwich magnate Jimmy John, who Romney said borrowed $20,000 from his parents to launch his first sandwich shop.
Totally lost on Romney was the fact that, in the present economy (brought to the nation by Republican policies, one might add), few are the parents who have $20,000 in their back pockets to sink into a kid's dream biz -- especially after helping that kid get through college.
The AP report offers a possible explanation for Romney's disconnect:
In an interview with the Boston Globe in 1994, Ann Romney said her husband sold off stock that his father had bought for him so that they had money to live on as married college students.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/addiestan

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