Yesterday on The Today Show, the program actually produced 5 minutes of news within their 4 hour format. Among the cooking demonstrations, the fashion analyses of red carpet necklines, and the debate over the best pet grooming shears was this exchange between Matt Lauer and Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee for the Presidency (can we say that yet?):
Matt: Let me ask you about the choice of words last night when you said with we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. I'm curious about the word envy. Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country is envious? Is it about jealousy or fairness?
Mitt: You know, I think it's about envy. I think it's about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99% versus 1% and those people who have been most successful are in the 1% you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. I believe in the final analysis, the American people with will reject it.
Matt: Aren't there questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy?
Mitt: I think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and tax policy and the like. But the president made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires, billionaires, executives and Wall Street. It's an envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.
First of all compliments to Mr. Romney. In two responses he managed to fit in God, class warfare, dividing America and attack-oriented approach, pure red meat for the Far Right crowd he has to win over. Well played. You rang the bells and should be commended for staying on message.
Your response to Lauer’s actual question about envy, however, exposes a fatal flaw in your candidacy. The more off-script you go, the more likely that you’ll say something that will haunt you.
Every cycle, candidates say something dumb that is taken out of context and gets hung around their necks like an albatross. Obama talked about people “clinging to guns and religion” and “spreading the wealth”, McCain said the “fundamentals of the economy” were fine right before the bottom fell out, Kerry voted “for the bill before he was against it”. These offhanded comments were used to define something about each candidate’s core beliefs. Obama was a socialist, McCain didn’t understand economics and Kerry was a serial flip flopper.
This cycle, we have Mitt giving his competition priceless quotes practically every time he abandons his stump speech for a few moments:
- “Corporations are people.”
- “I like firing people.”
- “I’ll bet you $10,000.”
- “I know what it’s like to worry whether you’re gonna get fired. There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.”
- “I’m unemployed, too.”
Now we add to the list “I think it’s envy”.
Are these comments out of context? Of course. Unfortunately, the Romney campaign has already approved and endorsed the concept of using quotes out of context as an acceptable tactic in modern political contests. In November, Romney ran an ad using a quote from Obama in which he is quoted as saying “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” This quote could be devastating to Obama, except he was quoting his opponent, John Mc Cain, at the time. Romney and his campaign defended this misleading tactic as “politics”.
That same attitude is going to bite poor Mitt in the ass this fall when all the above-mentioned quotes get strung together and paint a portrait of an out-of-touch plutocrat whose wealth and success has been at the expense of others, not a result of helping others. The problem will only worsen since Mitt seems to spit out these nuggets regularly. Maybe he is the one who needs a teleprompter, for his own protection.
Mitt, I do question whether or not the growing income inequality in this country is healthy for the nation – everyone in the nation. I believe that the rich and the poor do better when there is a thriving middle class, and your tax and economic policies seem geared to exacerbate the gap, not allow for it to narrow. When your policies seek a greater division between the haves and the have-nots, those are the weapons of class warfare. Recognizing it for what it is is called thinking. I understand that you would prefer that dissent be confined to “quiet rooms”, but that would be un-American. Being loud is our birthright.
Mitt, I am not envious of you. I am particularly not envious of your condescension or your inability to express a core value for longer than a few days. Not everyone wants a fair tax policy because they want to steal your money. Not everyone wants to have your life and your things without the hard work it takes to earn them. What everyone does want is an open discussion of those policies that will either raise all boats or raise the big boats at the expense of the little boats. That is a legitimate line of inquiry.
Let me be clear and balanced. I think some of the attacks on what Bain Capital did as a business have been unfair (and started from your right flank, btw). Creative destruction is completely legitimate. I would differentiate that from using money and influence to game the system in your favor at the expense of working people who do not have the same access to power brokers. It’s why people unionize. It’s the only way they can fight the status quo – pooling their resources and their voices.
In 2012, Mitt Romney has made his work a Bain Capital a central piece of his rationale for being President. It is legitimate ask if the nation needs George Bailey or Mr. Potter at the helm for the next 4 years. If Mitt keeps offering up these quotes to the Democrats, Obama would be the one to be envied. He’ll have campaign ammunition for free.