Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tone Deaf

Even as Primates Flinging Poo took on a more orderly shape the other night, after Mitt Romney won the Florida GOP primary, Americans were given a stark reminder of just what kind of option other than the Empty Suit we are likely to have in nine months. Romney has said and done several things in the last few weeks that make it clear that he has not a clue as to how financial insecurity is a major issue for Americans of voting age this year. For a candidate running for the office of President of the United States to refuse to authorize release of his tax returns going back several years doesn't play well, and plays even less well when that candidate is one of the wealthiest Americans. To admit that his tax rate is less than most voters' is even more astonishing, and to be quoted as saying he likes having the ability to "fire people" pushed the envelope into "Can you believe this guy?" territory. And his latest faux pas painted him even more securely as just the epitome of the child of privilege looking to become President because he thinks he's entitled to the job. For a prospective Presidential candidate to say "I'm not concerned about the very poor" indicates a degree of tone deafness that is truly staggering to behold.
Romney apologists have already feverishly begun to point out that the quote is somewhat taken out of context, and to be fair, the sound bite is worse than the full quote. But Romney's point is less objectionable only by a matter of a few degrees. To summarize, Romney claimed that there is a safety net in place for the very poor, and that if it "needs repair, I'll fix it." The problem, beyond how that sounds, is that Romney clearly has no idea of just how close to the ground that net is. New York has a reputation as one of the most generous welfare states--but I can tell you from prolonged exposure to those who have bounced on the safety net that it doesn't provide a lot of safety. The amount of money for food stamps doesn't really allow one to buy anything other than processed foods and the cheapest, least healthful groceries. There is a really small amount of actual cash benefits--something like $78 a month. Rent assistance does provide a roof, but the ceilings on that ensure that the apartment is going to be small and in one of the worst areas of town. The income guidelines regarding eligibility for public assistance are almost absurdly low--I have heard time and again that single people who work minimum wage for even eight hours a week find themselves over the eligibility threshold.
I am not suggesting that we need, as a society, to make the life of the very poor Fat City. But I think there is a misconception rife in all circles--but most openly in conservative ones--that a life on the dole is life "high on the hog." It is not, and has never been. The stereotype of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen is reprehensible for a number of reasons, but the biggest one is that few if any of those on welfare have cars, and if they do they are beaters. And with the number of bus routes and times buses run being seriously curtailed this year, it is becoming much more difficult for non-drivers to get anywhere beyond a few blocks from home in this area. And Broome County is actually more committed to helping the less well-off than many upstate New York counties; Tioga County, a few miles to the west, doesn't do half of what this county does for its poverty-level citizens.
Romney was trying to say he was more concerned that the lives of "ordinary" citizens need to be improved, and I think that's incontestable. But his tone deafness on such issues really points out that, even giving him the benefit of the doubt that it is not just a posture adopted for the campaign, he has literally no idea what life is actually like for the vast majority of people in this country. Obama isn't exactly a child of the ghetto or truly one of the less fortunate, but at least he has some idea of what life is like for the less fortunate--and it's taken three years for him to realize that life, for a great many of us, sucks and that a lot of things need to be changed. I'm not sure we can afford another period of time for a new guy to get a clue, especially one that seems to change his views on a disturbing number of subjects on an almost-daily basis. Which is another Romney trait that isn't playing well, truth be known--the perception that he has few if any core beliefs beyond naked ambition is becoming widespread, and even those inclined to vote conservative do not like it.
I have not been a fan of the Empty Suit since he first started running for President, and I'd actually welcome a legitimate other option. But to be fair to him, the last year, there have been some accomplishments that I am wholly in favor off--"goodbye Iraq" most prominent--, and as I mentioned, there at least seems to be a dawning awareness that for most of us, something has gone seriously and horribly wrong. I don't get that sense regarding any of the Republican candidates, and probably Romney is actually the one that scares me the most, precisely because he is the most clueless, the farthest removed from the reality of life for most Americans, of all of them.
We simply cannot afford to have a child of privilege running the country at this point in time.

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