Romney and safety nets

‘I’m not concerned about the very poor’



Mitt Romney on CNN this morning made a classic “Kinsley gaffe,” a case of a politician accidentally saying what he thinks. The quote, “I’m not concerned about the very poor,” is going to be ripped out of context and bounced around the news all day today. It’ll also be a good opportunity for conservative pundits, who have mostly been lukewarm on Romney, to come to his defense now that he’s clearly going to be the nominee: because the quote is being taken out of context, the Fox and talk radio pundits will be able to push back against the coverage with a fairly clear conscience.

In context, what Romney was saying is that very poor people have a safety net to protect them; leaving aside the question of whether that safety net is enough or whether the language is insensitive, he’s saying that the issue that is foremost in our time is the issue of people who have too much money to be covered by the safety net, but not enough to get by.

I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.

This is actually a key issue in U.S. politics, Canadian politics and everywhere – what to do about people who are not poor but are living paycheck-to-paycheck in a precarious existence, and who are one disaster away from falling into poverty. The question then becomes whether to expand the social safety net to cover more people. What makes Romney’s comment so awkward is that he seems to imply that the safety net basically works (even if it needs repair), leaving him open to the question of why he doesn’t want to expand it.

His party has a ready-made answer to that – they believe, and have spent a long time arguing, that social safety nets erode self-reliance and weakens non-governmental institutions. (I don’t know about the self-reliance part, but the latter is probably true: the more assistance government provides, the less need there is for private charities and church organizations to do this kind of thing.) So the philosophy is that the safety net should be as targeted and tightly focused as possible on the poor. But most of the votes you need to win an election come from the people who are neither rich nor poor, and it’s not a political winner to tell them they’re not entitled to governmental goodies just because they don’t fall below the poverty line.

The GOP usually has been able to sidestep this problem because their main voting base is older, and older people in the U.S. are covered by entitlement programs. And except for the confusing health-care bill, the Democrats haven’t been able to push through many programs that would win them the gratitude of not-rich, not-poor potential voters. Which is too bad for them, because there’s a big opening there: both sides agree that the not-rich/not-poor are struggling, but Romney is going to have to argue that government is not the answer to those struggles. Obama might be able to get their attention if a) he argued that the social safety net should be bigger and apply to more people, and b) if people believed him. Both big “ifs.” But that’s where Romney’s real vulnerability is: not the “not concerned with the very poor” remark, but the fact that he can’t, as a matter of party philosophy, propose any government action to deal with the people in the middle.

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Romney and safety nets

  1. Are churches and charitable organizations generally saying “Gee, we’d love to do more work and we have tons of resources and volunteers but there just isn’t the opportunity, government is just taking care of everything”, or are even the combined efforts of both falling short? 

    • Churches don’t pay taxes.. Everything is profit and they spend as they see fit.. Romney paid 6 mil in taxes and gave more than 7 mil to the church.. After almost $50 million in income..

      • “everything is profit” – what crap!

  2. The safety net he references is under daily assault by the GOP. Romeny’s policies (at least today’s) will do nothing but move more and more people from the “middle” class into poverty.  The people he is concerned about are the corporations, “my friend”.

  3. Aren’t you the TV critic, Jaime? Where do you get off writing intelligent, focused commentary like this? ;-)

    • I think he’s becoming more of a media critic in the best sense of the word “critic”. And thank goodness, we need more of them.

    • For most people what passes for politics these days happens on
      television. Jaime, bless his heart , gets paid to watch it.
      I don’t think you could pay me to do that.

  4. Très Ebenezer Scrooge.

  5. The food bank at our church is overloaded and donations are dropping while the number of people applying for help is rising. I get sick and tired of hearing the GOP claim that charities can do what government does instead. What are they smoking? What I hear is we rich people shouldn’t have to help the poor. Let other poor people help the poor we’re addicted to money and power and we cannot get enough of either. Oh yeah, praise God. 
    It’s hard as a GOP candidate to address these issues. You cannot even remotely suggest that government can help. The GOP has spent decades brainwashing the masses about the evils of government. But at the same time he has to at least sound like he cares about somebody who cannot afford a private jet. That’s hard to do – especially since he actually doesn’t. This is the hole the GOP has dug themselves into so I do not feel sorry for them at all. They’re the party of Individualism. They exalt greed and symbolize it in every way.
    I’d like to see all these “conservatives” who think the poor is getting a “free ride” on them – i’d love to see them live on the food stamps and what tiny little bit of assistance welfare recipients actually get. Or live on $150/week unemployment checks (which you have to work in order to get – your employer pays into that fund it’s an insurance policy no different than your medical and dental) I’d love to see how happy they are living “for free” on the taxpayer.
    If “conservatives” would actually get out there and meet the poor – volunteer for a food bank or homeless shelter – you’ll see most are people on hard times scraping by and very appreciative of your help. I’ve had mothers and their children cry and hug me when I brought them food. Some are people who cannot manage money. Some are freeloaders looking for everything free they can get. Charities have to accept their word – they need it. The federal government on the other hand has the power to look at their tax returns or bank accounts and decide if they really do need the help or not. Also – if they lie to the federal government about their situation and their needs – the government can throw them in jail for it – it’s called fraud – its’ a felony – don’t believe me? lie on your next tax return you’ll see – charities cannot do this. The government is actually a very good administrator of programs that help the poor.

  6. If the safety net is so great then why are so many so poor? 

    • Because poverty is a relative concept, and the definition of poverty changes. So long as there is inequality, poverty will always exist. This becomes obvious when you take a long-term view – the poorest 5% probably live like the richest 5% 100-150 years ago. 

      • Certainly some advances have become widespread and proven to be great benefits overall – modern sanitation being the biggest.  But if you honestly feel someone having to support themselves on roughly $5,000 a year is in a better situation today than an oil baron in 1850, you really really need to rethink your conception of wealth.

  7. I think the problem is that most Americans think Mitt Romney is right, whereas the reality is that the US is a middle/upper middle class welfare state (which should be predictable, since politicians need the middle class to support them). Think about who benefits the most from the following policies (which is not to say that these policies are bad):

    -tax-deductible mortgage interest (how many poor people buy houses) 
    -state university systems (university students tend to come from wealthier families)
    -medicare payments to rich and poor seniors alike
    -investment in R&D
    -military appropriations (which is a boon to researchers and well-paid workers in defence plants)
    -auto emissions standards (poor people are more likely to have older cars)
    -taxes on cigarettes
    -and not to mention all of the administrative spending that government requires, generating jobs for middle class professionals

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