Foot-In-Mouth Disease

Almost immediately after defeating Newt Gingrich and the other also-rans in Florida recently, Mitt Romney — who must now be regarded as the front-runner for the Republican nomination — made the talk-show circuit. He should have stayed in bed. He doesn’t seem to be able to open his mouth without putting his foot into it.

“I’m not really concerned about the very poor,” he said. Nor is he concerned about the very rich. They “can take care of themselves.” Also, they will certainly vote for any Republican this side of Genghis Khan. But the very poor, by which I take it he means those who live on less that $5,000.00 a year, are not a group of people who have the man’s attention — or sympathy. Or any political clout. It’s the middle-income folks Mitt’s concerned about. “The middle-income Americans, they’re the folks that are really struggling right now.” I take it, Mitt doesn’t think a family trying to survive on less than $5,000.00 a year is “struggling.” Welcome to Mitt’s world, but you must wear blinders.

In a sense, Romney simply made a political gaffe. The Democrats will make hay out of it while the Republicans will try to pretend it never happened. On a deeper level, however, such off-the-cuff remarks can reveal something about us we may not want revealed. I suspect this is the case with Romney’s remark. I suppose one should applaud Mitt Romney for being honest. I dare say many will. We prize honesty in this country — or say we do. It’s not clear we know what we are talking about when we say that, but we do say it. Quite a lot. But honesty in this case also reveals hardness of heart and a complete lack of sympathy for the chronically disadvantaged in this country. One suspects that Romney is just articulating (in his way) the thoughts of a great many others in this country who would just as soon sweep the poor under the rug as not.

I recall a former student of mine whose father was immensely wealthy and who had bailed him out of two failed businesses before the third attempt took hold. The young man became quite wealthy after that and we met on occasion. He held forth one day about those who couldn’t make it in this country because they lacked grit and determination. In a word, they were poor because they were lazy. I recall the conversation vividly, but can’t remember what I said in reply. What could one say, after all, to someone who was that blind? I daresay most, if not all, of those in poverty could “work” their way out if they had wealthy fathers to bail them out when they went under. But they don’t. And Mitt won’t be there to help, either.

The notion that the poor are so because they are lazy or shiftless may be more widespread than we would like to admit. It is also vapid and borderline cruel. In a wealthy country like ours there shouldn’t be any poor. There are, of course, and we have a moral obligation not only to acknowledge their existence but also to lend them a helping hand when we can. For most of us that will mean paying higher taxes as that’s the only thing we are in a position to do. But if it does mean higher taxes, so be it. We can afford that more readily than we can the continued apathy and callousness of the likes of Mitt Romney.

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