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.

Pot and Kettle

A new Gingrich television ad in Florida asked: “What kind of man would mislead, distort and deceive just to win an election?” The answer is “Milt Romney,” Gingrich’s major opponent for the Presidential nomination who seems to have Newt on the ropes in Florida. We might expect the ad to have come from the Romney camp! 

For those of us who are not irony impaired, this quote takes the cake. The man who seemed to be taking pages out of Goebbel’s manual of instruction as he brought political discourse to a new low criticizes his opponent for deception and distortion. This is indeed the pot calling the kettle black. But name-calling and hypocrisy are nothing new in politics, as we know. They go back to the beginnings of politics in this country and we inherited the practice from ancient Athens, though the Greeks didn’t have popular elections as we do now. In any event, they are the ones who invented the notion of “civic virtue,” so we can guess their politics were a bit more sedate than ours. The English also know how to throw around the nasty epithets during their elections. But they always seem to manage to spice them up with wit and even with charm, not to mention a deep sense of history. And the combatants would usually end up going to the pub for a pint after it was all over. And while in this country political contests have always been hot and heavy, there seemed to be a line between nasty and vicious that was never crossed — until Newt. Gingrich has indeed removed all restraint from political discourse during his long political life, and one wonders why he doesn’t applaud his opponent for learning from the master.

But there are a number of ironies in this political year besides Gingrich complaining about his opponent’s tactics. To begin with, we have an American president who is happily married with two lovely children. One of his opponents is a divorced man whose former wife has stated in public that the man should never be elected president. Yes, it’s Gingrich again who is running as a member of the party that stands for “family values,” whatever that means. Indeed, after Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich the phrase begins to lose all meaning. Whatever they were once meant to convey, the words “family values” clearly no longer stand against multiple marriage, deception, and illegitimate children in one’s immediate family.

One gets the feeling we are in for a long and ugly fight for the Presidency in this country. Again. But this time, the limits on corporate spending have been lifted and the money will really start to flow in both directions as the election nears. Taking the cap off political spending will simply give the wealthy more power. And those of us who just want to watch TV uninterrupted and have a little peace of mind will just have to endure the noise and mud-slinging. The mute will help, but it doesn’t make the problem go away.

One gets the feeling that much of the incivility we hear in political debates simply echoes the “discussions” on TV involving sports analysts and news reporters, the “talking heads” who seem to be in a contest with one another to see who can shout the loudest. Pardon the interruption. Fiddlesticks! That would be civil discourse and that disappeared with black and white TV. We now have a new world of bare-knuckles political battering and it will be ugly. The one pleasant thought is that Newt Gingrich seems to be on his way out and we may not have to listen to him much longer. That would be a good thing.