Bloody wars have been declared by uninspiring leaders before—by Woodrow Wilson, Neville Chamberlain, and George Bush, among others. Class politics is war too. And Mitt Romney has spelled out his war plan.
After his primary victory in Florida, Romney outlined his three-part campaign theme: I’m not concerned about the very rich or the very poor; I know the rich are comfortable and I think the safety net for the poor is ample. My campaign to throw those pseudo-Europeans out of the White House will concentrate on the struggling American middle class.
His only concession to traditional political bullshit was the mathematical absurdity that the hard-pressed middle class represents 90% to 95% of Americans.
Dissecting America into three social-economic constituencies is a radical move for a professional conservative politician and goes dangerously beyond the sunny rhetoric of Ronald Reagan acolytes and Frank Luntz semantics.
The closest these right-wing strategists ever get to acknowledging the growing divisions in American society is to praise the “job creators” and promise fewer “bureaucrats.” To them the latest slogan “Ninety-nine percent” is actually not too sweeping, but too exclusive.
They ask people to believe that wealth and opportunity trickle down justly, like God’s mercy.
However, Romney has decided that he must take unprecedented risks to reach the middle class. These are hard times and his persona, his friends, his backers, and his platform scream big money.
His statement was crude, but it was clearly premeditated. It contained too many self-serving myths to be an honest “gaffe,” as many in the media have accepted.
(It well demonstrates how far he’ll stretch his respect for “data” and his pride as a smart politician that he’d make these assertions and, the next day, wonder whether he’d “misspoken.”)
Romney’s non-retraction was simply an invitation to the mainstream media to keep repeating his message: Romney’s not going to waste his presidency worrying about the poor; as in his corporate turnarounds, President Mitt Romney will reward you by cutting out the deadwood.
This invitation to the middle class may not reflect Romney’s true nature. He may actually be “concerned” emotionally about poverty. His statement may also prove to be a mistake. But, it surely deserves to be rigorously debated as a true expression of what he’s offering America.
Not only did he say his focus would be elsewhere, he grossly understated the dimensions of poverty in America and stands on a platform that would further reduce federal health, education, and training support for poor Americans. (Furthermore, the poor don’t share with the rich a mere 5% of the population, as Romney implies. Alone, they represent over 15% of the American population.)
Romney can’t ask for a dollar more of taxes from the rich, but he can tell the middle class that he’s their man. There is one thing he can say to the middle class that Obama won’t: “You’ll get the dividends—the benefits of new growth—not the poor and their safety net. After all, you’ve been hurt the most by the recession.”
This self-pitying zero-sum game is, to say the least, more European than anything Obama and his technocrats have dared utter.
America’s middle class will have a clear choice in the next election. Do they really believe in all that expansive ballyhoo about the American Dream? Public servants cowering in Washington won’t kill the idea of American exceptionalism—but a middle class that buys Romney’s calculation could.