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Romney: "I'm Not Concerned About the Very Poor"

That's the quote you'll see in the inevitable Democratic attack ads, anyway.  During a post-Florida victory lap interview on CNN, Romney attempted to explain that his focus as president would be to restore economic prosperity for America's battered middle class -- but in doing so, he handed the Left a ready-made soundbyte to slice and exploit:


Within the full context of the quote, Romney's point is fairly harmless.  He's saying that the most indigent among us already have a generous safety net on which to fall back (welfare, SCHIP, Medicaid, etc), and that very well-off citizens are doing just fine on their own.  In other words, this was a terribly ham-fisted effort at talking about improving most Americans' lives by trimming government and liberating private enterprise to create jobs.  But while sites like this one -- and even some mainstream news outlets -- will quote Romney in context, Democrats will feel no such obligation.  Their commitment to the truth has been well documented.  As the borderline-prohibitive frontrunner, Romney needs to avoid waltzing into totally unforced rhetorical errors like his "not concerned" quote.  This latest episode should concern his campaign because isn't an isolated incident. 

Last year, Romney joked that he, too, was "unemployed." It was an awkward attempt to be funny, but it probably wasn't all that amusing for genuinely unemployed people, coming from a multi-millionare.  During a December debate in Iowa, Romney tried to lure Rick Perry into a $10,000 bet over a minor disagreement.  It was cringe-worthy.  And just last month, Romney made the entirely uncontroversial statement that he enjoys having the option of dumping a service provider over poor performance, but he phrased it in such a way that included the snippet, "I like being able to fire people."  Just like his gaffe this morning, the substance of that comment was innocuous; it was the way he framed it that flung open the doors of demagoguery.  Mitt Romney's enormous wealth is not a liability for his campaign in and of itself.  (He gives prodigious amounts of money to charity, which belies any suggestion that he actually doesn't care about the poor).  But how Romney discusses economic issues in light of his own affluence really does matter.  Fair or not, optics are consequential in our political system.  Democrats' entire strategy against Romney, if he's the nominee, is to beat the class warfare drum loudly and relentlessly to try to drown out President Obama's demonstrable failures.  There's nothing that Team Romney can do to prevent Democrats from employing this cynical strategy, but their candidate should consciously avoid making his opponents' job any easier.


UPDATE - Mark Steyn has a bone to pick with Romney's premise, not his phraseology:

Romney’s is a benevolent patrician’s view of society: The poor are incorrigible, but let’s add a couple more groats to their food stamps and housing vouchers, and they’ll stay quiet. Aside from the fact that that kind of thinking has led the western world to near terminal insolvency, for a candidate whose platitudinous balderdash of a stump speech purports to believe in the most Americanly American America that any American has ever Americanized over, it’s as dismal a vision of permanent trans-generational poverty as any Marxist community organizer with a cozy sinecure on the Acorn board would come up with.

After half-a-century of evidence, what sort of “conservative” offers the poor the Even Greater Society? I don’t know how “electable” Mitt is, but, even if he is, the greater danger, given the emptiness of his campaign to date, is that he’ll be elected with no real mandate for the course correction the Brokest Nation in History urgently needs...

As usual, Steyn makes an incisive and crucial point.

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