Something has been irking me about Mitt Romney for the past few weeks, and I think I’ve finally put my finger on it. From his “I like to fire people” remark to his comments that some of his best friends are professional team owners, Romney continually fumbles over matters of wealth and privilege. It blows my mind that, as a person with some political acumen, he has not figured out how to talk about his money. Think about it! This man has basically been running for president for SIX years. He knew that he would no doubt be the wealthiest person in the race, yet time after time he stumbles when he talks about it.
It reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from the movie Jumping the Broom (full disclosure: my fabulous sister co-wrote the screenplay). During the rehearsal dinner, when things are getting quite heated between the bride and groom’s families (who come from different class backgrounds), Loretta Devine’s character shouts to Angela Bassett’s, “I don’t know who you think you are, but honey…YOU BLACK.” Sometimes I just want to shout to Mitt Romney, “YOU WEALTHY! Deal with it!”
Back in 1994 Ann Romney was discussing their financial struggles when she was taking care of their children and Mitt was a student. No doubt that was tough. But they survived by liquidating some of the stocks that Mitt received from his father. There is nothing wrong with that. But they HAVE to know that most people don’t have that option, right? Right?? I’m honestly not sure. I could just have written that statement off as an anomaly from years ago, but given the recent statements, it seems to me that they are just not aware of how out of touch they can sound.
Folks, just admit your wealth. When you try to hide it or act like you don’t have great monetary advantages, it makes you come off as phony… something team Romney definitely can’t afford to do (no pun intended, I promise). And there are models to follow. Surely team Romney must realize that while he is among the wealthiest candidates in history, he is not the only person to run for president with considerable wealth.
And contrary to the Republican talking points, liberals and progressives do not begrudge anyone their hard-earned success. There are plenty of Democrats in office, or who ran for office, with considerable wealth — most famously the Kennedys. Ted Kennedy had a considerable fortune, yet he was seen as a great and tireless champion for the poor, working and middle class. And why is that? Oh, because he actually was a great and tireless champion for the poor, working and middle class.
And therein lies the problem. It isn’t Romney’s money that’s the issue. It’s his policies. People aren’t upset that Romney is part of the wealthiest 1 percent — on the contrary, bully for him. People are turned off because Romney’s policies all seem to benefit his fellow 1 percenters at the expense of everyone else. It appears to me that Romney isn’t comfortable talking about his good fortune because deep down he knows that he truly is a candidate who is advocating for policies that benefit the wealthiest Americans while cutting programs vital to the middle class. So maybe Mitt is thinking if he can appear to be more like everyday Americans, people won’t notice that he wants to bring back Bush-era economic policies.
Yeah, that’s not going to work in 2012. There are things called YouTube and the Internet. Romney can’t run from his policies any more than he can run from his wealth. And the thing is, he shouldn’t have to run from his money. It’s a shame that he feels compelled to because of the policies and programs he advocates.
Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @dgibber123