There's nothing wrong with being born with a silver spoon in your mouth. It's what you do with that good fortune that matters. And that is at the heart of Mitt Romney's problem with the American people. With his proclamations and policies, the same man who denounces President Obama as "out of touch" and "Marie Antoinette," shows his aloof detachment and stunning incomprehension of the struggles Americans face every day. And yet, they don't begrudge him either his privileged past or financial success. Instead, they just want him to acknowledge the debt he owes to the society that made it possible.
Alas, Romney's empathy gap was once again on display in response to President Obama's comment about all Americans deserving a "fair shot," even those who, like him, weren't "born with a sliver spoon in [their] mouth." (That rhetorical device, by the way, is one Obama has been using for years.) As he has for months, Mitt Romney took umbrage:
"I'm certainly not going to apologize for my dad and his success in life. He was born poor. He worked his way to become very successful despite the fact that he didn't have a college degree. And one of the things he wanted to do was provide for me and for my brother and sisters."
But that's not all George Romney did. As Rick Perlstein recalled of Mitt's dad, the Michigan Governor and American Motors magnate (who ironically also met with that infamous community organizer Saul Alinsky):
As a CEO he would give back part of his salary and bonus to the company when he thought they were too high. He offered a pioneering profit-sharing plan to his employees. Most strikingly, asked about the idea that "rugged individualism" was the key to America's success, he snapped back, "It's nothing but a political banner to cover up greed."
That doesn't sound anything like the son who boasted that "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." And while Mitt Romney certainly never had to worry about "getting a pink slip," he stills gets a chuckle thinking about those who did when his father moved AMC jobs from Michigan to Wisconsin.
To be sure, Romney's repeated and comical failures to present himself as a "man of the people" have only deepened his yawning empathy gap. Romney, who explained that over the last decade "my income comes overwhelmingly from some investments made in the past," joked with jobless voters that "I'm also unemployed." The $250 million man similarly declared himself "part of the 80 to 90 percent of us" who are middle class, when just the "not very much" $374,000 he earned in speaking fees last year puts him in the top one percent of income earners. Whether or not he really enjoys firing people, Mitt Romney almost certainly never pooped in a bucket during his time as a missionary at a toney Paris mansion. (Who else would lecture a child about his plans to divvy up his estate among his 16 grandchildren or endorse rooftop canine waterboarding?) And there's no doubt that the man who spent $12 million to buy his third home (none of which are located on "the real streets of America") didn't win any friends when he offered this prescription for the housing market crisis:
"Don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom, allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up."
It's no surprise Mitt Romney believes income inequality should only be discussed in "quiet rooms." But it certainly didn't help matters when his wife Ann joked "Mitt doesn't even know the answer to that" when asked how many dressage horses she owns while her husband slanders Democrats as "the party of monarchists." It's no wonder his ally and Massachusetts GOP Senator Scott Brown urged Romney to release his tax returns:
"He's in a category, a lot of those folks are in categories that we don't really understand."
Brown was only saying what most Americans were thinking when he acknowledged that Romney is living in "a different world from me."
And in that world, the rules most Americans play by simply don't apply to Mitt Romney.