February 1, 2012 5:22 PM EST
Likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney prompted outrage and derision Wednesday with a comment he made on CNN suggesting that he’s not interested in the problems of poor people.
Following his big primary triumph Tuesday in Florida -- a victory that probably sealed the fate of rivals Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul -- Romney told CNN: “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
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The media (as well as the Democrats) have somewhat twisted Romney’s remarks by claiming the “very poor” as the principal target of his neglect. What Romney meant to say was that the country’s vast and once-dominant middle class is now endangered by massive job cuts, loss of insurance, outsourcing and the housing collapse, among other ills.
No one can argue with that.
But since these words came from a very wealthy former venture capitalist (Romney has a net worth of some $200 million, according to some reports), he clearly was the not right person to make such a remark.
Romney backtracked a bit later from his incendiary comments, but the damage has already been done.
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"My focus in the campaign is on middle-income people,” he said later.
“Of course I'm concerned about all Americans -- poor, wealthy, middle class, but the focus of my effort will be on middle-income families who I think have been most hurt by the Obama economy."
The Democrats will likely use Romney’s own words against him to suggest he is out of touch with reality and is unfit to govern a country in which poverty is soaring.
Indeed, according to the U.S. Census, more than 46 million people in America are now living below the poverty line – the highest level ever recorded -- with the ranks of the indigent having swelled by 2.6 million in 2010 alone.
The poverty rate has increased three years in a row through 2010 -- it is now at 15.1 percent. Moreover, 49 million Americans (about 16.3 percent) are lacking health insurance coverage.
That’s a lot of misery, poverty and suffering in the wealthiest nation that world has ever known.
However, I have noticed that Romney is hardly the only person who “doesn’t care” about poor people.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that the most despised minority group in the U.S. are not the blacks, nor the illegal immigrants, nor the gays, nor the Hispanics – it is poor people.
Being poor is considered a “crime” in this country and many (non-poor) people blame the poor for their own poverty.
I think I understand the mentality behind this attitude – the very basic premise of the so-called “American Dream” is that anyone, regardless of background, ethnicity, race or class, can succeed if they work hard and stay sober and focused. This is particularly true of immigrants who have fled poverty or repression (or both) in their native countries and struck it rich in the U.S.
Friends of mine in New York City -- many of whom are liberal Democrats and loathe the Republicans -- have themselves made comments about the poor that would even make Romney cringe.
One man said: “People are poor because they want to be poor.”
Another fellow, a wealthy investment banker, once told me: “Poor people deserve their fate. They’re lazy, they don’t want to be educated or work at a job and they want the government to hand them everything.”
A woman I know, who is actually a very caring and compassionate person in most matters, has called homeless people “disgusting vermin” and “parasitic losers.”
And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Interestingly, the most vociferous attacks upon the poor have come from people who themselves came from a modest background. One man I know who grew up in rural poverty in the Deep South (and is now an attorney) cites himself as an example of someone who overcame disadvantage and despair to achieve material success.
Strangely, the 2007-2009 financial crisis and recession (which has thrown millions of hard-working, once upwardly mobile Americans out of work and out of their homes), doesn’t appear to have softened this animosity towards the poor. In fact, it may even have strengthened it.
Thus, Romney likely lost the support of at least 46 million people with his callous remarks, but he will probably enjoy a lot of support from the other 250 million or so.
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