This is why.
Naturally, this is being considered a gaffe. Romney has been raked over the coals all day for it, even by people who have been supportive of his campaign. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg…
I get the point he’s making. It’s a point that Bill Clinton won the presidency with — but with language that attracted voters. Romney’s language won’t do anything of the sort. And the concern is, after nearly a decade of running for president, if he can’t get this stuff down now he never will…great politicians on the morning after a big win, don’t force their supporters to go around defending the candidate from the charge that he doesn’t care about the poor. They just don’t.
Goldberg’s gripe with Romney wasn’t that he disagreed with what he said, and we agree (more on that in a moment). Goldberg’s gripe was that Romney just isn’t all that good a politician.
And that’s a very fair gripe.
No sooner did Goldberg slap his forehead about the supposed gaffe than Romney started crawfishing…
“No, no, no, no,” Romney said. “You’ve got to take the whole sentence, all right, as opposed to saying, and then change it just a little bit, because then it sounds very different. I’ve said throughout the campaign my focus, my concern, my energy is gonna be devoted to helping middle income people, all right? We have a safety net for the poor, and if there are holes in it, I will work to repair that. And if there are people that are falling through the cracks I want to fix that.”
“I’m sure there are places where people fall between the cracks,” Romney said. “And finding those places is one of the things that is the responsibility of government. We do have a very ample safety net in America, with Medicaid, housing vouchers, food stamps, earned income tax credit. We have a number of ways of helping the poor. And yet my focus and the area that I think is the greatest challenge that the country faces right now is not, is not to focus our effort on how we help the poor as much as to focus our effort on how to help the middle class in America, and get more people in the middle class and get people out of being poor and becoming middle income.”
The exchange was disappointingly weak, if perhaps defensible in a he’s-a-moderate-trying-to-play-conservative-so-you’ve-got-to-expect-a-certain-degree-of-suckage kind of way. But next came Romney’s complete capitulation…
Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney renewed his support Wednesday for automatic increases in the federal minimum wage to keep pace with inflation, a position sharply at odds with traditional GOP business allies, conservatives and the party’s senior lawmakers.
“I haven’t changed my thoughts on that,” the former Massachusetts governor told reporters aboard his chartered campaign plane, referring to a stand he has held for a decade.
He did not say if he would ask Congress to approve the change if he wins the White House this fall.
Naturally, the idea of automatic increases in the minimum wage based on inflation is quite possibly one of the stupidest ever to issue forth from the mouth of a Republican candidate for public office. Newt Gingrich, upon hearing about it, immediately seized upon the opportunity – calling it “a very dangerous idea.”
And the Club For Growth lambasted Romney as well. In a statement, CFG President Chris Chocola said…
“Indexing the minimum wage would be an absolute job killer. Mitt Romney’s proposal is anti-growth and would harm our economy. It’s disappointing to hear that the leading candidate for the Republican nomination believes that the government can set the price of labor better than the free market.”
The fact is, nobody brings up a family on minimum wage. And nobody makes minimum wage for long; if you get a job at minimum wage it’s almost always your first job and it’s a menial, low-value job. The point of those jobs is that in most organizations if you can demonstrate for six months to a year that you’re capable of showing up on time every day, doing the simple tasks assigned to you in that minimum wage job without royally screwing up and avoiding behavior that will makes your boss want to fire or kill you, you’re going to get a raise and a promotion – or if not, you’ve qualified yourself for a better job someplace else.
And further, minimum wage earners are almost always second or third incomes in their households. Minimum wage jobs are the onramp into the labor force for young people, and particularly uneducated young people – half of all minimum wage earners are under 25. By raising the minimum wage you make it more difficult for low-skill individuals to get a job, and that makes them more likely to end up as the “very poor” Romney isn’t concerned about.
A bit of backup to the above assertions…
Schiller examined data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth between 1998 and 2006, when the federal wage remained static, to determine the characteristics of minimum wage earners between the age of 33 and 50 and their families.
What he found will surprise you: In close to 95 percent of families with children where an adult worked a job paying at or below the minimum wage, the spouse worked as well. And more often than not, the spouse wasn’t working a minimum wage job.
Consider this finding: Among all adults with children who earned less than $10,000 a year, almost half had a spouse that earned more than $40,000 a year. Another 27 percent had a spouse earning between $20,000 and $40,000 a year.
In other words, three out of four adult minimum wage earners who are supporting children are in households earning substantially more than poverty-level wages.
Further, these adult minimum wage earners aren’t stuck in neutral. Schiller’s research shows 95 percent of them also earned more than the minimum wage during the period studied.
Back to the original statement, Romney actually – unwittingly, as it turns out – opened up a philosophical discussion that could well have been very attractive to the GOP electorate he’s going to have to start closing the sale with if in fact we’re going to be stuck with him as a nominee (something we aren’t as sure about as everybody else is, but let’s largely leave that aside for the purposes of this post).
As Goldberg notes, a skillful politician could have turned the statement about the “very poor” into such a discussion in such a way that the media’s portrayal of it as a “gaffe” would have fallen away very quickly.
What would have been far preferable to his immediate retreat into the hills would have been a statement on the campaign plane along these lines…
“Look, I’m aware of the fact that because I’ve been successful I’m supposed to apologize for that and I can’t say anything Democrats will portray as insensitive to people less fortunate than I am. Except that there’s such a thing as reality out there which doesn’t match up with this Kabuki dance that political wisdom imposes on us as Republicans and apparently me in particular.
“The fact is, we’ve got the richest poor in the world. We all know that. Americans living in poverty have more stuff than middle class people in other countries that are supposedly wealthy have. Think I’m kidding? Think I’m out of touch? OK, how about the fact that 92 percent of poor people in this country have a microwave. 80 percent have air conditioning. Three quarters own a car. Two-thirds have a DVD player. Half own a computer and better than half of the poor families in this country who have kids own an XBox or some other kind of video game system. Not to mention that a third of them have plasma TV’s. Well more than half of them have cable TV or a satellite hookup. Go to France or Spain or Italy, which generally speaking are considered to be fairly well-off countries with social safety nets our friends on the Democrat side say we should emulate, and somebody who has all those things would probably be considered wealthy, not poor.
“And it’s not just about stuff our poor folks own. Our poor folks eat better than almost anybody else in the world. Less than 20 percent of poor people in America report a single night in the past year when they went to bed hungry because they couldn’t afford anything to eat, and for kids that number is only four percent. And more than two-thirds of poor people in America have more than two rooms per person living in their home. Better than 40 percent of poor people in America are actually homeowners. On average, poor people in America have more living space in their homes than the average middle class folks in Sweden, France or the UK.
“Poverty in America is about $22,000 for a family of four. That’s basically the median household income in Greece, the Czech Republic, Iceland, New Zealand and Israel, none of which are places we consider to be particularly horrible to live in. Our poor live basically as well as middle-class people in those countries.
“So no, I’m not that concerned about the plight of America’s poor people. What I am concerned about is that we’re getting more of them because our government is conducting policy that will wreck this economy and we need a new president to fix that. And I’m particularly concerned, as I said this morning, that our middle class is having a bigger and bigger problem getting ahead and becoming wealthy – which is what I was taught America has always been about.
“One of the key questions in this race is whether we’re going to be a country going forward which lives and dies by its lowest common denominator, which is Obama’s approach and what you have in Europe – and it’s pretty clear that approach doesn’t work if you see the basket-case economies they’ve got over there, or a country which cherishes competition and excellence and opportunity and success, which is what has worked for us for over 200 years. And as I said this morning you won’t get back to the latter unless you focus on the middle class, because the middle class has always been the driver of our economy and our prosperity.
“Everybody get that? Can we move on now?”
The problem is that it takes somebody with some political chops to pull off a statement like that. Conservative Republican voters could hear Romney say it even in the wooden way he says most of what he says and still perk up their ears and think to themselves “Hey, maybe there’s something to this guy after all,” but the lefty media would beat him to death with it and call him insensitive.
But if Romney would get a bit of Gingrich in him he could use that to his advantage. Let’s not forget what happened earlier this month. The PJ Tatler put this best…
He lost South Carolina because Newt Gingrich ripped CNN’s John King in half on stage and turned to the audience, blood still dripping from his bare hands, and shouted “Are you not entertained?”
Exactly. There is absolutely nothing wrong, if you’re a Republican presidential contender and particularly if you’re considered the East Coast Establishment’s GOP candidate, with taking a Louisville Slugger to the temple of some unsuspecting Democrat propagandist from CNN or ABC News or the New York Times. Lay in wait for questions about how out of touch you are, and then pounce on the fact that the only way for these poor people you supposedly don’t care about not to be poor is for the economy to grow fast enough that somebody is desperate enough for help they’ll have to hire them.
But Romney doesn’t say anything nasty. At least not in person; he buys TV ads for that.
Instead, we get proposals for more free money for people who aren’t voting Republican thanks to this harebrained idea about raising the minimum wage – which would almost assuredly lower the average household income of poor Americans from 22K to something less than that since a lot fewer of those households would have multiple incomes.
Sen. Jim Demint, who has endorsed Romney in the past, was disgusted with his floundering today…
“He needs to address it. Because I know he does care about the poor. But I think he was trying to make a case that they’re taken care of. But, in fact, I would say I’m worried about the poor because many are trapped in dependency, they need a good job; they don’t need to be on social welfare programs. I think he needs to turn that around because — the middle class is key, and we have to focus on that. And, really, the problem with the middle class is not successful people, it’s politicians — but the key to making our country successful it to get everyone on that economic ladder.”
Charles Krauthammer thought the whole mess was pathetic as well…
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.
And Erick Erickson delivered a hammer blow which might well be prophetic if this kind of insincere incompetence isn’t remedied…
It is days like today that make me thankful I think they all suck. At least I’m thankful I’m in the firmly not Romney camp.
So much for the GOP condemning class warfare. Romney’s folks are going with it too. Where Obama goes for “fair shares”, Romney wants to focus only on those hurt “most.”
But the coup de grace came late today when, to mitigate the damage, Romney reminded everyone he supports automatic hikes in the minimum wage — a truly conservative position.
The National Review sure does know how to pick them. Glad they’ll be defending him in the general. I’m not sure I’ll waste my time. Sure, I’ll vote for him. But I think I’ll focus on House and Senate races so when the buyers remorse sets in on those who backed Romney we’re not completely screwed down ballot.
But whether you think this mess was a gaffe or a colossal missed opportunity, it definitely showed that if this is what passes for “electable” in the GOP field we need to ignore Florida’s result from Tuesday and throw electability out of the mix in selecting a candidate – because if we don’t have a candidate any more skilled than this we should accept the fact that whatever deal Obama made with the devil Saul Alinsky dedicated his book to worked like a charm, and our chance of beating Obama rests solely with the incumbent stepping on his crank and not with anything our guy can do. And in accepting the fact that we only win if the Democrats gak the thing, our choice should be driven solely by an examination of who best expresses our philosophy in word and deed.
Fact is, that isn’t Romney. Like Krauthammer said, Romney can’t even talk the talk much less walk the walk as a conservative. And his entire raison d’etre as this supposed inevitable nominee is that he’s the best politician of the group and has the most appeal, which this freshman-level goof indicates is a raisin of a raison, indeed.