Mitt Romney: Out of Touch or Just Mean?

A column by Steve Russell about Mitt Romney.

In another column, I was mean to Willard Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Michigan, Utah, and California.

My subject was a surreptitious video of Gov. Romney’s remarks at a $50,000 a plate fundraiser at the Boca Raton mansion of Marc Leder, a principal in Sun Capital Partners, a private equity firm that has done a number of deals with Gov. Romney’s firm, Bain Capital. The video is shot from some distance, as waiters scurry around in the foreground. I wonder what the waiters thought of Romney’s remarks:

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what…who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it -- that that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. ... These are people who pay no income tax. ... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

As I write this, Gov. Romney’s campaign is in a heap of trouble caused by other unforced errors. Gov. Romney has released his 2011 tax returns, completing the two years we will be allowed to see.

Previously, Romney had made a remark that left me flabbergasted. He said that he had never paid a dollar more in taxes than required by law—which I understand—but added that if he had, he would be unqualified to be president. Say what? Why?

In his 2011 tax return—lo and behold!—he did not take all of his charitable deductions. Why? Because, if he had, his tax rate would have fallen below the 13 percent he assured us he has paid for the last 10 years he won’t let us see. There’s nothing wrong with paying more taxes than required, but since he chose to do it for political optics I was hoping he would explain why he said it was wrong in the first place? But I digress.

It is a fact that 46.4 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax. I would like to state for the record that they pay a lot of other federal taxes, not to mention state and local taxes, and this is relevant to the conclusions Gov. Romney draws.

I note also that prime drivers in keeping people off the tax rolls are President Reagan’s earned income tax credit and the child tax credit, born under President Clinton but raised under President George W. Bush. Then there were the Bush tax cuts, which bracketed some people out at the low end. In explaining why his tax cuts were about to jump-start the economy back in 2004, President Bush bragged “Nearly 5 million taxpayers will be off the rolls as a result of the tax relief this year.”

No big deal. What’s a little hypocrisy among friends?

My complaint is Gov. Romney’s condemnation that zero payers “fail to take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Let’s ignore the 105,000 zero payers who make over $211,000.

I’m sure they have overseas tax shelters similar to Gov. Romney’s, and he was not talking about them.

Of the zero payers, 44 percent are taken off the tax rolls by benefits for elders. Then there are 30 percent taken off by the Republican initiatives described above for children and the working poor.

While I have no hard numbers, I also note that disabled veteran payments and combat pay for people serving in a war zone are not taxable. I understand why Gov. Romney might have overlooked this loophole, since neither he nor his five sons found time to pull a hitch.

The spin Gov. Romney has put on his remarks is that he was talking politics, and those who do not pay taxes are unlikely to be moved by his primary economic message: more tax cuts. That spin does not explain how it is that combat veterans, elders, and the working poor have an exaggerated sense of “entitlement” or his opinion that they “fail to take personal responsibility…for their lives.”

Combat veterans took personal responsibility for OUR lives, as did many elders. So he must have meant the working poor. Sixty-one percent of the working poor receiving the earned income tax credit are on it two years or less, and most of them wind up paying more in than they took out.

My grandparents raised me, Gov. Romney, and they did not pay income tax. My grandfather had a career-ending injury in the oil patch. Their income was two Social Security checks and his benefit from the Spanish-American War. And what my grandmother earned cleaning swell folks’ homes. I understand politics, but the way you describe my relatives is just plain meanness.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.