Posted by: mutantpoodle | September 18, 2012

The perils of privilege

Last week, after what I imagined were the worst series of sentences Mitt Romney would ever say in this campaign came out, I suggested that once having had a shitty job be a requirement for the Presidency. My theory is that without a job where you’re pretty low on the totem pole, you never learn that a) you’re not all that, b) there are times when no one cares when you think, and c) this is how some people have to make a living.

This is not an experience that Mitt Romney has had.

It comes out the most when he talks about foreign policy – the notion that if you talk tough, people will respond, even if you don’t really have any leverage over them, and the corresponding notion that more gentle persuasion (i.e., Obama’s foreign policy) is a sign of weakness.

I won’t get into the idiocy of calling the Obama drone/kill foreign policy “weak”. I’m not sure it’s actually smart, but that’s a whole ‘nother Oprah.

So here’s Mitt Romney, in May of this year at the Boca Raton estate of a Marc Leder, private equity guy whose record may be more noxious than Bain’s.

In a room with like minded, er, humans, Romney speaks his mind, revealing that he doesn’t really know much about who pays and doesn’t pay federal income tax in this country. (Krugman, here, is helpful.) And they all nod knowingly about those freeloaders, which is ironic because some of them are paying no federal income taxes themselves, but never mind.  The people in that room are strivers. Go-getters. They’ve worked hard (ask them!) and earned their success. Anyone who hasn’t succeeded as they have must be just plain lazy.

That’s the underlying, sneering contempt present in Romney’s remarks. And because he was so specific, and so wrong (a huge number of that 47% actually support him), it begs easy, embarrassing questions.

  • About the soldiers who pay no taxes.
  • About the sunbirds in Florida and Arizona who don’t pay taxes on their social security and somehow believe they’re entitled to health care.
  • About hedge fund managers who don’t pay income tax because of the carried interest loophole.

For starters.

Lots of people spend their time in echo chambers. I do, at times, but I read what people on the right say, and I have seen them defend their ideas in different forums. I generally find them unpersuasive, missing, in so many cases, factual confirmation of their claims. Some of them simply prioritize things differently, and we disagree.  But I think I understand their arguments.

When you’re a rich, privileged white guy with inherited wealth, you can hang out with other rich, privileged white guys and talk about your self-made fortune.

Many years ago, when I worked in the Newscorp empire, I met James Murdoch. He was in his early 20’s, and he’d been given a job in daddy’s company. Most of what he was doing then was getting in people’s way, but I imagine if you ask James Murdoch today, he’d say he worked his way up to his position as deputy COO of Newscorp. Of course, most people don’t enter a multi-national corporation at the age of 24 as the Chairman of one of their (admittedly smaller) entities.

In a way, I understand the attitude. James Murdoch certainly believes he’s worked hard. And I’m sure all the people in Romney’s room believe they’ve worked hard and earned their success. I’m certainly not in a position to dispute that – I imagine many of them worked very long hours acquiring wealth.

The obscenity is the assumption that those with less wealth haven’t worked hard, or that people who support Barack Obama are doing so because he’s going to make their lives easier.

I support Barack Obama and I don’t believe for a second that my life will be easier with him as President. I do, however, believe that he will make the United States more like the country I want to live in than Mitt Romney will, even if, ultimately, I pay a little more in taxes to get there. And I don’t mind if some of that money goes to people who are struggling, because I believe in community.

Mostly, I don’t believe in categorizing people as good or bad based on their Federal income tax status. And if I was running for President, capping the percentage of Americans who might be open to my ideas at 53% would be a non-starter.


  1. I think what was so mindblowing (of the many mindblowing parts of all this) was the assumption that the only people who would vote for Obama paid no taxes, and that if you did, you’d support him. He probably can’t fathom people like me, who think we are undertaxed… I consider my charitable contributions part of the way I make up for that.

  2. Wonderful post! I tweeted but once again couldn’t figure out how to comment: Jesse Jackson has a good speech about hardworking people who catch the early bus. I think of it whenever I’m sorry for myself for working so many hours for so little money. Paying taxes to me means I’m making money. Joy

    • It was Jackson’s speech at the 1988 DNC, and I mention (and link to it) here.

  3. Love this. Must share.

    Did you see the column unfavorably comparing Mittens to Marie Antoinette? In Forbes???

    • That is special. Of course, if the cake were government-provided, that would be bad.

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