This Just In: Romney On "Free Stuff"

I’m watching the cringeworthy sight of Mitt Romney speaking live to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, and a couple of things so far have me not only grimacing, but darned-near gobsmacked in headspinning disbelief.

(I don’t know . . . there’s something about the exceptional blandness of Mitt Romney that  just provokes hyperbole and exaggeration in me, and it’s not simply my intense dismay over his every utterance.  It’s sort of like developing a craving for Thai basil and chilis after a big bowl of oatmeal . . . or maybe just recognizing that bland affect and plain words nonetheless convey hypocrisy and contempt with astonishing efficacy).

So the presumptive GOP nominee finds himself with An Opportunity.  The embodiment of white, male privilege and living example of capitalism gleefully run amok was discussing his vision for America to a group of Latino public servants just a week after the President announced an end to the deportation of, and the establishment of “a pathway to citizenship” for, the children of undocumented immigrants — kids who came here with their families and are Americans now in every way but the one over which they had neither input then or power to influence now.  Romney, in staking out an immigration position even more heartless and less reasonable than Rick Perry’s and Newt Gingrich’s, has been clear in his opposition to any such “amnesty for illegals,” and he surely basks in the disapproval even those two, hardly known for their courageous standing with the poor and oppressed, got over their tepid-but-humane support for some sort of “amnesty for illegals.”  By contrast, Romney’s views on immigration have been almost peevish and fully unrealistic, with the dubious advantage of appearing even more stone-cold than ever on the heels of the Obama announcement. 

So, an understatement:  Politically, Mitt Romney doesn’t have a lot of appeal to a Latino audience. I imagine he felt today like an Omaha Steak rep at a vegan lifestyle convention.

If I had Romney’s best political interests in mind, I might have suggested that today’s audience probably wasn’t where he should have continued to bang the “politics of envy, everyone expects entitlements” drum that’s dictated the GOP’s march from mere indifference to outright contempt for the poor.  But  Romney suffers from an almost preternatural inability to grasp the plight of anyone other than the filthy rich, much less understand the perspective of even neutral audiences.

And so he dove right in.

On entitlements, Romney noted that “everyone likes free stuff,” but “no one wants to pay for it” with taxes.  I think that the recipients of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and other knots in the social safety net probably would remind Romney that the “entitlement” nature of these programs comes not from the voters’ peevish, impudent insistence on “free stuff,” but on a return, when needed, on the taxes they pay toward the social contract we’ve developed — and that the GOP appears intent on destroying.  And while Romney’s sage observation reveals him to be a prescient observer of the winds of political dialogue — free stuff good, tax stuff bad — I think he might reconsider unleashing that gem of perspicuity on this particular audience.

Why?  Because it’s an ignorant and tragically ironic point to make to Latino officeholders who represent districts with large numbers of undocumented residents, workers, and families who pay sales taxes and quite often payroll taxes with no access at all to the “free stuff” Romney mentions. Admonishing one’s audience to not feel “entitled” to the benefits they’ve paid for through their taxes is particularly churlish when that audience consists of people who represent hundreds of thousands of poor and disenfranchised people who pay those taxes with no hope at all of ever claiming any of the “entitlement” benefits they’ve paid for.  But I wouldn’t expect Mitt Romney to know that.  Except, you know, for the running for President thing and all.

Then, in reference to last week’s announcement by President Obama of a moratorium on the deportations of young people brought to the country as children by their parents, Romney snipes that Obama, on the eve of the presidential election, just did “what he could’ve done on Day One, but didn’t.”  Which is a good point — that is, Obama could’ve done what he did at any point during his first term, and I wish he had done it earlier.  Romney, however, doesn’t, and didn’t, want to do it at all.

A note to the Romney campaign:  Probably not a criticism that a guy on record for OPPOSING the Dream Act and advocating the self-deportation of undocumented workers ought to make.  Like our conventioneering vegan complaining that the steak he would never, ever eat nonetheless arrived late to his table, Romney slams the President for not doing quickly enough what he himself has said he would never do at all.

So when Mitt assures his audience that he can both oppose the Dream Act, “amnesty,” and a porous U.S./Mexican border, and then promises them that if elected, he’ll gladly give a “green card to someone who gets an advanced diploma in America” — which is the primary tenet of the Dream Act — I assume that someone in his campaign will get out the feltboard and people cut-outs and show him how you can’t simultaneously support AND oppose something.  Because in real life, plenty of dark-skinned and light-skinned, Spanish- and English-speaking, documented and undocumented, GOP and Democratic constituents will treat him with appropriate contempt for trying to convince Latino voters that he can — while showing their appreciation for the guy who just went out and, God be praised, did the right thing after all.

Romney’s point appears to be that Latino voters aren’t easily fooled.  My guess is that every utterance he offers on the subject of immigration will make that point resoundingly clear to all of us on Election Day.  I’ll have more — much more — to say about Obama’s announcement on the moratorium, but for now I just wish that Romney knew his audience.  More than that, I just wish Romney knew himself — because it’s become clear that his moral compass is held in a distressingly loose hand.

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