Ann Romney, apparently a "rock star" in the Romney campaign, recently riffed on her husband's difficulty relating to regular folks, and threatened to unleash the "real Mitt Romney" upon us. During a radio interview in Baltimore, Ann Romney responded to suggestions that her husband came off a bit stiff on the campaign trail. "Well, you know what," she said, " guess we'd better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out because he is not!"
Fortunately, that won't be necessary. We've seen and heard plenty of the "real Mitt Romney" in the course of the GOP primary. And not just from his Republican opponents. Mitt Romney has more than revealed himself to American voters.
Of course, there are the gaffes. So many, in fact, that they’re hard to keep up with.
There are more gaffes, and there will be even more between now and November. And they are telling. But when it comes to the real Mitt Romney, the wealth-related gaffes are really a kind of shorthand.
Mitt’s Moral Document
Budgets, Jim Wallis says, are moral documents. They reveal our priorities, and show the world what — or whom — we’re willing to sacrifice. Mitt Romney has shown us both.
In February, when Mitt Romney released his new economic agenda, Ezra Klein summed it up in less than 150 words.
Mitt Romney is promising that taxes will go down, defense spending will go up, and old-people programs won’t change for this generation of retirees. So three of his four options for deficit reduction “taxes, old-people programs, and defense” are now either contributing to the deficit or are off-limits for the next decade.
Romney is also promising that he will pay for his tax cuts, pay for his defense spending, and reduce total federal spending by more than $6 trillion over the next 10 years. But the only big pot of money left to him is poor-people programs. So, by simple process of elimination, poor-people programs will have to be cut dramatically. There’s no other way to make those numbers work.
Romney showed us his priorities with a budget that includes a 20% “across-the-board” tax cut that essentially requires across-the-board cuts to programs that serve and support the poor, as well as the working- and middle-classes. Romney showed us his priorities with a budget that preserves his 15% tax rate on capital gains and dividends, eliminate taxes on investment income for those earning more than $200,000 per year, and lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%.
Romney showed us what and whom he is willing 10 sacrifice, with a budget that would require cutting non-defense programs by $637 billion in 2016 alone, and $6.5 trillion between 2014 and 2021. Romney showed us who and what he is willing to sacrifice with a budget that would shred the safety net, throwing 10 million off the benefit rolls for food stamps, and leave 30 million without health care coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act.
Romney showed us what and whom he is willing to sacrifice with his embrace of Paul Ryan’s budget. Romney showed us what and whom he is willing to sacrifice with his support of a budget that would end Medicare as we know it, and render America itself unrecognizable.
Most of all, Mitt Romney showed us his priorities by presenting and supporting budget plans that do all of the above without deducing the deficit, but actually increase it by $2.6 trillion
Mitt Romney is no moderate. As E.J. Dionne pointed out, he is the beneficiary of a “terrible bias in the mainstream media that judges ‘moderation’ entirely in relation to social issues.” That bias is what makes Romney’s “gaffes” news, without drawing attention the glimpses of the real Mitt Romney those so-called gaffes provide.
Romney’s “gaffes” look unmistakably like glimpses of the real Romney — not a bad person, but a man with no ability to see beyond the small, cosseted world of private equity and great wealth that he inhabits. He has to be reminded that most voters live in a world where people drive their Cadillacs one at a time.
That bias, Dionne writes, allows the real Mitt Romney — an extremist for the privileged — to hide behind gaffes that are not really gaffes.
My friend and colleague Matt Miller wrote recently that "everyone knows Romney is basically a pragmatic centrist." No, "everyone" does not know this. The evidence from his tax plan, in fact, is that he's an extremist for the privileged.
We're witnessing what should be called the Two Cadillacs Fallacy: Romney's rather authentic moments suggesting he doesn't understand the lives of average people (such as his comment on his wife's two Cadillacs) are dismissed as "gaffes," while Santorum's views on social issues are denounced as "extreme." But Romney's gaffes are more than gaffes: They reflect deeply held and radical views about how wealth and power ought to be distributed in the United States. These should worry us a lot more than Santorum's dopey "snob" comment or his tasteless denunciation of JFK.
I don’t think most voters have been fooled, though. And those who have been fooled won’t be for much longer, now that the presidential race has begun in earnest. The Republican primaries may have helped the real Mitt Romney to hide behind so-called “gaffes” and the cartoon-like extremism of his GOP opponents. But in the general election, the real Mitt Romney — the extremist for the one percent — won’t be able to hide so easily.
In fact, the real Mitt Romney will almost certainly expose himself again. He just can’t help himself.