Today, the nation is abuzz over Mitt Romney bluntly cold comment: "I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there."
This is not a slip of the tongue. This is what he believes. We know, because he said it before.
In October, I reported here that Romney made this exact same argument while stumping in Iowa: "In our country, the people who need the help most are not the poor, who have a safety net, not the rich, who are doing just fine, but the middle class." (See original article for video).
Why would Romney repeatedly make this claim? Here's my analysis from October:
He avoids the rhetorical trap that many of his fellow Republicans fall into, suggesting the rich don't need help instead of whining that they are the ones under assault. (Left unsaid by Romney is that he still supports more tax giveaways to the wealthy: keeping the Bush tax cuts, cutting corporate taxes and abolishing the estate tax for multimillionaire heirs.)
He expresses sympathy to the middle class, which is how most of us see ourselves, and pledges to relieve their burden.
But mainly, he tries to drive a wedge between the middle class and the poor, goading the middle class into being resentful of the poor for coasting on a golden "safety net" while the rest of us scrape to get by.
While it's nice that Romney appears to tacitly recognize that America would be far worse if we turned the clock back 80 years and threw out federal programs that provide health care, food assistance and financial aid to the poor, let's get real. These programs don't even cover everyone under the poverty line (a mere $22,350 for a family of four), let alone those technically over the poverty line who still struggle.
For example, nearly 50 million Americans experienced food insecurity last year, meaning they were unsure how they were going afford their next meal, often forcing them to eat less healthy food and for 11 million of those, some times less food period.
We can be thankful that thanks to liberal public policy, we now have federal aid so most poor people do not literally starve. But avoiding mass starvation is a pretty low bar.
Fortunately, these sorts of conservative class warfare tactics – much like the cruder "We Are The 53%" mantra disparaging poor and middle class workers who do not earn enough to pay net federal income taxes -- do not seem to be turning the public against aiding those in need. In this month's CNN poll, 60% supported "increasing federal aid to unemployed workers" and 76% supported "increasing the taxes paid by people who make more than one million dollars a year."
Such poll numbers should not be surprising. There have been many news reports about the plight of the jobless because of the Great Recession. There have not been many news reports about former millionaires who lost it all because of the Great Recession. Everyone knows that Wall Street got bailed out. Few believe that the poor got the same deal.
But apparently, Mitt Romney is one who does.