Mitt Romney: Out of Touch or Just Mean?

Steve Russell

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.

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wisgriz's picture
Judges make very good money. I'd think a man like Steve Russell had to have put his money and saved for his retirement. There are no taxes paid on retirement plans. Mr. Russell is pretty hypocritical to make any kind of comments when he himself saved for his retirement and perhaps earns a few dollars on the side by his articles on ICT. wISGRIZ
rezzdog's picture
Griz, Which judges make "very good money"? And is Russell one of them? I don't know, do you? The fact that even though retired, that elder still works, maybe because he has to, like many elders do these days. Or maybe because he wants to, he loves his work. Either way, I pay him for his Columns because he thinks well. Maybe not always correctly, but always, very well and very timely. Those are skills honed over a life-time, a time he obviously spent well and with focus. Good for him and good for everyone who reads his thoughts. But, of all the things I know of him as being, hypocritical is not one of them. Anyhow, enough of Russell. What do you think of Romney and the 47% he says he does not need to represent? Strange, eh?
digger's picture
i am heart broken to hear that so many of my brothers and sisters are beliving in this man who has lied to all the AMERICAN people for the last four years. while he has everyone's attention on one thing , he is gutting America on something else. already he is starving our children, just think what it will be like with him for another four years. Please , Please , I beg of you, do not listen to his lies, about Romney. Romney had no more control over being born rich than i did being born dirt poor.I respect me and my husdand for being able , IN THIS GREAT COUNTRY, to pull ourselves up to at least a fair living. and i respect romney and his wife for donating their inheritance to the needy. Do u people remember the American dream, where you take what you have and make it better, by hard work and sometimes doing without. not taking money and other stuff without hitting a lick of work, some people are wanting something for nothing and that's what romney is talking about.i know people who have pertended to need assistance, so they didn't have to work, i'm sure we all do. but. i'm willing to bet there is alot more of that now then in years past
gentledove's picture
I am a Native, born into a humble situation in my grandmother's hogan (dirt dwelling of the Navajo Nation). Our family survived on our livestock and off the land. I was taught by my father who was not permitted to go to school so he could take care of our survival again and again that we had to take care of and provide for ourselves as best as we could. As a young child, my father sent me off the reservation to gain the English speaking education and to become familiar with the ways of the Caucasians. I lived with a foster Caucasian family for 10 and a half yrs. They were also Mormons like Romney. They joined my father in helping me gain a good education not only in school but in all the aspects of life. They helped me gain great reverence for my Native heritage. They helped me learn the deeper aspect of the spiritual teachings of my people and they added more enrichment to help me strive to keep a peaceful heart. They also taught me that the secret to real wealth was hard work, self discipline, saving for emergencies and my good dreams and good desires to come true, and to help others gain good things for themselves. I also began to pay a tenth of what I earned called tithing, then my husband and I started to pay the amount of one meal or more to help those who were in need of assistance. Seeing all the good results become alive in my own life has astounded me! This is what Romney and his family have done. Mormons, people of other faiths, and good honest people through out the world who truly live the principles that govern happiness reach out to others to help and encourage others to rise to their potential. We need more of this kind of people who see us in a better light to do for ourselves greater things than the government can ever do for us individually. I am Gentle White Dove and I have spoken.
swrussel's picture
The most important misconception is this: it's simply not true that retirement income is not taxable. I pay more taxes than Mr. Romney. My retirement check is enough that it makes my Social Security taxable. File that one right next to "Indians don't pay income tax." Judges are often the lowest paid lawyer in the courtroom, as I was many times, but it's true that lawyers make good money. I remained a judge because I cared more about the work I did than the work I was able to do as a lawyer. for every civil rights case I took, I had to fund it with a lot of divorces and business litigation and criminal defense. As a judge, I never again had to ask people how much justice they could afford. When I left the Bench voluntarily, chasing my dream to be a teacher, my kids were out of school, so I was not putting them in a hard place over what I wanted. I quit a job that paid $106,000 a year to take one that paid $36,000. I think I'm in a position to deny having lived my life chasing money. It's true that ICT pays me. I need it to fund the travel that comprises my "bucket list" and for the emergencies that come up when you have four kids and nine grandkids, but I'm fortunate enough that I don't need it to survive. I was born poor and I'm no longer poor. So shoot me.
andre's picture
Your observations of the one term Governor of Massachusetts are accurate. He is a very shallow, one dimensional venture capitalist who would have very little regard to anyone who is poor and or oppressed. A history of sensitivity to people in need are not high on the Romney/Ryan agenda. Almost in a repeat of 2008, we have a choice between two poor selections. Mitt would be the worse of the two.