Did Mitt Romney just disrespect poor Americans?
Mitt Romney told CNN 'I'm not concerned about the very poor...' Will that come off sounding tone deaf? Or was it simply a quote taken out of context?
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Romney, in a CNN interview, said these words: â€śIâ€™m not concerned about the very poor.â€ť Letâ€™s look at the full quote, which you can see transcribed below.
"Iâ€™m in this race because I care about Americans. Iâ€™m not concerned about about the very poor - we have a safety net there, if it needs repair Iâ€™ll fix it. Iâ€™m not concerned about the very rich, theyâ€™re doing just fine.Â
Iâ€™m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-05 percent of Americans that right now are struggling."
When you listen on, however, itâ€™s clear is that Romney wasnâ€™t being totally dismissive of poor people. In fact, this rings out more like his â€śI like to fire peopleâ€ť remark - absolutely tone deaf even if the point heâ€™s making is far less controversial. Hereâ€™s how the interview continues.
Soledad Oâ€™Brian follows up on Romneyâ€™s remark on the poor.
"Finish the sentence, Soledad - I said Iâ€™m not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net but if thereâ€™s holes in it, I will repair them.
We will here from the Democrat party the plight of the poor. And thereâ€™s no question its not good being poor and we have a safety net to hep those that are very poor - but my campaign is focused on middle income americans.
You can choose to focus on the rich, you can choose to focus on the very poor: thatâ€™s not my focus. My focus is on middle income Americans, retirees living on Social Security, people who canâ€™t find work, folks who have kids getting ready to go to college. These are the people whoâ€™ve been most badly hurt in the Obama years.
We have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. We have foodstamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing programs to help the poor, but middle income Americans are the people that are really struggling right now and we need someone who can help get this economy going for them."
Interestingly, the American peopleâ€™s position on which economic classes really need help isnâ€™t all that clear.
A Pew study released two weeks ago showed two-thirds of Americans believing a â€śstrongâ€ť or â€śvery strongâ€ť conflict between the richest and poorest Americans. The number of Americans who strongly believe that class conflict is occuring bounced nearly 20 percentage points since 2009.
"But while Americans are hearing more and more about class conflict, there is little indication that they are increasingly divided along these lines. People donâ€™t necessarily want to take money from the wealthy; they just want a better chance to get rich themselves. They care about policies that give everyone a fair shot â€” a distinction that candidates in both parties should understand as they head into the 2012 campaigns.
An awareness of economic inequality is not new. Pew surveys going back to 1987 have found an average of 75 percent of the American public thinking that the â€śrich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.â€ť As far back as 1941, 60 percent of respondents told the Gallup poll that there was too much power in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations in the United States."
While the sentiment for populist revolt has lessened slightly since the 1980s - more than half of Americans now believe economic inequality is a part of the nationâ€™s economic system - Kohut points out Americans are â€śupset over a perceived lack of fairness in public policy. For example, 61 percent of Americans now say the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy.â€ť
Whatâ€™s the upshot of all this?Â As Kohut points out, Americans want more policies that promote opportunity, not necessarily equal outcomes. While they feel the deck is more stacked against the poor, they donâ€™t really want populist solutions per se.
So where does that leave Romney? About halfway with the American people (focus on the middle class) and halfway without them (that heâ€™s not all that concerned with poor people) - and with an awkward soundbite thatâ€™s sure to show up in Democratic ads sooner rather than later.
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