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January 11, 2012 3:05 PM Pushing worthwhile questions into ‘quiet rooms’

By Steve Benen

On NBC this morning, Matt Lauer asked Mitt Romney whether Americans with “questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country” are necessarily motivated by, in the Republican’s word, “envy.” The host asked, “Is it about jealousy, or fairness?”

Romney was unmoved. “You know, I think it’s about envy,” he said. “I think it’s about class warfare.”

That’s rather remarkable, in and of itself. Plenty of Americans just want to have a conversation about rising income inequality, poverty, an unjust tax system, and wealth that’s increasingly concentrated at the top. For the likely Republican presidential nominee, those questions aren’t just wrong, they’re the result of “envy.”

And then it got worse. Greg Sargent has the video of the exchange:

LAUER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?

ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally.

I see. So, Americans are allowed to ask questions about inequality, so long as we’re not too loud about it. Let’s just stick to quiet rooms — perhaps Romney can loan us one from one of his mansions — where we can be told to stop being envious.

Greg added, “Romney was twice given a chance to nod in the direction of saying that concerns about these problems have at least some legitimacy to them, that they are about something more than mere envy or class warfare, and that they are deserving of a public debate. And this is the answer he gave.”

We’re getting a closer look at Romney’s ideology, and at this point, it’s looking rather twisted.

Remember, just last week, he argued that families who slip into poverty are, in his mind, “still middle class.” This is also the guy who takes a rather callous approach to firing people.

Romney is doing very well with wealthy voters. Why anyone else might vote for him remains to be seen.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Josef K on January 11, 2012 3:13 PM:

    We’re getting a closer look at Romney’s ideology, and at this point, it’s looking rather twisted.

    Romney has an ideology? Since when?

  • edr on January 11, 2012 3:13 PM:

    Why anyone else might vote for him remains to be seen.

    He is white! He is not the other!Why do so many Americans vote against their own economic interests?
    The Republican propaganda machine works very well.

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on January 11, 2012 3:17 PM:

    So... unless you're wealthy, you give up running for office, shut up, and keep to your place.

    Actually, it sounds like Romney captures the Republican ideology pretty exactly.

  • dalloway on January 11, 2012 3:17 PM:

    Democrats invite the "envy" charge when we talk about income inequality. I don't think that's what we object to -- there are always going to be rich people and poor people in any society. What's not okay is rich people using their wealth to game the political system and stack the economic deck in their favor. What caused the meltdown in 2008? Greedy bankers inflating the housing bubble until it burst. Many economists saw it coming but George W. Bush, water boy for the plutocrats, refused to regulate them. Who got hurt? Mostly the middle class and those who'd like to be middle class. That's the argument and it has nothing to do with envy.

  • Danp on January 11, 2012 3:19 PM:

    Note to Romney: Envy is part of what capitalism is all about. You have to want to be rich to get there. The question isn't which deadly sin is more admirable (greed or envy), but whether there are artificial impediments to success. Tax loop holes, lower taxes for investments than work, bad schools and health care systems because of the money in politics, crony relationships with politicians - all of these are just such artificial impediments.

  • Grumpy on January 11, 2012 3:19 PM:

    Is Obama making income inequality "part of his campaign rally" or is Romney putting words in the president's mouth again?

  • Tom Marney on January 11, 2012 3:25 PM:

    Indeed. The real issue of inequality isn't a matter of "fairness" or "envy"-- it's that inequality does real and lasting damage to the economy by badly distorting asset values. Even the distortion of the political system, destructive as it is, is secondary.

    Many Republicans are beyond conversion on this (witness how ineffective the recent spate of OWS-flavored ads and rhetoric has been), but the American people at large are not. It's time to get the good guys on message and keep them there.

  • kevo on January 11, 2012 3:28 PM:

    Our nation's sense of democratic priorities is greatly askew these days. Romney's bizarre take on all things American is grating on my brain, and I feel a need to vent a bit, so I apologize up front:

    We hear about our "founding fathers" distrust of government, but in real terms, our founding framers of the Constitution were reacting to circumstances that called for a stronger federal government authority, not a weaker one!

    Our founding framers were federalists, and believed the government Constitutionally formed from those fateful days in Philadelpha in 1787 would serve the test of time, pitting different institutions against each other or cooperatively working together to ensure no one faction would usurp power (like say the modern Republican party)!

    It was the anti-federalist forces during the early era of our nationhood who whined like the Ron Paul's among us today about the tyranny of an oppressive national authority.

    Our founding framers were nothing like the totemic symbols the modern day Republican party is projecting. They were well read, learned men who could transcend their own time and age and provide a format for us today to carry out our democratic heritage.

    So much more venting needed, but I digress, so I'll just leave it at this: Romney and his Republican brood are preverting our democratic heritage for political gain, and as a result, are helping to usher in our nation's demise as they blindly and viciously attack our working instituitons with falsehoods and undermining our confidence in governance with trash-talk.

    I am finding the Republican primary season very repugnant so far, and don't expect it to get any better,ever! -Kevo

  • chi res on January 11, 2012 3:31 PM:

    Barack Obama, Osawatomie KS, 12/6/11

    This kind of inequality – a level we haven’t seen since the Great Depression – hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, it drags down the entire economy, from top to bottom. America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity – that’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars they made. It’s also why a recent study showed that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.

    Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. And it leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them – that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.

    More fundamentally, this kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise at the very heart of America: that this is the place where you can make it if you try. We tell people that in this country, even if you’re born with nothing, hard work can get you into the middle class; and that your children will have the chance to do even better than you. That’s why immigrants from around the world flocked to our shores.

  • Peter C on January 11, 2012 3:34 PM:

    The 1% never want to talk about the distribution of wealth; they just want to talk about how lowering their taxes (or eliminating the 'death tax' or privatizing government services) will help 'everyone' (them immediately, but the rest of us after it 'trickles down').

  • chi res on January 11, 2012 3:38 PM:

    Envy is part of what capitalism is all about. You have to want to be rich to get there.

    Envy? Meh.

    Ambition is a much more admirable characteristic that can accomplish the same thing.

  • Chris- The Fold on January 11, 2012 3:40 PM:

    Yeah I found this whole exchange remarkable. It's the same thing moderate whites told MLK in the south. We agree with what you're doing, just keep it quiet. Don't do it in public. No sense in disrupting society or the status quo.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 11, 2012 3:42 PM:

    ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like.

    So, Mr. Romney, if and when you become the Republican presidential candidate, you have no intention of releasing your personal income tax return? Oh, you'll show it when we ask for it very quietly? Anybody wanna make a bet on the likelihood that Romney will ever hear a Who?

  • Diane Rodriguez on January 11, 2012 3:44 PM:

    If you confine yourself to "quiet rooms" to discuss important issues, less people can confirm your lack of understanding, your absence of core beliefs and most importantly, it minimizes your contact with the great unwashed. I sincerely hope Romney doesn't damage himself too badly to secure the nomination. We need him to be the nominee and stay weak in the general. He needs better handlers.

  • rdblybl on January 11, 2012 3:45 PM:

    New handle,"Nit Romney". Supporters..."Nit-Wits"

  • bigtuna on January 11, 2012 3:46 PM:

    A great example of the vacousness that is Romney. Another, somewhat intellectually and economically founded answer, goes like this ----

    " Matt, I understand the issues of envy and class. What is at stake, however, is the nature of growth of income for all. We republicans view the creation and wealth differently than democrats. That is why there are two parties. We republicans feel that the most effective path to health care, to education, to a home, schools, etc., is through jobs. Jobs are created by wealth growth, which requires companies. These companies need to have access to transparent, fluid capital markets, and must be as little encumbered by regulations, such as environmental, labor, financial,etc. regs. as possible. In this process, there will be some who rise to the top, through their hard work, their luck,[ their station of birth, and other factors, such as how the system is stacked in their favor, ability to lobby on behalf of monied interests]. There is always going to be, in the capitalist system, winners and losers. That is what we believe.

    Democrats ......

  • Vokoban on January 11, 2012 3:51 PM:

    An exchange like this would mean political sudden death in every other developed country.

  • eserwe on January 11, 2012 4:07 PM:

    There's some interesting research suggesting that psychopaths are overrepresented among economic high flyers. Romney's 'I like firing people' makes me think he belongs to that group.

    For anybody interested, there's a film called 'Fishead' accessible online about that topic:
    http://www.fisheadmovie.com/watch-the-movie

    The password on vimeo to see the movie (warning: 80 minutes duration) is 'fhmovie'.

  • eserwe on January 11, 2012 4:11 PM:

    Oh, and another thing: If Romney actually can be pressured to release his tax returns and they are really are what they are widely expected to be, his candidacy is dead in the water. Which makes me think that he will fight that release tooth and nail.

  • SecularAnimist on January 11, 2012 4:13 PM:

    Meanwhile, the Republican propaganda machine is working overtime to encourage envy and resentment by working class people ... against union members.

  • DAY on January 11, 2012 4:17 PM:

    Romney has spent his entire life on the right side of a metaphorical Rope Line.

  • Ron Byers on January 11, 2012 4:20 PM:

    I see that we are being hacked again with commercial posts, so much for CAPTCHA

  • stormskies on January 11, 2012 4:28 PM:

    He is white! He is not the other!Why do so many Americans vote against their own economic interests?
    The Republican propaganda machine works very well.

    ***************

    That's true of course, especially when it is aided and abetted by the corporate media. Yet it's also true that a vast amount of our fellow citizens are SIMPLY STUPID. We live in a country in which 20% 'believe' that the Sun revolves around the Earth, and 50% 'believe' that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old in which humans co-mingled with the Dinosaurs. In a country this stupid bordering on cretinism they would, like lemmings, if the Repiglicans and the corporate media told them to jump off cliffs for the good of the wealthy.

  • Captain Obvious on January 11, 2012 4:34 PM:

    A rising boat lifts all tides.

    This has been the Republican mantra for years.

  • gifgrrl on January 11, 2012 4:42 PM:

    re: simply stupid

    But on the other hand, 50% of Americans think Romney's first name is "Mittens."

    Sadly, that won't stop them voting for him.

  • Booyah on January 11, 2012 4:44 PM:

    Quite the tin ear. I wonder how many non-millionaires he hangs out with.

  • Craig on January 11, 2012 4:44 PM:

    It seems to me Republicans declared class warfare in the election of 1980. Except at that time the class warfare was against the poor. Now it's Republican billionaires and multinaires against the middle class.

    Never forget Reagan's original motivation. While American soldiers were fighting against Germany and Japan, Reagan was complaining about high taxes. That's a level of self-regard and self-importance that makes no sense to me. Despite high taxes during wartime, Reagan was still a wealthy man. Eventually the taxes came back down, but apparently not enough for Reagan.

    For people like Romney, it's not about defending himself against envy. It's about grabbing as much as he can regardless of the consequences to others. Proof? It's been in front of us for several weeks. Look at the destructive nature of his ads and comments.

  • j on January 11, 2012 4:52 PM:

    Newt's film is up - I just watched it - WOW!!!!

  • freeholdmom on January 11, 2012 4:58 PM:

    "Quiet room" -- omg, too funny. This man does not want the rabble (i.e., the non-rich) in the same building, much less the same room, in a tax discussion. He's starting to make Bush Jr. look better & better -- at least he managed to somewhat look like a man of the people. "Elitist" barely covers it. I'm finally starting to be somewhat more optimistic about Obama's re-election chances.

  • rose on January 11, 2012 4:58 PM:

    Great post and great comments! There are sane Americans!

  • exlibra on January 11, 2012 5:05 PM:

    Those "quiet rooms" are in Versailles, no doubt; with the rabble not allowed to enter. But, if they know their place and behave themselves, they will be allowed -- maybe -- to buy the tickets and observe, from a respectful distance.

    You know, that film (King of Bain; When Romney Came to Town) that Gingrich supporter had bought for Gingrich to take potshots with? There's a photo in there, where Romney and 6 other brave corporate cowboys from the same "outfit" are having a whale of a time with their money -- they pretend to eat it, they use it as shirt collars and as pocket hankies, it's coming out of their pockets... the only thing they're not doing with it is using it to light up cigars with.

    This photo, with Romney circled on it, and various captions like "I like to fire people" "income inequality should be discussed in quiet rooms" etc, really should be pushed to go viral. It ought to be shown whenever a stock picture of Romney is needed, for whatever purpose.

    A couple of months ago, some financial whiz-bang firm thought it would be super brilliant to mock all the people they have bankrupted and foreclosed on, by dressing like homeless beggars for the office Halloween party. Joe Nocera (of the NYTimes) wrote a scathing report of the party, with photos. The photos went viral. 4 weeks later, the firm closed its doors.

    The Romney photo I'm talking about can also be seen here (Think Progress):
    http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/01/11/402245/morning-briefing-january-11-2012/

    Hehehe. Omniscient Craptcha knows that a picture is worth a thousand words: SKETCHING endsBuy

  • chi res on January 11, 2012 5:06 PM:

    If Romney actually can be pressured to release his tax returns and they are really are what they are widely expected to be

    You mean the rumor that he takes deductions for more than one wife are TRUE?

  • jeri on January 11, 2012 5:21 PM:

    rdblybl:

    Or if Mitt(ens) Romney keeps his current handle, supporters would be "Mitt-Wits".

  • MNRD on January 11, 2012 6:05 PM:

    The real revelation here is that this is all about Romney's ego. He thinks that all of these 'little people' are jealous of him because he's made so much money as a businessman! He thinks that he's the guy who everyone else wishes they could be, and that all of their criticisms are out of pure spite because they can't be him!

    This kind of attitude explains why the 1% - after having caused so much damage to our economy - can be so calloused toward those who are suffering while they themselves are raking in record profits.

  • SYSPROG on January 11, 2012 7:06 PM:

    What is he? TWO? Jealous? Honest to Christ! Get your shit together Mitt...JEALOUS? FU!

  • Zorro on January 11, 2012 7:14 PM:

    Romney/Gekko '12- Go Greed!

    -Z

  • Bob on January 11, 2012 7:30 PM:

    Let me see....Willard Romney...son of George Romney, former CEO of American Motors and Governor of Michigan ... grandson of Gaskell Romney a successful builder ... and relative of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church ... figures that he made it all on his own and that folks must be envious of him if they question whether the deck is stacked too heavily in favor of those born lucky ... hmmm.

    Good luck with that one in November....

  • Jimo on January 11, 2012 8:22 PM:

    A) It is Romney who has envy. Romney so envied the super-rich that he was willing to sell his soul (such as he has one) and beggar the working people at these companies he took over, all so that he could steal enough money to buy a seat at the super-rich table. Romney is consumed by envy.

    B) Note: every time Romney doesn't get to follow a script and a carefully controlled format, Romney says the darnedest things, revealing his true soul.

  • SKM on January 11, 2012 10:24 PM:

    Newt did not lie about Romney. For proof of this, (I'm sure that Steve can get access to this video/audio) there was an article called "Mitt Romney and the Wreckage of GOP Leadership" 8-17-2009 in the Examiner - the late Tim Russert of Meet the Press transcripts showed that Romney raised fees on the poor/blind/gun permits/mentally disabled...and it is alleged that he raised taxes on businesses/corporations after finding and closing loopholes to balance the state budget. The transcripts are in the blue boxes to the left of screen.

    And McCain endorsing Romney, well, don't you folks remember that Romney was at the top of the VP list for McCain during the 2008 elections. But, something happened to make him drop Romney, see the site Bizzyblog dot com for the story 'the case against Mitt,' and see the link to a video of a live townhall meeting with McCain and see what happens when a prospective voter brings up Romney's name - this is a video of a MSM - then you can all say wow!

  • SKM on January 12, 2012 12:00 AM:

    Exlibra,
    Oh, that's similar to this, in 2008, Romney gave a speech, see Governor Romney's Remark at the Miami-Dade Lincoln Day Dinner," http://www.cfr.org/us-election-2008/governor-romneys-remarks-miami-dade-lincoln-day-dinner/p13480 in this he flip-flops on immigration, he says we should embrace immigration, says we should have a second Marshall Plan, a stronger military and best military in the world, mentions names of his 'seed money' partners for Bain - then later, it was reported bad news about Ricardo Poma - just look up Ricard Poma. All I know, is to me, things that are happening is spooky.

  • SKM on January 12, 2012 12:03 AM:

    Exlibra,
    forgot to say that in the speech given above, Romney says that the Dems didn't want to approve the free trade agreements, but, listening to all of the repubs now, they blame the dems for all of the agreements

  • Rudy Gonzales on January 12, 2012 12:20 AM:

    Romney's own words: Romney's takeover-and-restructuring firm "apparently looted the companies, left people unemployed and walked off with millions of dollars," Romney points to thousands of jobs created at companies that Bain Capital bought, invested in or restructured. But he struck a discordant note Monday, just as attention to the Bain jobs history was spiking. Speaking of insurance options before a New Hampshire audience, Romney said, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." "Free enterprise will be on trial." plays on words at best, since Bain Capital main purpose was to generate profits for investors, including Romney. Republican presidenti­al hopeful, Mitt Romney, claimed concerns about Wall Street, financial institutio­ns and income inequality were the result of "envy." "I think it's about envy. I think it's about class warfare," Romney said. "I think when you have a president encouragin­g the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent... you've opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsiste­nt with the concept of 'one nation under God.'" His own words tell the true story of how he feels and would act as president. I predict a blow-out contest for some time into the future. Romney says these attacks are on free enterprise by Gingrich and Perry, and he is so wrong. When people see his "Bain-Bagg­age" and over all down his nose attitude towards the everyday man and support for those on Wall Street, they see Romney for who he really is.

  • Kane on January 12, 2012 12:56 AM:

    Economic inequality is the GOP's new Climate Change. Simply deny the existence of the problem and do nothing to provide solutions.

  • cwolf on January 12, 2012 3:47 AM:

    There are only a few thousand of these uber-rich fucks who are ruining life for billions.

    If we simply ate a few dozen a week till their influence waned, it would be a better world.

  • SKM on January 12, 2012 4:10 AM:

    cwolf,
    if you look at ricardo poma, I don't think you would say that. Seriously! Not only that, if you look up Alex Itkin, I really don't think you would say that - these people supposed to have ties to Romney. But, Romney should be facing more scrutiny that Paul, as he said last year, that he would hang a misery index around Obama's neck - youtube videos of this is www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQCMbPhp5Ko and www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFCQJTPrVU especially when people have accused him of doing some dirty deeds in the past. I think this guy is scary, maybe I'm wrong, but, that's the way I feel now.

  • bob h on January 12, 2012 6:15 AM:

    Romney started at Stanford, and has two degrees from Harvard. Yet I parse his speeches and interviews for signs of intelligence, nuance, sophistication, originality,and don't see any.

  • SKM on January 12, 2012 7:10 AM:

    The more I read about this man, the more scary it gets. Like looking up Boyd Packer and Gordon Hinckley. I wonder if John Hinckley Jr. is kin to Gordon Hinckley, this is the guy that hit Reagan. And now, Rove is siding with Romney. Rove grew up in Salt Lake, and he is warning other GOP candidates to back off of Romney. Even scarier, W. gave Hinckley a high medal of freedom, then H.W. endorses Romney, so, I don't know, but, I think it's time for me to keep quiet.

  • waddanut on January 12, 2012 9:51 AM:

    I looked up the definition of a sociopath.

    With what Willard has been saying, he meets most of the qualifications of being a classic sociopath.

    This man needs to be prevented from even looking into the Oval Office.

  • Santorum/Robertson ticket on January 12, 2012 11:09 AM:

    [Santorum] claimed he said “blah” people, not “black, when he said, "I don't want to make black people's lives better..."*

    Karen Santorum told the Christian Broadcasting Network yesterday that the Holy Spirit speaks through her husband Rick as he campaigns for the presidency.*

    The Holy Spirit knows that God's commandment Thou Shalt Not Lie is not applicable to candidates running for president.

    *ThinkProgess

  • BC on January 12, 2012 11:58 AM:

    I think what he means is that it's okay for the elites to talk about income equality in quiet rooms - backroom deals, in other words - but it's unseemly for our leaders to involve the American people in the discussion.

  • Sensible Missourian on January 12, 2012 1:14 PM:

    This guy is unbelievable. The only person impressed by Mitt is Mitt. Just like W-- he was born on third base and still believes he hit a home run....

    What a pompous douchebag! I am a 45 year old white guy who supports true free enterprise. This jerk is just a corporate raider pig...

    Obama isn't perfect, but at least he has some sense of self awareness and appreciates how lucky he is.

  • my2cnts on January 12, 2012 6:51 PM:

    at least the 'quiet rooms' won't be 'smoke-filled' since mittens is a morman!

  • Anonymous on January 12, 2012 9:20 PM:

    @Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 11, 2012 3:42 PM:
    Anybody wanna make a bet on the likelihood that Romney will ever hear a Who?

    Does that mean Romney is Mr. Grinch?

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