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January 08, 2012 10:35 AM Romney: elected office is for the rich

By Steve Benen

About 10 hours after last night’s debate, the six Republican presidential candidates met again this morning for another debate, this time sponsored by NBC and Facebook.

This one was far livelier than its predecessor — maybe the GOP field is made up for morning people? — and one line in particular jumped out early on: Mitt Romney made the case that electoral politics is for wealthy people.

“I happened to see my dad run for governor when he was 54 years old,” Romney said. “He had good advice to me. He said never get involved in politics if you have to win election to pay a mortgage. If you find yourself in a position when you can serve, you ought to have a responsibility to do so if you think you can make a difference, and don’t get involved in politics when your kids are still young because it may turn their heads.”

It’s an odd line for a candidate regularly accused of out-of-touch elitism. Only those who already have considerable wealth should “get involved in politics”? Really?

Here’s the follow-up question: if there’s some blue-collar worker in Ohio, who cares about public service and is thinking about asking his neighbors for their vote, should he or she stand aside and allow some rich person to “get involved in politics” instead?

Indeed, Ben Smith noted the exchange “brought out Romney at his most tone-deaf, and echoed his offer of a $10,000 bet to Rick Perry in an earlier debate.”

I rather doubt this was a planned line; Romney probably just said what was on his mind. It’s why “just be yourself” probably isn’t good advice for this guy.

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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  • c u n d gulag on January 08, 2012 10:53 AM:

    "Here’s the follow-up question:
    if there’s some blue-collar worker in Ohio, who cares about public service and is thinking about asking his neighbors for their vote, should he or she stand aside and allow some rich person to “get involved in politics” instead?"

    Only if the price is right for him or her to stand aside.
    I mean - look at the rewards if they win!
    They'd have to do a cost-benefit analysis and an ROI to see if selling your spot to a rich guy is worth the potential future rewards.

    Everytime Mitt opens his mouth, I wish they'd show his staff. I'm sure they're flinching.

  • Anonymous on January 08, 2012 10:54 AM:

    "Here’s the follow-up question: if there’s some blue-collar worker in Ohio, who cares about public service and is thinking about asking his neighbors for their vote, should he or she stand aside and allow some rich person to get involved in politics instead?"

    But of course. If you earn less than $1 million per year, then you will only count as 2/5ths of a person. For details, check the soon-to-be-released version of the Republican Contract on America (in the Who Counts As A Person: Corporations, Billionaires, Millionaires, Other' sections.

  • N.Wells on January 08, 2012 10:55 AM:

    Anonymous was me. Phoey on Captcha.

  • Danp on January 08, 2012 11:00 AM:

    If your only goal is to criticize Obama, you are going to come up with a few mind-boggling stupid things to say.

  • kevo on January 08, 2012 11:00 AM:

    Hey Steve - I'm not feeling it. Romney may have had a few other thoughts in his mind that lead to his utterance, instead of your specific reading.

    Willard was merely expressing a vantage in general terms:

    Cassius was lean and ambitious for power - and if alive today might run for office to meet a mortgage payment.

    Though politics for profit seems to be part of the Republican political game these days, George's advice to his son was a sound cautionary note.

    The idea of service is noble in and of itself, and that is also part of George's advice to Willard.

    And the cautionary note about young children is also worthy in a common sense mode.

    So, Steve, I don't automatically read Romney's quote with the intent you attach to it.

    And there we differ! -Kevo

  • Hedda Peraz on January 08, 2012 11:04 AM:

    As Mr Fitzgerald said to Mr Hemingway, the rich are different from us.

    Having spent some years in France, Governor Romney plans to bring Droit du Seigneur to America.
    When I hear the lurid tales of today's back seat fumblings from my daughters, I compare them to my fond memories of my deflowering in the Duke's boudoir!

  • toowearyforoutrage on January 08, 2012 11:16 AM:

    I hear it a different way:
    "involved in politics if you have to win election to pay a mortgage"

    This sounds like you shouldn't buy a house so expensive you need a governor's salary to cover it.

    This supposes you got fired from a job and decided elective office was a way out of foreclosure.

    It's sound advice, but I'm not sure how many people consider this as their "fall back" when they get laid off. Maybe it's far more common than I would have thought. After all, Mitt SHOULD know what people generally do when they get laid off. He's got LOTS of experience in that field.

  • Ron Byers on January 08, 2012 11:16 AM:

    There is service and there is service. I watched Claire McCaskill rise through the local political ranks. When she was coming up she wasn't rich, but she was active and gave a great deal of service to our community. Then she married well and the rest is history.

    I think Mitt has a kind of point. I don't think anybody should jump into national politics without serious thought and that the jump might be easiest after the kids have moved out. I am convinced, however, that every American regardless of means has a duty to serve to the extent possible. If that merely means working on a local board or commission, town council or as a member of the school board that is noble service that has to be done and must be appauded. You don't have to be rich to take part in your local or even state government.

  • m2 on January 08, 2012 11:18 AM:

    Kevo's not wrong. Too many names to mention- Franken, Howard Dean, Alan Grayson, any Kennedy or Bush.

    On the other hand, there's Wellstone, Michele Bachmann, Roy Wilkins, MLK, Gandhi, Bad Horse... Nixon. ?

  • jjm on January 08, 2012 11:32 AM:

    It's simply government of, by and for the 1%.

    The remaining 99% should take heed.

    As for yelling about Obama, what REALLY do they have to yell about--except that his policies are not exclusively of by and for the 1%?

  • Andrew on January 08, 2012 11:35 AM:

    I can't believe these comments. This is elitest. Just look at President Obama and VP Biden. Obama was not rich when he started in politics and Biden is still not rich. This whole notion that politics is for the rich are exactly why we have the policies we have. We need to make easier for people of all incomes to become in politics, not just the rich.

  • j on January 08, 2012 11:42 AM:

    My favorite line was from Huntsman when he was bashed by Romney for serving under Obama, when he said he was serving his country as his sons had by being in the navy. Mittens said his sons had better things to do than entering the armed forces.

  • Gandalf on January 08, 2012 11:42 AM:

    I wish he could convey that message to his cohorts in the repub party. Joe the fucking plunber is running in my congressional district.

  • m2 on January 08, 2012 11:54 AM:

    I'm in complete agreement with Andrew.
    WE need to make it easier for people everywhere in this nation to vote for their own interests. That simple concept is being trashed in many states right now.
    VOTE LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT WHILE YOU STILL CAN. IT DOES.
    hehe. that was funny. :)

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on January 08, 2012 12:06 PM:

    >> It’s why “just be yourself” probably isn’t good advice for this guy.

    Well, the problem is that Mitt Romney doesn't have a self to be. He's just an empty vessel of a man.

  • Matt on January 08, 2012 1:13 PM:

    It's hard for me to get worked up about that particular comment. Basically, it's saying that running for office should be about the policy, not the paycheck, and that your livelihood shouldn't depend on your ability to win an election. I wouldn't put much thought into this or, frankly, the $10,000 bet he made back in the other debate when under pressure. There are MUCH stronger examples to work with than these, which would only fit as background audio in a campaign commercial.

  • Jose Padilla on January 08, 2012 1:26 PM:

    Does this mean that Mitt, if elected president, will act to eliminate all congressional salaries?

  • CDW on January 08, 2012 1:32 PM:

    What was romney's answer to the follow-up question?

  • exlibra on January 08, 2012 2:45 PM:

    As far as I know, only Christine O'Donnell has ever run for office because she needed the money for rent and groceries. For everyone else -- even the not-so-rich folk -- the paycheck is an icing on top, not the cake itself. The "cake" is the power and, possibly, the chance of translating the years of "service" into real money, later on. Once in a blue moon you might actually get someone whose motivation is pure.

    For the very rich -- and my understanding is that's more than half of the people in Congress (both houses) -- the paycheck, even with bennies, is less than they get in interest on their investments.

    So, George's advice to young and impressionable Mitt was nice, but it doesn't really apply in today's circumstances; rich or poor, very few run for office to make a living.

    Nevertheless, running for office is still limited to the upper echelons of the population because it's *so damned expensive to run*. Not to sit in DC, once you're elected. But to actually get elected and then re-elected. Pretty soon, your ideals - if you had them in the first place -- about service to the people goes out the window. However energetic and dedicated you are, you can only contact each of your constituents once or twice during a session. Meanwhile, your opponent is blanketing the airwaves with advertising against you and is keeping PO alive, singlehandedly, ditto. Guess whose name will be remembered, come the time to press that screen in the poll booth?

  • jjm on January 08, 2012 3:55 PM:

    By the way, what kind of money did Rick Santorum have when he ran for Representative and then the Senate, and before he made his pile 'consulting' with the lobbyists he made friends with as a Senator?

  • Grumpy on January 08, 2012 4:21 PM:

    George Romney's advice does not preclude working class people from seeking office. Many, in eras past and today, legislate during the winter then make their living during the summer by farming, fishing, construction, etc. Others are retired, having already paid their mortgages.

  • g on January 08, 2012 6:27 PM:

    Running for office and losing was the pay-off for Sarah Palin.

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