I just listened to the entire video of Mitt Romney’s remarks at a fundraiser in Florida, not out of masochism, but because I knew I’d be missing something important if I just read the transcript. There were certain specific lines I want to write about, but for today, I’m just struck by the surreal setting. A privileged group of people have convened in a palatial private home, eating a fine, fine dinner (reference is made again and again to the excellence of the food). They have paid $50,000 each for the right to hear and to talk to a Presidential candidate. $50,000 is the median household income in this country. They banter with Romney, he calls on them by name as he’s taking questions. Several commentators have noted that in this video, Romney sounds more relaxed and less robotic, and they’re right. This Romney is completely at ease; he cracks jokes (about undocumented immigrants), and laughs at the audience’s jokes (about Elizabeth Warren). This is his world, these are his people.
It was his second such fundraiser that day. Ann Romney was in Texas, at a similar fundraiser. At one point on the video, he states, “[on] a typical day,… I do three or four events like this.” This is what campaigning is, now. It’s not just Republicans, by any stretch. President Obama attended two fundraisers in New York yesterday – one with a price of $12,500 per family, the other hosted by Jay Z and Beyonce, at a cost of $40,000 per person.
I knew this. And you know this. We know that politicians – ALL politicians – complain that all of their time is consumed in fundraising, rather than more productive pursuits like meeting with regular constituents, writing intelligent bills, trying to break logjams in the legislature. I was always focused on the corruption that’s possible when you depend so much on people giving you money. What I didn’t grasp was that it’s so very very insular, and how damaging that can be to a politician’s understanding of the world. Hyper-wealthy people speaking to other hyper-wealthy people who all already agree with them. The people in the Mother Jones video have no concept of living paycheck-to-paycheck. They don’t KNOW anyone who does. They cannot fathom what the economic collapse of 2008 did to American families. They simply do not understand what it means to a middle-class family when the major breadwinner loses his or her job, and they see their lifesavings evaporate as they try to find work. They have no idea what it feels like to have no savings, no retirement plan, and no way pay for your kids’ college that doesn’t involve loading them with crippling debt. Full-time work at minimum wage leaves people well below the poverty line, yet the individuals who have all of the candidates’ time and attention are the very ones who send jobs overseas to avoid paying employees a living wage here. No wonder Romney found it so easy to dismiss those who receive any federal funds – no one he ever interacts with understands what it’s like to need help to feed your children. Instead, Romney and his donors have an overwhelming sense of entitlement, and the horrifically skewed perspective that comes with that. They speak the clubby language of wealth and self-congratulations, and eventually, that becomes they only language they can understand.