I said in my last post that Mitt Romney’s wealth doesn’t disqualify him from the presidency, but that his attitude about his wealth, and the way he has let it shape his world view, are real problems. Not only does Romney have an incredible sense of entitlement, and a blindness to the privileges that have made his success possible, he also seems completely oblivious to the way ordinary Americans live.
A leader has the capacity of vision, the ability to see where things are headed before people in general see those things. That vision is typically a product, in part not just of their skill and brilliance, but even more of their experience, their life experience. And so if you’re looking for a leader to guide an economy, you hope that you have someone who didn’t just study it in school, but someone who’s actually lived in the economy.
That’s Mitt Romney, making a fine case against a Romney presidency on 60 Minutes. Romney’s great privilege has made his life experience so unlike that of most Americans, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is that he has risen to his party nomination for POTUS without showing any curiosity about how it is that most Americans live. This has led to some amazingly tone-deaf pronouncements from the candidate. “I like to fire people.” If you can’t afford college, “borrow money from your parents.” From the 60 Minutes interview, his plan for middle class tax relief – “eliminating the tax for middle-income families on interest, dividends, and capital gains” – as if these were even on the radar for most of us. And of course this gem:
Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance, people — we — if someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and — and die. We — we pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care.
Oh. My. Lord. There really is not one single issue on which he can relate to people of average income, is there? Forget policy – forget that everyone knows that emergency room care is the least cost effective way to provide care for those without insurance. Forget that people without insurance don’t just have heart attacks – they get little things like strep throat that can become much worse things if untreated, but are a terrible use of ER resources. Forget, if you can, that a lot of people have serious medical issues – cancer comes to mind – that cannot be treated with in an emergency room visit. Forget, for a moment, that our hypothetical heart attack victim probably had hypothetical hypertension for years, and that if she had insurance she would have been treating her blood pressure and would not now need a $1,000 ambulance ride and several additional thousands of dollars in ER bills – in fact she’d never know that today was the day she would’ve had a heart attack. Instead, remember this:
Ann Romney has multiple sclerosis.
She has been under a doctor’s care for 14 years, and is almost certainly on a host of prescription medications to manage her condition. If she had been uninsured, she would not have been able to get insurance until Obamacare passed. If Obamacare is repealed, thousands of people diagnosed with MS will not be able to afford treatment, unless they bankrupt themselves paying for it out of pocket and become sufficiently poor to qualify for Medicaid. But even knowing all of that, Mitt Romney is determined to repeal it.
Speaking of Ann, she gave a lovely speech at the RNC about the idyllic poverty of the Romneys’ student days as a young married couple living off the sale of stock. Sawhorse tables and tuna and macaroni and cheese. See, she was saying, we know your struggle. We’ve lived it. But they never did. All the milk-crate furniture in the world doesn’t mean you know what struggling is – because poverty isn’t crazy-quilt carpeting or Hamburger Helper. Poverty is FEAR. The fear that comes from knowing you have no cushion, no safety net, no one you know who is in a position to help you. Poverty is having your wife diagnosed with MS and knowing you cannot help her because neither of your full-time jobs provides health insurance. Poverty is your kid having strep throat and missing school for a whole week instead of 2 days because you can’t afford the doctor. Poverty is knowing there’s a heart attack with your name on it, and no way to afford preventative care. And far far too many Americans have lived with that fear. Not just the “very poor” Romney doesn’t concern himself with. Not just the 47% it is “not [his] job to worry about.” Far too many middle class Americans have inadequate or non-existent health insurance, and know that a serious illness would bankrupt them. And that is a condition that Willard Mitt Romney simply cannot fathom, and has never tried to comprehend – even when serious illness came to the woman he loves. Fear. Uncertainty. That’s what it means to “live in the economy,” Mitt. And you haven’t.