As GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney begins to solidify his frontrunner status, his pitch as the “business” candidate who understands the “real economy” is faltering under heavier scrutiny of his time at Bain Capital. As CEO of the private equity firm, Romney “maximized returns by firing workers, seeking government subsidies, and flipping companies quickly for large profits” while a significant number of those companies went bankrupt and thousands of workers lost their jobs. “Make a profit. That’s the name of the game, right?” he said.
Now even members of his own party are damning the callous nature of his work. Chafing from the criticism, Romney blasted his “desperate” opponents yesterday for joining President Obama in “put[ting] free enterprise on trial” and engaging in “the bitter politics of envy.”
This morning on the Today Show, host Matt Lauer asked Romney — twice — whether he truly believed any questions regarding the practices of Wall Street or the distribution of wealth and power is merely “envious” or more about “fairness.” Both times, Romney insisted that it was solely an “envy-oriented” attack on “millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street”:
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LAUER: When you said that we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy, I’m curious about the word ‘envy.’ Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or fairness?
ROMNEY: You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus one percent — and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent — you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. The American people, I believe in the final analysis, will reject it.
LAUER: Yeah but envy? 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. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.
The exchange is indeed shocking in what it reveals. In a time when income inequality is at its worst level since the Great Depression and Americans are increasingly concerned over the shrinking middle class, Romney is insisting that anyone who questions — let alone tries to reform — the unfair advantages of the extremely wealthy or the destructive practices of the financial industry that single-handedly shoved America into a recession is nothing more than “envious” of these people’s success.
Perhaps his answer shouldn’t be so surprising given how myopic the view is from his high perch. Romney is, after all, a millionaire who is still making money from the predatory equity firm while paying little in taxes and owes much of his political viability to Wall Street’s pocketbook. Indeed, he suggested the public office should be the province of rich people. Perhaps he’s just defending his own.
As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent points out, “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.” Fellow candidate Newt Gingrich had another description for Romney’s answer: “baloney.”