During the 1940 presidential campaign, a Republican judge commented on what he thought of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's supporters. "The president's only supporters are paupers," intoned the GOP jurist, "who earn less than $1,200 a year and aren't worth that." FDR was quick to respond. Noting half the people earned less, he exclaimed, "Paupers who are not worth their salt - there speaks the true sentiment of the Republican leadership, in this year of grace."
President Barack Obama could very well have the same reaction to Mitt Romney's taped remarks at a Florida fundraiser. Dismissing "47 percent" as nothing more than dole-grabbing freeloaders, Romney echoed the Philadelphia judge from 1940. Curiously, it turns out some of the group he so contemptuously wrote off are some of his strongest supporters. Elderly people on disability and those who receive Medicare and working class whites would be, I think, surprised at how their champion regards them.
For a whole campaign, Romney has behaved like a man who was born to privilege and knows it. He derided supporters in South Carolina about the cheapness of their poncho and boasted of how he knew NASCAR sponsors. He is, as was once said of Thomas E. Dewey in 1948, "a self-made man in love with his creator." Although Dewey could make that claim, Romney cannot. He was given $1 million in stock - mind you in the 1960s this is a huge amount of money - from his father. To his credit, he did make the most of it, but it is not his money-making acumen that should concern. Rather, it is his expressed attitude of a purse-proud egotist who, like Herbert Hoover, thought anyone who was not a millionaire by age 40 was not worth much.
This is surprising because his father, George Romney, stressed his struggle up the greasy pole of corporate America. He marched in voting rights demonstrations with Martin Luther King Jr. Instead, his son favors the reinstatement of something close to a poll tax.
Never has a candidate been such a prisoner of a single group of voters. Despite some hints a few days ago of veering toward the center, Romney breaks to the right at every turn.
When he is trying to moderate his position, such as when Romney stated he was harsher on Obamacare because supporting elements of it would not pass muster in the GOP primaries, he then walks the statement back to satisfy right-wing zealots. This leads to a great deal of confusion about his message. It is Ayn Rand in the morning and Massachusetts Mitt in the afternoon. He stands by all of his positions, however contradictory.
Meanwhile, the public grows increasingly fonder of Obama. Of course, Romney is still very much in the race, but he becomes more dependent on the "I hate Obama" vote. This promises to make his effort an exercise in bitterness and not hope. Romney behaves like a princeling when he hears anyone question his obviously superior outlook. At home, he is probably the nicest of men, but if you're outside his family circle, he likes to either fire you or outsource you. The King of Bain and the specter of Gordon Gecko hover over the proceedings. Romney has given no one a clue about his underlying convictions.
It does Romney little good to reflect on his opposition as either bought or foolish. He lives in a world of stereotypes whose minorities succeed only because of the government and where women stay in the home. The jokes of country club caliber fly in Romney's world - he and his social groups are "born to command" - or so they think. The acid reflections of the governor among his social peers provoke, as Roosevelt said, "a direct, vicious, unpatriotic appeal to class hatred and class contempt."