Dear Madame L,
I heard that presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife Ann told an interviewer that she and her husband have given out enough information about their finances, and that's all "you people" need.
Do the Romneys think they're special or something? If they don't have to show their tax returns, then why does their party insist that even people who have voted for years have to show some form of government ID that they've never needed in the past?
We, the People
Madame L certainly understands why this kind of talk about "you people" has angered a lot of "us people."
Madame L has found a clip of the interview and presents it here.
Here are some bits of the interview:
Ann Romney: Mitt is a very generous person. We give ten percent of our income to our church every year. Do you think Mitt is the kind of person who would try to hide things or do things? Then when he was governor of Massachusetts he took no salary.
ABC Interviewer Robin Roberts: Why not show that, then?
Ann Romney: We just don't want to give more material for more attack. That's just the answer. And we've given all you people need to know and understand about our financial decision and about how we live our life.
Now, to answer your question, which is whether the Romneys think they're special, and different from the rest of "us people":
Yes. They clearly DO think they're special. Wealthy people tend to have, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote recently in "Pathos of the Plutocrat," the idea that somehow their wealth gives them more privileges than others deserve.
Mr. Krugman quotes the famous statement by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”
Krugman adds that Fitzgerald "... didn’t just mean that they have more money. What he meant instead, at least in part, was that many of the very rich expect a level of deference that the rest of us never experience and are deeply distressed when they don’t get the special treatment they consider their birthright; their wealth 'makes them soft where we are hard.'"
Have You People ever met rich people with this attitude? Madame L can happily say she hasn't met many of them, but must unhappily add that those she has met have fit that stereotype perfectly.
An example recently in the news was the rich woman who asked a security guard at the entrance to a Romney fund raising event, “Is there a V.I.P. entrance? We are V.I.P.” Another person at the same event told a reporter that the "you people" types, like the "nails ladies," just don't get it.
In "Who's Very Important?" Krugman wrote about these people:
"O.K., it’s easy to mock these people, but the joke’s really on us. For the 'we are V.I.P.' crowd has fully captured the modern Republican Party, to such an extent that leading Republicans consider Mr. Romney’s apparent use of multimillion-dollar offshore accounts to dodge federal taxes not just acceptable but praiseworthy: 'It’s really American to avoid paying taxes, legally,' declared Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina."
Why does this matter? Why don't we all accept that Mitt Romney is a good, honorable person who will make a good President of the United States just because he's a tithe-paying Mormon who didn't accept a salary during his term as governor of Massachusetts?
Madame L submits that being a good tithe-paying citizen does not qualify one for the presidency. Again, to quote Krugman, comparing Mitt Romney with his father in "Mitt's Gray Areas":
"Has there ever before been a major presidential candidate who had a multimillion-dollar Swiss bank account, plus tens of millions invested in the Cayman Islands, famed as a tax haven?
"And then there’s his Individual Retirement Account. I.R.A.’s are supposed to be a tax-advantaged vehicle for middle-class savers, with annual contributions limited to a few thousand dollars a year. Yet somehow Mr. Romney ended up with an account worth between $20 million and $101 million."
Finally, in "Policy and the Personal," Krugman points out the clinker here: Mitt Romney is not only rich and not only doesn't want us to know the details about how he got his money and where he's hiding it and how much he's paying in taxes on it, but:
He's "...pushing policies that would benefit the rich at the expense of ordinary working Americans meshes with Bain’s record of earning big profits even when workers suffered — a record so stark that Mr. Romney is attempting to distance himself from part of it by insisting that he had nothing to do with Bain’s operations after 1999, even though the company continued to list him as C.E.O. and sole owner until 2002. And so on."
That's the key, in Madame L's opinion: Nobody Madame L resents the wealth of those who have earned their money honorably. But what we all, "Us People," do resent, is when THOSE PEOPLE THINK THEY"RE SOMEHOW BETTER THAN THE REST OF US AND THAT THEY EARNED THEIR RICHES AT THE EXPENSE OF THE REST OF US.
Krugman adds, "Thus the entirely true charge that Mr. Romney wants to slash historically low tax rates on the rich even further dovetails perfectly with his own record of extraordinary tax avoidance — so extraordinary that he’s evidently afraid to let voters see his tax returns from before 2010.,,,
"The point is that talking about Mr. Romney’s personal history isn’t a diversion from substantive policy discussion. On the contrary, in a political and media environment strongly biased against substance, talking about Bain and offshore accounts is the only way to bring the real policy issues into focus. And we should applaud, not condemn, the Obama campaign for standing up to the tut-tutters."
As Krugman says, the personal issues of the Romney family's finances are important because not only are they NOT a diversion from policy, but because they actually bring into focus the real policy issues.
So, Madame L, like Mr. Krugman, applauds the Obama campaign for standing up to the pressure from the rich and hypocritical politicians who accuse the rest of us of envy and class warfare. No, there's no envy about it. It's rather like being struck over the head by a hammer wielded by a hypocrite.