Why Romney’s 'I Don’t Care About the Poor' Remarks Are Politically Smart

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COMMENTARY | In the Mel Brooks movie "History of the World, Part 1," a Roman Senator asks whether his fellow senators should continue to build opulent palaces, or be nobler and provide decent housing for the poor. All of the Roman Senators hit their chest and yell, "[Expletive] the poor!"

Joking aside, the thinking on Mitt Romney's quotes have been generally panned by the media. John McCormack with the Christian Science Monitor wrote "Fresh off his big win in Florida Tuesday night, Mitt Romney made the most stunningly stupid remark of his campaign. 'I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there,' Romney said in an interview with CNN's Soledad O'Brien this morning. 'If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich, they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.'"

Rick Klein with ABC News writes, "Mitt Romney's post-Florida interview where he expressed a lack of concern about the 'very poor' was an instant-clanker, certain to be revived alongside similar only slightly out-of-context quotes about Romney liking being able to fire people and the personhood of corporations." Klein added the conservative chorus of boos from Charles Krauthammer, Grover Norquist, etc. who seek to elevate the poor, not trap them in a safety net.

But a smart guy like Romney probably knows that most folks, even the poor, don't think they are poor. According to Gregroy Mantsios' essay Class in America, people generally think all but a fraction of folks are in the middle class. The upper class don't like to talk about their wealth, and the lower class don't want to admit their poverty.

David Shipler, author of "The Working Poor," writes, "Time magazine found in a 2000 survey that 19 percent of Americans thought they were in the top 1 percent of wage-earners, and another 20 percent expected to be in the future." So when someone claims they are the 99 percent, 40 percent think they are the one percent.

It's simple math. When Romney says he is concerned with the 90-95 percent who are middle class, most folks believe him. Only five percent may actually be offended, and they likely wouldn't have voted for him anyway. It may not be nice politics. But it is smart politics.

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