The Confirmation of a Stereotype

I do not often agree with Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, but he nicely sums up why Mitt Romney’s “not concerned about the very poor” remark has become more than a one-day story:

There are few things more powerful in politics than the confirmation of a stereotype, which is Romney’s main political risk. A wealthy man can prove that he empathizes with average people — see the examples of aristocrats such as Teddy or Franklin Roosevelt. But Romney has yet to prove it.

But then Gerson offers Romney some advice he is very unlikely to take:

He could start by making the economic advancement of the very poor a central concern of his campaign.

That would be nice, not to mention surprising, but the problem is that the ascendent view in the GOP, as expressed yesterday by Sen. Jim DeMint, is that the “economic advancement of the very poor” requires eliminating their “dependency” on the very “safety net” that Romney originally said made concern for these folks unnecessary. If Romney goes around saying nice things about the socialist imprisonment of the poor via the looting of the virtuous middle-class and heroic upper-crust “job creators,” it will enrage his party base. But if he makes a habit of announcing he favors the tough-love of helping the very poor by kicking them to the curb and offering them character-building incentives to compete for non-existent jobs and/or depress wages even more, then the assumption that the very poor don’t often vote may turn out to be wrong.

Quite a blind alley, eh? But that’s what happens when a politician says something many in his party actually believe that confirms what others suspected from the beginning. It’s part of Politics 101, and you’d think a guy like Mitt would know this by now.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.